Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

The Feelings of Extreme Risk: Exploring Emotional Quality and Variability in Skydiving and BASE Jumping

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

The Feelings of Extreme Risk: Exploring Emotional Quality and Variability in Skydiving and BASE Jumping

Article excerpt

Is it possible to identify the quality and intensity of the best feelings imaginable? According to a group of extreme sport athletes interviewed on television news (CBSNews, 2009), the answer is yes: BASE jumping is the hallmark of peak experiences, so intense and fascinating that it legitimates the danger of throwing oneself off cliffs or out of airplanes. Inspired by the idea that the intense feelings of extreme sport are strong enough to prepare individuals to take the high risks often involved in such activities, the current study set out to investigate the claim that risk taking provides some of the best feelings that human possibly can experience. Hence, the two questions propelling the current research were these. What does it feel like to throw your self off cliffs or out of airplanes, and can such experiences be captured by scientific methods?

Intense feelings have repeatedly been suggested as the chief motivator for skydivers and other extreme sport athletes (Willig, 2008). However, even if extreme sport is a rapidly growing phenomenon in the western world (Campbell & Johnson, 2005; Celsi, Rose, & Leigh, 1993; Puchan, 2004; Slanger & Rudestam, 1997; Soreide, Ellingsen, & Knutson, 2007; Willig, 2008), surprisingly few researchers have investigated the trend scientifically. For instance, a search in the database PsycINFO in July 2010 gives only 8 hits for "extreme sport" and no hits for combining "extreme sport" with terms such as "emotion" or "subjective experiences". It seems reasonable then, to start filling some of the knowledge gaps in the areas of the emotional life of extreme sport events.

Extreme Sport

The term "extreme sport" is not easily defined nor is it easily delimited, but it may be characterized as recreational physical activity that carries a risk of serious physical injury or even death (Willig, 2008). The term "extreme sport" has become a popular label for a range of relatively new activities like climbing, bungee jumping, free ride skiing and snowboarding, surfing, hang gliding and paragliding, kayaking, rafting, small plane aerobatics, full contact marital art, skydiving and BASE-jumping (Slanger & Rudestam, 1997; Soreide, et al., 2007; Willig, 2008). The notion of competition is a frequent qualifier for sport, however, not all of the activities mentioned above are mainly focused on competition. A more correct definition could be "Extremely dangerous physical recreation". Despite the somewhat imprecise definition we still use the term "extreme sport" in this article because this is a well-known label for these activities. These new activities are becoming increasingly popular. In the USA, participation in traditional sports grew by 1.8% between 1978 and 2002, while what is called alternative sports rose by more than 244 per cent during the same period (Puchan, 2004). Campel and Johnson (2005) reported that more than five per cent of the adult population was taking part in at least one adventure activity on regular basis, and further that 12% would like to participate. In addition Celsi and colleges report that the demographics of the participants have broaden to include people of all ages and an increasing number of women (Celsi, et al., 1993).

However, not all of these activities are truly risk associated and the risk within the same category of activity can vary extensively. As an example, Dahl (2008) estimates that about 30,000 people in Norway conduct some form of climbing on a regular basis. But that is not to say that Norway is a nation of extreme sport athletes. Only a handful of these are doing high altitude rock climbing, or free-solo rock climbing, ice-climbing or difficult technical climbing and big wall climbing. Whereas in- and outdoor sport climbing are low risk activities, high altitude mountain climbing is associated with a significant mortality rate. For instance, K2--the world's second highest mountain--is also one of the most dangerous, with a summit/fatality rate of nearly 21%. …

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