Dangerous Sports

These sports aren't necessarily deadly, but they certainly instill an imminent sense of death—which is what makes them so thrilling and why we can't look away.


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The Most Dangerous and Extreme Summer Sports

It’s not all about the numbers. These ten sports may not, technically, be the most lethal, but they certainly will make you feel like death is just around the corner—which is what really counts. Because driving your car to the volcano may be—by the numbers—more dangerous than surfing down it, but is there really any question about which is quicker to get your heart pounding?

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Free Diving

Freediving (Igor Liberti)

Shallow Water Blackouts

Experts speculate that passing out as you near the surface is the most common cause of death in free diving.

The world governing body of free diving, AIDA, states that, “Anyone who has held their breath underwater has free dived.” But those of us who’ve touched the bottom of our local swimming pool have nothing on the seemingly fearless free divers who’ve plunged as far as 214-meters (702-feet) below the ocean’s surface on a single breath.

Women’s no-limits (or, weight assisted) record holder Tanya Streeter says that during a descent, “the brain signals to shut down oxygenated supply of blood to organs that don’t need it,” and at the bottom of a free dive, a diver’s heart rate drops to just 12 to 15 beats per minute. Amongst adventure sports, only BASE jumping is more fatal than free diving. Out of the estimated 5,000 divers in the sport, nearly 100 die yearly.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Volcano Surfing

Volcano boarding
Volcano boarding (Erik Fantasia )

Road Rash

Crashing on a rocky surface at 50 mph can leave your skin torn to shreds—if you’re not wearing the proper gear.

There are many places in the world and a variety of ways to go downhill, fast. Powder packed ski runs, alpine road bike descents, rocky downhill mountain bike runs–even sand dune surfing—all rank within our perceptions of normal thrill seeking.

But in Nicaragua, on the 41-degree slope of an active volcano that last erupted in 1999, a handful of brave adventurers have taken downhilling to a new extreme. Guide company Green Pathways Tours shuttles prospective volcano surfers to top of 2,288-foot Cerro Negro, provides a protective suit (to ward of sharp rocks), goggles, a rudimentary sled, and a complimentary push. On the way down the volcano face, speeds can approach 50-miles-per hour. The experience: remotely familiar, but entirely unique.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Free Solo Climbing

alex honnold climbing yosemite free climbing free soloing
Honnold, high up and ropeless. (Courtesy of the Reel Rock Film T)

A Sport that Consumes its Heroes

Though statistics are nonexistent, some of the sport’s greatest climbers, like John Bachar, have died from falls.

In his Outside profile of Alex Honnold, the world’s best free solo climber, David Robert’s wrote that free soloing’s, “fundamental rule is stern and simple: If you slip, you die.” With that thought constantly in mind, top free solo climbers move with methodical precision up seemingly sheer rock walls. A poorly placed handhold is likely the last a free solo climber makes.

The sport requirers climbers to go against human nature, quashing the anxiety that comes with the prospect of immenent death, because there’s no place for quivering thighs a hundrend plus feet above the ground. Contemplate what falling from that height would do to your body, feel your heartbeat rise, then imagine clinging to the wall yourself.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Cave Diving

Cave diving
Cave diving (Oksana Golubeva/Shutterstock)

Safe but Scary?

While 475 cave divers died between 1950 and 1998, only 47 divers with cave training perished during that period.

Within the blackness of a cave lies the essence of exploration. Geological seams and torso-width holes lead to vast underground rooms lined with rock formations that make them appear otherworldly. As these crevices extend deeper, inevitably, they lead to water. To continue, a caver must dive. But only the bravest amongst the caving community dare don the rebreathers that circulate gas-laden air back into the user’s lungs. Underwater and far underground, cave divers have unearthed such treasures as the fossils of long extinct animals, as well as the bodies of fellow cave diving discoverers, who never returned.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Wingsuit BASE Jumping

Not all of these extreme sports may actually kill you, but the imminent sense of death they instill is what makes them so thrilling, and makes us unable to look away

Wingsuit BASE jumping
Wingsuit BASE jumping (Evgeniya Moroz/Shutterstock)

Dangerous Malfunctions

The exact number of BASE-related fatalities is unknown, but estimates put the number above 200, with wingsuit malfunctions as one of the primary causes of death.

Amongst the many perils of non-motorized human flight: failure to deploy parachute, cord break, power line entanglement, drowning, and proximity flying (the shooting of narrow cliff gaps that makes for incredible GoPro footage, and has contributed to as many as five deaths by wingsuit).

Those seeking their own R. Kelly moment (I can fly!) should first consult the fatality statistics of Blinc Magazine, an online BASE jumping resource. Because while floating free fall is undoubtedly an unnerving endeavor, so is reading about all the ways it can end—badly.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Kite Fighting

Kite fighting
Kite fighting (Md.altaf.rahman/WIkimedia)

In countries like Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, flying kites extends far beyond the fascination of children and whimsical adults. In these nations, kite flyers use strings coated with glue and crushed glass to wage battle against those who dare invade their air space. Cut strings send vanquished kites falling back to earth, the victor remaining aloft.

But the razor sharp kite strings sometimes miss their target, and instead slice the throats of rickshaw drivers, bicyclists, and other kite flyers. Fighters stumble off rooftops or catch their kites in power lines, and succumb to electrocution. In 2007, during Pakistan’s Basant festival, 11 such deaths occurred after the temporary lifting of a kite-flying ban. Kite bans now extend across Asia, but in many places the deadly sport persists.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Saltwater SUP Fishing

Activity SUP jelly fish mikebaird morro bay paddling sea jellies sea jelly standup water
Saltwater SUP fishing (Michael Baird)

Dragged to Sea

While fishing, boarders can be dragged out to sea—up to six miles, in some cases.

The bird of prey circles high above the water’s surface, waiting for fish before casting with its claws and beak. The same notion applies to SUP fisherman, who often perch atop a cooler or stool to gain a greater vantage of the species lurking below. As SUP anglers have gained confidence casting from their boards, they’ve begun baiting the monsters that lurk beyond the coastline.

In 2008, Carl Schroderer hooked a Marlin from his SUP board, briefly allowing the giant fish to tow him around before cutting it free. And in 2012, Captain Lance Moss captured a 65.8-pound sailfish in route to winning a Destin, Florida, fishing tournament. The feisty sailfish dragged Moss six-miles out toward the deep, requiring a two-plus hour paddle home. The irony to Moss’s impressive catch? He was initially trying to hook a shark.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: BMX Lake Jumping

BMX lake jumping
BMX lake jumping (TommySuperStar)

Few Known Fatalities

While fatal stunts are rare in the BMX lake jumping world, a top British rider died in 2008 after diving into shallow water.

It’s simple, right? Bike, plus speed, plus ramp, plus water equals mad air, sick tricks, and a refreshing dip. All true, expect for all those epic BMX lake jumping fails. The prospect of a soft(ish) landing tends to entice those people who’re ill-equipped to take flight onto the seats of flotation aided BMX bikes. While pedaling up to speed, their arms shake and their legs go weak. Often, they eat shit before even reaching the ramp. Other rookies risk getting body slammed by thirty-plus pounds of spikey bike parts. But for the true BMX pros, a bike propelled leap without fear of landing is one of the pure joys of summer.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Cycle Speedway Racing

Cycle speedway racing
Cycle speedway racing

Here, we have a cinder track, 90 meters long (or, less than one-quarter the length of a running track.) We have four competitors riding modified cruiser bikes—equipped with freewheels, but no brakes. We have a full contact event, with racers skidding through turns, shouldering and swerving to prohibit passing, and frequently crashing in mass pile-ups. We have a winner, when one of them crosses the line after just four breathtaking laps. Here, we have the nearly 100-year-old officially sanctioned British discipline of cycle speedway racing. It’s no wonder the nation that thought up this wild sport now dominates the Tour de France.

The Most Extreme Summer Sports: Flyboarding

The intense sport of flyboarding.
The intense sport of flyboarding. (Courtesy of Zapata Racing)

As Tour de France racers sped across the island of Corsica this summer, men on what appeared to be jet powered hovercrafts performed barrel rolls and flips above the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The acrobatics were powered by Flyboards, which use a personal watercraft’s propulsion system to rocket users 30 feet into the air or plunge them below the water’s surface. The device was unveiled in 2011 by a champion jet ski racer from France, Franky Zapata, and those who’ve ridden a Flyboard say it makes them feel like a superhero, defying the limitations of humanity.

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