Is skydiving the most extreme sport? No. Is skydiving the most extreme sport that most people will ever try? Yes. Absolutely!
Most sports that qualify as “extreme” require many years of training on the approach, as well as a total willingness to accept long hospitalizations (and even, y’know, funerals) as part and parcel of participation. Skydiving is something of a “hack” – in so far that modern equipment and techniques make the sport significantly safer than the others on the “extreme sports” roster. But let’s compare, shall we?
PARKOUR / FREERUNNING
Sure, mid-air collisions can happen in sports skydiving — but any skydiver will tell you that the last couple of feet are kinda-sorta all that really counts as far as an injury is concerned. With that in mind, parkour athletes spend pretty much 100% of the time in the danger zone – whether it’s careening up and down the vertical faces of the city like a real-life Sonic the Hedgehog, or bouncing from roof to roof like a plotless action movie performed in baggy jogging pants. The clear goal: to out-Jason-Bourne Jason Bourne, every damn day. After watching a few freerunning videos, you tell us how many of those flips probably end up with a skinned face. In skydiving, we don’t skin our faces too often. Truth be told, we like it that way.
You’ve probably seen slacklines strung up between the trees in your local park and enjoyed the spectacle of the folks popping up onto them and wandering back and forth across it. Now imagine those trees in the park are skyscrapers — or cliffs. And maybe the line is three thousand meters long.
And maybe the person wandering back and forth isn’t wearing any kind of harness attaching her (HER!) to the line.
And maybe the athlete is actually completely naked.
Anyway, there you have it. Highlining is bonkers.
Those guys that just launched triangular wings from that hill over there — are they skydivers? How about those people in the flying-squirrel suits that you saw on YouTube the other day? Or the folks that star in those videos where they have a wing overhead and skis on their feet and pop straight down a mountain, with little glancing touches? Are they skydivers?
They aren’t, actually. But y’know what? It’s easy to get these airsports mixed up. Here’s a breakdown of what’s what, so you can use the proper terminology to impress your friends at dinner parties.
Even deeper into the extreme we go, dear reader! BASE jumping is the sport of jumping while wearing a single-parachute safety system, from fixed objects. (If you’re jumping from an airplane, you’re not BASE jumping.)
The term “BASE,” in fact, is an acronym that stands for the objects most commonly jumped:
Other objects (for instance: billboards, wind turbines, ski lifts, cranes, high-altitude cables, etc.) also count as BASE objects if the exit point is static. Because of that fact — that BASE jumping does not meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of its jurisdiction (“the descent of an object to the surface from an aircraft in flight”) — it is not overseen by the FAA or any other regulatory body. It’s anarchy out here, folks.
Another defining fact: BASE jumps are performed with single-parachute systems that are designed to open quickly and in the direction the jumper intends. There is no reserve canopy in a BASE-specific container. (There wouldn’t be time to use it, anyway.) Because the margins are so incredibly skinny, BASE jumpers almost always have the experience of thousands of skydives. Each one takes on extraordinary risk.
Skydives, on the other hand, are performed using a two-parachute system. That system uses a container that houses both a main and a reserve parachute (in case the primary one malfunctions). When we’re skydiving, we like to hedge our bets. And, when we have a “reserve ride,” we always buy a nice bottle for the rigger who packed it for us, as a thank-you.
SKYDIVING: THE EXTREMELY DOABLE EXTREME SPORT
Now – can you see why we love skydiving so much? We’re able to experience the ecstatic edges of human possibility without constantly ending up in the emergency room and/or putting our poor parents in the loony bin with worry. And skydiving is by far the most accessible of all the action sports, welcoming you into the sky for your first experience after just a short (and pithy) briefing.