Plenty of people go home with their adrenaline fix after a day of snowboarding, mountain biking, bouldering or off road trail riding. But some folks still need a bigger kick, and for those people, there are sports that go way beyond the kinds of risks that a normal person is willing to take. These intense adventures aren’t for the faint of heart (or the uninsured), but they’re certainly at the very top of the heap in terms of unforgettable experiences.
Ready to take it to the extreme? Here are seven of the world’s craziest extreme sports.
- Free Solo Climbing – If you watched Nat Geo’s Oscar-winning 2018 documentary Free Solo, you know what this is. One person, one huge rock face, no ropes, no gear except some climbing shoes and chalk. Free solo climbers tackle the biggest and baddest rock faces with nothing but their wits and their bodies, pushing the absolute limits of human endurance in a sport where just one mistake is enough to send them plummeting hundreds of feet to the ground. Some other rock climbers look down on free solo climbers and say that they take unnecessary risks that make the sport look bad, but there’s no denying that their achievements take incredible skill and concentration.
- Wingsuit Flying – Every awesome flying dream you’ve ever had pales next to the reality of wingsuit flying, a sport that lets you become a human flying squirrel. By donning a specialized suit with wing-like webs in between the arms and legs and taking off from a helicopter or another elevated point, wingsuit flyers can soar like the birds for a few minutes, coming as close to pure human flight as we’re ever likely to get. A parachute stored in the flyer’s backpack provides a smooth descent, and the sport is similar enough to skydiving that those who want to take a wingsuit class must first have at least 200 freefall skydives to their name.
- Cave Diving – For those who are driven to see the things nobody else gets to, cave diving is as good as it gets. Cave divers are expert scuba divers who venture into flooded caves in search of unusual fauna, unexplored regions or just the thrill of a lifetime. Training requires learning how to navigate in murky water with potentially zero visibility, planning a controlled ascent through an area where there’s only one way to the surface and mastering specialized kicking motions that don’t stir up silt and sediment—among numerous other difficult skills such as not completely panicking and freaking out when you realize just how dangerous what you’re doing is.
- BASE Jumping – Afraid of heights? BASE jumping is definitely not for you. In fact, to BASE jump, it’s helpful to love heights because this sport involves jumping off tall structures like a building, antenna, span (bridge) or Earth (cliff)—the source of the BASE acronym. Jumpers open a parachute just in time to save themselves from smashing into the ground, and as you might expect, there’s just about zero margin for error. Complete a jump from each type of structure and you’ll earn yourself a BASE number—the mark of admission into an elite club started by BASE jumping’s founder, Carl Boenish, who died during a 1984 jump in Norway.
- Bull Riding – Bull riding isn’t most people’s idea of getting closer to the natural world, but it’s certainly good for giving you a taste of Mother Nature’s raw fury. Bull riders compete to hang on to a furiously bucking bull for a full eight seconds, with most lasting only two or three. Bucking bulls often weigh over 1,500 pounds, and they’re scored on strength and aggression by judges, with some highly aggressive bulls becoming celebrities in their own right. If you like your extreme sports with a side of history, know that bull riding is by far the oldest sport on our list, with evidence for its existence going as far back as ancient Greece.
- Street Luge – Does it sound fun to strap yourself face-up to a specialized skateboard and zoom down a paved road at speeds of over 70 mph? And does it sound like even more fun to have no brakes on that skateboard except your own feet? If that’s your idea of a great time, street luge might be your new favorite sport. Of the fringe extreme sports, street luge has among the lowest barriers to entry—it’s relatively easy to learn, and you can pick up a board for just a few hundred bucks (and many DIY lovers choose to make their own).
- Free Diving – What free soloing is to rock climbing, free diving is to scuba diving. Divers descend into the water with no air supply or breathing equipment other than the breath they’re holding in their lungs. Free divers typically carry minimal gear other than goggles, a wetsuit and a weight belt, meaning that they’re at the mercy of the ocean for the duration of their dive. The appeal lies in the lack of the cumbersome gear that scuba is known for, and for the ability to surface much more quickly than scuba divers with fewer worries about decompression sickness. The record depth for a free diver? A staggering 831 feet, by “Deepest Man on Earth” Herbert Nitsch—although he seriously injured himself in the process.
If you’re itching to try any of these extreme sports for yourself, remember to take all the standard safety precautions. At the very least, that probably includes wearing a helmet, padded clothing, eye protection and a helmet communication system that will allow you to call for help if you’re in trouble. For the rest of us, we’ll be content to watch hair-raising YouTube videos and participate in sports that are extreme—just not extremely extreme.