What is the psychology of extreme sports, and those who participate in them? Are those men and women who enjoy and compete in extreme sports drawn by the thrill of fear, or the seductive lure of death? Are they using high-risk, high-thrill extreme sports to address issues of psychology – self-doubt, uncertainty, loneliness, a sense of life’s eternal pointlessness?
Extreme sports, and those who practice them, are unique in terms of their psychology. With other sports, the motivation for participation is fairly simple: people take up a sport to improve their fitness, or to enjoy fun, friendly, low-risk competition with like-minded others. But why take up extreme sports? What possible motivation could be so strong as to encourage people to face death – for people have died in extreme sports, and probably always will. The potential for death is known, open, discussed.
And, in psychological terms, that will be a large part of the draw of extreme sports. People engage in extreme sports because they are fully aware that they might die. It’s rare, in day to day life, to be able to take on Thanatos and emerge victorious. Through participation in extreme sports, the aspect of human psychology that is drawn to death – the same aspect which drives many people to imbibe alcohol, or to indulge in socially-acceptable, yet risky, behaviour – is sated. The psychology of extreme sports is the psychology of those who find their ultimate high in taking on death, and winning. Extreme sports are a purer, healthier form of drug addiction. Every time you go out on the track, out on the slopes, every jump you make, every wave you take, every second your feet are off the ground, every minute you’re actively involved, you’re letting Thanatos get close. And when you land, when you push back the goggles, take off your helmet, when you’re shaking water from your hair, in the moment of movement as you swing out of a car or leap off a bike, is a moment in which you stand up from your chess game with death, kick the board over, and spit in the face of the Reaper.
The psychology of extreme sports is a psychology that classes “being alive” as a fact which is only verifiable if you know for certain you’re not dead. And in order to know for certain that you’re not dead, you have to gaze into the abyss of death, and allow that abyss to gaze also into you. You have to look Thanatos right in the eyes, feel his hot breath on your neck – and walk into the light, leaving him behind, with his own drives and desires unfulfilled. The psychology of extreme sports is the psychology of individuals for whom winning only counts when they walked along the shore of potential defeat, and felt those waves lapping at their feet.
Those who are drawn to extreme sports do have an extreme mentality, an extreme outlook on life. But, as they would tell you, life is a place of extremes. You have to match those extremes in order to survive.