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When asked what the best religion is, the Dalai Lama replied: “The best religion is what brings you closest to God.” What about riding ghastly waves, or meticulously calculating the next move on a narrow mountain ridge? Can you find spirituality there? As long as you do it for the right reasons, then yes, you can.
Over the past few decades, extreme sports have garnered a lot of attention. Despite this growing interest, many misconceptions about them were instilled. Not quite understanding why anyone would take on such adventures or risks, people often assume the reason is to show off.
Questions are often integral to extreme sports, whether on-lookers question why we choose the roads less travelled and opt for what they would deem as absurd actions, or adventurers who question themselves as they are faced with moments of self-awakening.
If you, too, are overwhelmed with plenty of questions circling adventure and extreme sports, you may find some answers below.
Who, or what, do adventure athletes conquer?
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Do extreme athletes conquer nature, or does nature conquer them? The answer is neither. How can you conquer a wave that is forever changing, or a mountain that will still be there long after we’re gone? Does Mother Nature even know that she is in a competition? Frankly, I don’t think she is really concerned with our feeble endeavours. Why then are we talking about conquests?
City dwellers who do not understand our pursuits might be inclined to believe that we are motivated by the risks, that we have some sort of a death wish, or feel the need to prove ourselves through irrational feats. I agree that challenging monstrous waves and risking deadly wipe-outs, fighting for our lives to reach lonely summits, climb seemingly impossible cliff faces just to get to the top and come back down might seem a bit crazy from the outside.
Unlike what a lot of people may think, those who practice extreme sports are not necessarily adrenaline junkies. By definition, extreme sports involve a certain level of risk, which we try to minimize through plenty of practice and thorough preparation, as well as by learning to listen to the environment and to ourselves.
Sure, we love the thrill, but the reason we do it is to defeat the weaker version of ourselves, overcome our fears, and become better people. We push ourselves to the limit so that we can learn what our limits are.
Why risk it for adventure sports?
According to a survey we recently ran about how surfers –from complete beginners to advanced– relate to the surf lifestyle, 42% replied that being able to push their limits is what motivates them to go out there every time. Furthermore, 48% agreed that surfing helps them live in the moment, while 31% said that it helps them adopt a carefree attitude and let life flow.
Eric Brymer, a researcher specialized in outdoor and adventure sports at Leeds Beckett in the UK, managed to debunk many misconceptions in his book Phenomenology and the Extreme Sport Experience. According to Brymer, extreme sports are any activity in which a mistake can lead to death. And I’m telling you, no one wants to make mistakes!
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In his studies, Brymer discovered that extreme athletes feel closer to nature and have a higher sense of reality. It is not the risk that draws them to the sport, but rather the feeling of being there and then, being focused on their next move, and living in the moment without letting the future overwhelm them.
On the contrary though, those who participate in these so-called extreme sports don’t perceive them as deadly. Here’s what Alex Honnold, the most resonant name in the world of solo climbing today, had to say about his endeavours: “If risk is defined as anything with an uncertain outcome, I’m certainly taking risks, yeah. But I don’t think that I have a death wish. I’m not trying to go out and kill myself.”
Knowing the consequences of our errors makes us pay more attention to our surroundings and stay focused until we become one with the environment. In the process, both body and mind are engaged, but the latter plays a far more important role. Amp up your mind game and the body will follow.
How can adventure and outdoor sports connect you with nature?
In the aforementioned survey about the surf lifestyle, 66% said that surfing helps them feel more connected to nature. You are touching the waves, rocks, earth, and snow with your bare hands, getting in contact with a force far greater than yourself.
As human beings, we tend to take things for granted and consider ourselves the superior species. From time to time, we need a reality check to remind us how feeble we really are in the face of Mother Nature, and it is precisely this awareness that builds mutual respect.
When we finally understand that we are all part of nature, with the same right to exist as the animals in the Savannah, cats on our porch, or mice in our attic; the lakes, rivers and mountains, that’s when we begin to truly connect with nature.
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After the rush is gone, the beauty of our surroundings is what lasts and what we take with us as a cherished memory. Through surfing and climbing, we are able to explore the last remaining untouched corners of our world and nature in its purest form.
What others may call extreme sports are, for us, a spiritual journey of understanding our place in this universe and getting to know ourselves better. Through our connection with nature, we experience a spiritual awakening – we are learning who we are and why we are here.
Octavia is a travel writer for BookSurfCamps.com. She is a passionate mountaineer, rock climber and adventure addict who feels just as comfortable high on the rocks as she does deep down in the sea.