Extreme sports are becoming increasingly popular

Extreme sports in Germany
The pleasure of taking risks

More and more Germans are devoting themselves to extreme sports in their free time | Photo (detail): © EpicStockMedia / fotolia.com

More and more Germans define themselves through their free time. You are looking for that special "kick" - climbing without safety, tumbling down cliffs. Extreme sport has moved to the center of society.

When extreme athletes plunge down steep powder snow slopes or jump from meter-high cliffs, many people shake their heads and ask: Why? They record their experiences on video, distribute the films on YouTube and thus let others participate in the excitement of the extreme. It is often incomprehensible to the viewers in front of the screen how some can risk their health and even their lives for their sport. Is it daring, the desire to take risks or the desire for heroism? What are these people looking for at the limit?
 
One answer is: Extreme athletes are interested in "flow". Sports psychologists understand it to be a state in which the human being is completely at one with himself, so to speak immersed in his actions, “flows with” it. In studies, athletes indicate that in the "flow" everything feels very effortless and works by itself. Once you have reached this state, you want to experience it again and again - and explore your limits in the process. To the extreme. These people want to get out of their comfort zone. And it looks different for everyone. Scientists differentiate between “Low” and “High Sensation Seekern”. For some, a change of job or a move is enough to leave the safe, but somewhat boring, daily routine. Extreme athletes as "high sensation seekers" always need new, complex impressions in their sport and want to perform at their best. In their opinion, physical or social risks are also worthwhile.
 
It is difficult to define exactly what extreme sport can be. After all, extreme means something different to everyone. For some, even a marathon is a megalomaniac undertaking, while others train in ultra-runs for days or dive into the depths of the sea without compressed air. The most widespread in Germany are currently extreme endurance runs or bike races, base jumping, freeriding and climbing without safety. The search for sensation can put a stamp on entire villages: Many German base jumpers, for example, like to go to Austria or Switzerland for their jumps into the abyss. Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland, for example, even called a magazine “the valley in which people fall from the sky”. And where most of the fatal accidents of base jumpers happen.

Because they know what they are doing

It may sound absurd, but: The professionals among the extreme athletes know what they are doing. Instead of spontaneously indulging in taking risks, they prepare meticulously, knowing their own abilities and limits. In addition to the physical condition, not only will power count, but also external conditions. In other words, weather such as wind, which decides between life and death in base jumping, for example, if the athlete is blown close to a rock. But it is precisely these conditions to be successfully assessed and to get into the flow that makes the appeal. In the YouTube films, however, meticulous preparations and long training do not play a role. It is only the moment that counts - and only this moment that is shown. Extreme sports also live from these seemingly unbelievable recordings, with which the athletes allow others to participate in their extreme achievements. “What is captured in the picture is what will outlast us,” says the Austrian philosopher Konrad Paul Liessmann. For extreme athletes, it is a matter of "banishing the volatility of the moment, ideally for all eternity." But it is precisely this media marketing that inspires more and more laypeople to try it out as well.

2,591 hours of free time per year

So some turn their free time into a sporting challenge course: one crosses the Alps, the other tries paragliding, the next sets off on an Arctic expedition. Running a marathon almost seems boring. Is our society getting more and more extreme? According to the Leisure Monitor 2016 study, Germans have 2,591 hours of free time per year. That is about 30 percent of the total time available. More and more Germans define themselves through their free time. The extreme has become a trend and has thus moved to the center of society.
 
One problem that many recreational athletes have is that they cannot accurately assess their own abilities. In fact, the adrenaline-saturated flow harbors dangers for them: "In this non-reflective state, the risks are more likely to be ignored," says Marie Ottilie Frenkel, sports psychologist at Heidelberg University. In a study she found that “high sensation seekers” can deal with extreme situations better than other people. They release less stress hormone cortisol, do not have such a high heart rate and feel comfortable with a certain risk. But it is only through longer training that the professionals among extreme athletes know how to assess their abilities and extreme situations. Something completely different is frightening for them: a regular everyday life, for example, three children, a dog. Against such limits, they can only shake their head.