Extreme sports NZ
Extreme sports, or X sports, encompass a wide and growing range of activities from bungy jumping to skateboarding, snowboarding and whitewater kayaking. Common to all of these sports are risk-taking, pushing limits (physical and legal) and having fun.
Extreme sports are individual rather than team focused. The core values are testing oneself and meeting personal challenges, usually through close engagement with the natural environment. Extreme sports have a strong counter-cultural element, with participants often snubbing authority and conventional sporting values. Men have dominated the extreme sports, which often promote traditional notions of masculinity. However, in the 2010s women’s participation was increasing.
Surfing to kiteboarding
The rise of extreme sports in New Zealand was closely associated with the surfing community. Early local practitioners, such as Ton Deken, Pip Bourke, Dave Smithers and John Neeson, learned to surf at Raglan, near Hamilton, in the 1960s. They experimented with the size of their surfboards, cutting the length so they could go faster and create new tricks.
During the 1970s many surfers began skiing. They transferred the skills they had learnt on the water to snow, performing new feats like jumping off bluffs and doing 180- or 360-degree turns in the air. With the American invention of the snowboard, the object then became to ‘surf the mountain’.
From the 1980s windsurfing and, later, kiteboarding – in which a surfboard is powered by a kite – provided new opportunities to push limits and perform tricks.
Extreme as it gets
In the mid-1970s New Zealander Mike Firth filmed American Jeff Campbell and Canadian Blair Trenholme skiing down and hang gliding over the Tasman Glacier. The 1977 film of their exploits, Off the Edge, did much to popularise extreme sports in New Zealand, and Campbell later said, ‘New Zealand is as extreme as you can get.’
Skateboarding and longboarding
In the late 1970s skateboarding became the latest extreme sport. Among the New Zealanders who shone was Lee Ralph. From the mid-1980s he became famous in the Los Angeles skateboarding scene.
During the early 2010s longboarding gained an offbeat following. Longboards were large, heavy skateboards with increased stability. Longboarders raced on streets and in carparks, often at night when there was less traffic. Critics condemned their speed and antics as dangerous, but longboarders were dismissive of this view. They saw the sport as a social activity and enjoyed improving their skills in a group setting.
Skydiving and BASE jumping
Skydiving involves jumping from a plane and deploying a parachute to control descent. During freefall, before the parachute is opened, jumpers perform manoeuvres such as group formations.
BASE jumping also requires a parachute but is different from skydiving in that jumps are made from fixed objects. The acronym BASE is derived from the objects that may be jumped from: buildings, antennae, spans (bridges) and earth (cliffs). Jumping from heights as small as 60 metres, there is little room for error before the parachute is activated. In 2012 two New Zealanders died in BASE jumping accidents overseas.