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Self-Knowledge • Fear & Insecurity

Why Some People Love Extreme Sports

One of the greater puzzles of human nature is why certain people harbour an intense love of extreme sports; why they will expose themselves to extraordinary risks energetically skiing off cliff faces, jumping out of planes, racing down rapids or riding on the edge of waves the size of apartment buildings.

What could possibly motivate these unflinching types? Paradoxically, we might say terror. No one would partake of extreme sports who was not – at some level – already extremely scared, but not, unusually, of the dangerous situation that lies before them. They aren’t worried about a 2,000 metre drop into a granite canyon, a parachute that might fail to open or a crevasse hidden beneath fresh powder.

Photo by Kamil Pietrzak on Unsplash

They are scared of something far less concrete and a great deal more hidden beneath layers of forgetting: a home life they could not escape, a father who humiliated them, a sibling who died, a mother who never had time, a teacher who did appalling things to them after hours… 

But because these things were at once boundlessly dreadful and beyond the measure of any child’s mind, they now cannot be reflected upon and overcome. Yet they continue to reverberate within these stoic champions nevertheless – waiting to attack them whenever things are quiet, when the snowboard has been put away, the paragliding equipment is in the garage and they have only themselves and the occasional dripping of the kitchen tap for company. 

The terrifying nature of their chosen sport is a measure of how bad things are liable to have once been for them: to think that they might need the roar of Chile’s Futaleufú River to still the noise inside them or the wastelands of Svalbard to help them bypass their inner bleakness; to think that it might – by contrast with what they once knew – be close to relaxing to be on the north face of K2 or by the open door of a Cessna over the Extremadura. Yet here at least one fathoms what the danger is; here at least one has consciously chosen to meet a risk with a full repertoire of adult skills. Unlike back in the past, when one was cruelly dropped by circumstance wholly beyond one’s control into a maelstrom without the slightest resource or capacity for understanding. 

Though they might not seem in any need of help, the extreme sports enthusiast might inwardly crave a friendly nurturing guide who could take them on the bravest adventure of their lives. It takes great talent and no small amount of valour to go up the Eiger or to steer along waves off Portugal’s Nazaré beach. It may be a braver decision still to sit quietly on the sofa at home – and gradually, with compassion and tenderness, to meet oneself.

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