2005-10-27 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

When extreme sports fail
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Columnists are discouraged from writing about religion. However, I’m going to make an exception in this case because the subject we are addressing is not controversial. You see, most religions agree that at some point, we will be held accountable for the way we have spent our lives. Accountability is believed to happen after we expire and before we are allowed to enter the legendary Pearly Gates

If that is the case, I think it’s probably okay to say that St. Peter, or one of his colleagues, is likely to ask a few challenging questions before allowing us to pass through those hallowed portals.

If he asks a race car driver how he spent his life, he will more than likely hear something like: “I spent my life driving a car in thousands of little circles at over 200 miles per hour until I made one itty-bitty mistake.” How well do you think that will be received?

That being said, I can’t help but wonder how many have been invited through the gates whose last words were, “Watch this!” Apparently, that is a common final statement among athletes who fail while participating in a so-called “extreme” sporting event.

An extreme sports athlete will do something like jump out of a perfectly good airplane with a surfboard strapped to his feet. He does this so he can surf on air for as much as a minute or so while hurtling toward the earth at a speed around 80 miles per hour.

The surfboard provides a certain amount of wind resistance that slows jumpers from falling at speeds ranging from 120 to 140 mph. That’s how fast they would be falling if they jumped without the board.

In other words, if a jumper is in a “stable position,” that is, falling while facing the ground with arms and legs extended, he will fall at about 120 mph. If the jumper is in a “delta position” with his head facing down, legs straight and slightly parted while his arms are extended and at a slight angle to his body, he will fall faster, at approximately 140 mph.

If the jumper were tumbling head-over-heels with arms and legs flailing wildly while screaming “I’M GONNA DIIIIIEEEEEEEE!” at the top of his lungs like a normal person, he would hit the ground at somewhere between 130 and 135 mph. That is what would happen if he were too frightened, panicked, and discombobulated to pull the ripcord at the appropriate time to open his parachute, which seems like a perfectly normal response to me.

How impressed do you think St. Peter would be if you told him that the last sound you heard was “thunk,” the result of colliding with a very hard object known as a cliff while you were falling out of the sky at a ridiculous rate of speed on a surfboard?

There are other extreme sports, one of which is skateboarding down the side of a mountain on a steep road that allows the rider to attain speeds of 60 mph or more. This is accomplished while standing atop a small piece of plywood attached to four wheels that are approximately two inches in diameter. For protection, the skateboarder wears a pair of kneepads, elbow-pads, and a plastic helmet. Brakes or a steering mechanism are not involved.

Another example of these activities is extreme mountain climbing. This is where the climber works his way up the side of a mountain without the aid of ropes, pulleys, picks and bolts, or any other safety device, and wearing little more than shorts and boots.

Other extreme sports include extreme surfing, fighting, windsurfing, snowboarding and skiing.

Extreme sports began as normal, safe sports that evolved into death-defying feats of insanity. The extreme part means “extremely dangerous.” As I understand it, most extreme sports involve a simultaneous defiance of the law of gravity and death.

Oddly, very few serious injuries result from participating in extreme sporting events. I think the reason is that death is usually the result of things going awry. Injuries are hardly a consideration in those circumstances.

Very few extreme sports athletes generate a great deal of money from their efforts. To the best of my knowledge, extreme team sports are non-existent. All are individual events. Professional extreme players usually only realize a payday if they win and are alive to collect the reward. If they are not in the top three, participation becomes an expense. Sometimes the winner only receives a trophy, and no money changes hands. Obviously, wealth is not a motivating factor.

So, why do they do it, you ask? The answer is simple. Although the athletes say they do it for the adrenaline rush, they do it so that people of questionable sanity — their fans — will consider them to be cool. Otherwise, they’d indulge in their eccentricities in private.

However, the bigger the crowd, the more daring they become. That makes as much sense as the sports themselves. I’m going to try to believe that it’s just another part of that system that we don’t quite understand.

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