Lifestyle Sports

Why People Choose the Extreme Over the Mainstream


Individuals have always looked to their sports to construct their identities yet with mainstream sport reflecting society and its structure, people must look elsewhere.

In the last thirty years there has been an explosion in leisure activities known as lifestyle sports.From established practices like climbing, surfing and skateboarding, to relatively new activities like wake boarding, B.A.S.E. jumping and kite surfing, there has been a boom in participation rates.

What are Lifestyle Sports?

Occurring on land, water and in the air they exist in spaces that lack regulation and control. These adrenalin and thrill-seeking activities focus on self-actualisation, with a participatory ideology promoting enjoyment and living for the moment. They provide opportunities for sporting participation and social interaction for both men and woman, young and old.

Often referred to as ‘alternative’ because of their different practices and as ‘extreme’ due to the associated risk-taking, lifestyle sports have been embraced by individuals who have been alienated by traditional school-based and institutional sport practices. Where as the drive for mainstream sport can often lie in the economic value of competition and success, the reward derived from extreme sport is primarily intrinsic. A person can push themselves against their own limitations and find their own boundaries. Competition against others becomes part of the sport for the more elite performers but the competition is not necessary to the sport itself as with rugby or football. For extreme sportsmen and women, the sport is merely a method to help continue extending the limits of records and satisfy the intrinsic desire to be the best.

Why People are Choosing Lifestyle Sports

The key to understanding the lure of alternative sports is to understand the attitudes of lifestyle sportsmen and women. Any extreme sports participant will tell you that their sport is more than just a sport. They will tell you it is a state of mind and a way of life. Listen to a surfer talk of catching the perfect wave or a climber making the ultimate ascent and it becomes clear that it’s about the adventure or about pushing the boundaries and challenging your own limitations. In short it’s about fun, challenge and excitement. It is these personal factors that take alternative sport beyond competition and make it, in actuality, a lifestyle for the participant. But why now? Why are people more frequently indulging in these risky adrenalin-fuelled activities?

Today’s society is driven by technological advance and is becoming systematic in its endeavours and attempts to control the natural world. It is a modern society that is progressively becoming more and more defined by its scientific restructuring and with each new definition, each new regulation moving towards universalism and away from the particular. With furthering scientific advancement and greater understanding there is the possibility for an erosion of meaning in society and a loss of individuality. Society is finding itself in an ever increasing state of rationalisation and people are searching for an escape. They are looking for a way to regain the aesthetic and their individualisation. It is the very nature of lifestyle sports to provide this escapism, identity and empathy, even a connection with nature.

It has been argued that the continued scientific advances in football and the subsequent increase in potential profits have lead to a loss of meaning. The bonus that a player receives for scoring essentially becomes the drive to succeed, rather than the privilege or pride of playing for their team and their town or city. The desire to win becomes personal and no longer a case of passion. However with lifestyle sports the underlying incentive is in the participation, not the competition, a principle that is certainly all too often over-looked within the UK’s national P.E curriculum. If mainstream sport continues to become increasingly business orientated then it becomes increasingly structured and no longer separate from the structure of society but an extension of it.

Rationalisation or the Intrinsic

As this process of rationalisation and corporate capitalism continues to impose upon increasing amounts of society, the incentive to return to the aesthetic will only grow stronger. With ever increasing amounts of people searching for an escape from structure and routine, more and more will continue to turn away from the commercialisation of mainstream sport. But will they be followed? Has capitalism already begun to intrude upon the extreme and will the alternative become rationalised? It could be argued the very term ‘extreme’ is merely a blatant and cynical attempt to capitalise on a wave of oppositional sport forms, and by doing so, for corporations such as ESPN to appropriate trendy oppositional forms. Yet can lifestyle sports reach the same levels as mainstream sport without the incentive of capitalism? Is an intrinsic desire enough?

It may be that lifestyle sports have already been caught up in commercial tides, levels of professionalism within these fields have certainly mirrored the rise in popularity. However the incentive behind participation has remained intrinsic. Economic values have not spiralled out of control widening the gap between enthusiasts and elite performers. The attraction remains personal; lifestyle sports allow people a form of control over their own lives. Maybe Sir Edmund Hillary said it best: ‘Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it.’