The world’s scariest extreme sports
Cliff diving, Wales
Among the world’s most dangerous adrenaline sports, cliff diving sees athletes tumble, somersault and twist from insane heights of over 25m. One of the more nerve-jangling challenges can be found at the Blue Lagoon in Wales. This stop on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series requires divers to launch themselves from a narrow platform into the rocky cove below.
Big-wave surfing, Hawaii
Pros flock to Hawaii every winter to surf the Pacific’s monster waves. One of the most famous breaks is Jaws, or Peahi, on the northern coast of Maui. Fearless riders are towed in to the 40ft-plus waves by jet ski, reaching speeds of 50mph as they race along the barrel. Wipe-outs are dangerous: a breaking wave can sometimes push surfers 30ft below the surface.
A team of ingenious climbers invented the sport of slacklining in Yosemite National Park over twenty years ago. In contrast to a stiff tightrope wire, the 5cm-wide slack rope moves and sways, making balance crucial. Those with nerves of steel walk thousands of feet above gullies held just by a small harness.
It might have been invented in New Zealand, but Brits really have fallen head-over-heels for this wacky sport. First you’ll need to zip yourself into an inflatable hamster ball – whether you’re harnessed, free to bounce around like a lottery ball or swishing about in water (hydro zorbing) – then you’re ready to throw yourself down a hill.
Bull running, Spain
If the chance of being gored by a raging bull sounds like a reasonable risk, then the encierro at Pamplona’s Fiestas de San Fermín is the adrenaline activity for you. Each morning for nine days runners from around the world make a mad dash ahead of six bulls, racing for over 800m. The dangers are real: fifteen people have been killed in the past hundred years.
Shark-cage diving, Australia
Fancy coming face-to-face with the gnashing jaws of a great white? Get yourself to the Neptune Islands, where you can be submerged for up to forty-five minutes with nothing but a metal cage to protect you from this fearsome, endangered predator. Expect a disquieting soundtrack of AC/DC; operators have found the vibrations attract the sharks.
Nothing had us glued to the Winter Olympics like the drama on the perilously icy luge track, where fearsome athletes slid downhill at up to 80mph. Germany undoubtedly dominated the podium and you can follow in the team’s footsteps at the Königssee Luge Track with a small taste of the thrill on a “bobraft”.
White-water rafting, Nepal
Some of the world’s best white-water is found on Nepal’s ferocious ice-melt rivers. Challenges range from the comparatively gentle Trisuli to the grade four surf of the mighty Karnali. Experienced rafters might brave the “river of gold”, the Sun Koshi, whose worst rapids have gained the monikers “Meat Grinder” and “High Anxiety”.
Thrill-seekers will never be satisfied. Unfulfilled as a jet-ski champion, Frenchman Franky Zapata decided to invent a new sport in 2011. The result was the flyboard, a water-powered jetpack that turns the wearer into a kind of dystopian superhero, firing them several metres skywards out of sea.
Hang-gliding, South Africa
Table Mountain might be one of the world’s most-ascended peaks, but only the brave have soared from its 1000m-high summit, held up by nothing but thermals and a creaky hang-glider. If your nerves can stand it, the rewards are fantastic: views of the ocean and the Cape Peninsula set against the sapphire-blue South African sky.
Skydiving, New Zealand
While most of us will never reach the dizzying heights of Felix Baumgartner, plenty of aerial challenges remain. The 16,000ft drop over the Fox Glacier, New Zealand, has been voted one of the world’s most scenic skydives, second only to Everest, offering up to 65 seconds of awe-inducing free-fall above the dazzling Southern Alps.
Extreme kayaking, Chile
Thrill-seeking kayakers have literally taken the sport to new heights. Forget about tackling the odd eddy, the bravest paddlers now hurl themselves off waterfalls. White-water enthusiasts already flock to Chile for the Río Futaleufú’s foamy rapids, but Puma Falls on the Río Fuy offer a more terrifying challenge: a heart-stopping 100ft-plunge into a small, rocky pool below.
The crystal-clear waters off the paradise islands of Bali and Lombok offer the perfect conditions for freediving. Originally a technique used by spear-fishers and pearl-hunters, it’s now an extreme sport. Brave souls plunge underwater for several minutes on a single breath – down to depths of 200m – without an oxygen supply.
Thai boxing, Thailand
There’s nowhere better to try your hand muay thai, otherwise known as thai boxing, than its home country. Referred to as "the art of eight limbs", this vicious contact sport has been around since the nineteenth century. Little protection is allowed and elbows, knees and feet are all fair game; fighters often leave the ring on a stretcher.
Bungee-jumping, Macau, China
The futuristic Macau Tower holds the official Guinness World Record for the world’s highest commercial bungee jump and adrenaline junkies have been queuing up to make this terrifying 233m plummet since 2006. During the five-second freefall you can reach speeds of 200km/h, while for the ultimate rush, you can even take the plunge at night.
Parkour, or the art of movement, is credited to David Belle in 1990s France. Based on navy exercises and his love of martial arts, it involves leaping across roofs, scaling walls and somersaulting off balconies. A “traceur” or “traceuse” sees the urban environment as a playground: nothing gets in the way.
Ice climbing, Norway
Ice climbing is the new challenge for the vertigo-unhindered. Norway has taken the edge with a yearly ice climbing festival in Rjukan, where there are over 150 frozen waterfalls and scores more artificially created structures to tackle. Get your pickaxe and crampons at the ready.
Wingsuit base-jumping, China
The spectacular Tianmen Mountain in Hunan province provided the setting for last year’s World Wingsuit League. These flying-squirrel-like suits take base-jumping to the extreme, pushing the limit of how late the wearer can open their parachute. The British Parachute Association require over 200 skydives in 18 months to even qualify for this dangerous sport.
Hold your horses! When the rodeo’s in town you’ll need nerves of steel before mounting a steed. Calgary’s annual stampede brings over a million spectators to the city and there’s seemingly no end to the dust-churning feats of endurance. Chaps and cowboy hats, naturally, are expected.
Wife carrying, Finland
Admittedly wife carrying doesn’t really qualify as an extreme sport, but we think this barmy 250m-long assault course is worth an honorary mention. The first annual Wife Carrying World Championship took place in Sonkajärvi, Finland, in the 90s and couples have been put to the test every summer since.
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