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Without Wild Abandon - taking an informed view of extreme sports

Extreme sports activities seem to polarise people - those who condemn and show outrage, often without being fully informed, and those who applaud the spirit of risk-taking and judgement in a modern world where it's easier to surf the 'net and shun challenges. But to be 'in the know' is perhaps to recognise the skill, commitment and level-headedness that accompanies an extreme sports athlete's decision to embrace risk positively.

In my blogs I put forward ideas from Adventure Psychology to help people figure a way to thrive in uncertain times, and make sense of the crazy world. By adopting an Adventure Mindset (I'll gradually reveal how) you can approach the challenges of life with an adaptable resolve, and embrace the chaos knowing full well that it's a wild ride so you might as well enjoy it!

“Those ‘in the know’...will recognise the positives in engaging in risky pursuits that come with courage, judgement and commitment (to the sport but also to their own decision at the moment of jumping). They will admire, applaud the spirit behind this and take home a message that there is something in this which inspires at a fundamental level. "

'In the know' - taking an informed view of extreme sports 'at the edge'

BASE jumping seems to polarise people. And this can be broadly split into two categories. Those in the know, and those who think they know (or rather just don’t know).

As it happens, if one cares to trawl through comments on social media (there are far more productive things to do with one’s time), you will see a lot of this split opinion. And vitriol. And this in fact extends to so many subject areas, but let’s stick to the ‘adventure’ end of the spectrum. For likewise everyone and his/her/their dog will chime in, whether it’s someone lost on the fells (summer or winter, take your pick), or a person who free climbs a crag, or of course, someone who chooses to leap with apparent wild abandon from a cliff face with a parachute.

At the end of the day, one would be best placed to question one’s own level of knowledge and informed opinion before venting forth. But people often tend to prefer to react rather than take a measured, considered approach to deciding whether to, indeed, proffer their strong opinion on the subject.

I can offer perspective from a couple of different standpoints. Firstly, as someone who extols the benefits of adventure and challenge, including from a psychological perspective as a scientific (and hopefully impartial) observer. Secondly, as someone with a privileged position, as a non-jumper who is nevertheless closely aligned within the community itself. And I have witnessed well in excess of 100 jumps and many many different jumpers, locations, conditions. I have documented this in photography and writing and in exploring the mindset, the psychology of jumping as well as adventure and extreme ‘performance’ more generally.

What stands out in any area that encompasses considered risk in the outdoors is that people as a rule who indulge in such pursuits have a lot of preceding experience. The adage “there are no old AND bold...[insert endeavour here]” holds true as a rule. Risk taken for those who survive into later years practising ‘hazardous’ pursuits is incrementally informed, as skills are developed, judgement honed, and survival instinct preserved! Accidents do happen, but that is true in any area of life, and precautions are taken to mitigate against this. Believe you me, no one is more aware of the hazards than the exponent who has done this many times before. I would argue that actually the individual involved in such pursuits is very much more aware of safety, hazards, consequences, and will lose sleep thinking about it. As a result they will be very attentive in the moment, and in preceding moments.

We developed our senses, our attentional systems to be aware of our surroundings, of dangers and imminent threats to our wellbeing. Much of this capacity is dumbed down by modern life, and particularly by technology – there are stats out there about the number of people who fall off cliffs taking selfies, or wander into busy roads whilst glued to their little screens not looking where they are going (and get run over, tragically thinning the gene pool).

Adventure and risk present an antidote to the modern sensibility to be distracted. Extreme sports, BASE jumping offer a more ‘real’ outlet in some ways to focus the mind on being present in the environment!

I’ve watched my compatriots closely. Gotten to know them. Seeing beyond a stereotype. There is certainly no stereotype that I am aware of, now having seen the diversity of those involved. What they have in common is a focused intensity, a human capacity for anxiety, but a boldness of spirit to overcome the challenge of being afraid – be that of the dangers involved, or of failure within themselves! And this combined with a foundation of robust experience to draw on to make decisions as to when to ‘go’ and when to walk away and come back another day...

Those ‘in the know’ who may or may not be conversant with the technicalities of BASE jumping will recognise the positives in engaging in risky pursuits that come with courage, judgement and commitment (to the sport but also to their own decision at the moment of jumping). They will admire, applaud the spirit behind this and take home a message that there is something in this which inspires at a fundamental level. They won’t judge. Those ‘not in the know’ may raise their voices and shout out disapproval, point out negative occurrences that have happened or could happen, frequently comparing to other ‘similar’ activities (which under closer scrutiny prove to be like chalk to cheese). They won’t be inspired, they will be outraged. There’s a lot of outrage in the world these days. Perhaps people (of that ilk) thrive on this. There is indeed a time and place for outrage. But one would hope outrage would be well-informed rather than based on erroneous information, supposition or just reactive in nature for the sake of it.

Having an #AdventureMindset is as much about challenging one’s own level of ignorance or preconception and embracing other perspectives (that may upend one’s own), as it is about exploring risky pursuits in the world.

And with this comes a commitment to wanting to be ‘in the know’ rather than relying on an instinctive tendency to react without first checking the status of one’s own knowledge-BASE...

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