Some say it’s camping in England in the height of what is laughingly called “summer”. The cheap tent that really should be used in the back garden during a heat wave can’t cope with monsoon downpours that throw hailstones the size of golf balls into the mix. But enough of my recent experiences in the New Forest in the month of May!
Defining the most dangerous outdoor sports and pursuits is problematic. First off of course is the question of why people do it? Why do otherwise rational human beings seem determined to see just how close to a sticky end they can get in the name of fun? You can see the point of EI – or Extreme Ironing as it’s otherwise known. It all started in Leicester in 1997 and retains its appeal because it combines the excitement of an extreme outdoor pursuit with the satisfaction of a well pressed pair of pants.
Angling kills more people than any other outdoor pursuit due to hapless and no doubt inebriated fishermen falling into lakes/streams/ponds and drowning, but it still isn’t deemed ‘extreme’ or ‘dangerous’. Adherents of risky outdoor pursuits would of course claim that it’s the ‘rush’ that makes it worthwhile. They also maintain that their pursuit usually involves using specialist equipment to control an inherently uncontrollable and unpredictable environment and hence make it safer. The ultimate expression of that must be the superbly named Felix Baumgartner and his eight minute free fall jump 13 miles from the edge of space in what amounted to a full EVA pressure suit: only the third person ever to jump from such a high altitude and free fall to a safe landing.
That reliance of the kit may also apply to things like SCUBA diving or cave diving with the technological paraphernalia (and air supply) you need, but if you’re surfing 50-foot waves capable of tsunami-ing small seaside villages, the only ‘specialist’ equipment you’re likely to have is a surf board and a length of nylon tether. It’s also hard to see what specialist equipment is involved in a sport like the luge, other than a ‘special’ state of mind that suggests going down a mountain at speed on what is basically a tea-tray with your backside or face only inches away from being shredded off is a good idea!
The really dangerous outdoor pursuits tend to attract men in their 20s to 40s who can afford all the kit and love to ‘live for the moment’, which is just as well as any one of them could be their last! Even without death, there’s the prospect of concussion or brain damage, broken bones or the bends. The adherents of these sports and pastimes seem also to split into two types: adrenaline junkies who just crave the thrill and the equipment junkies who are in love with the technicalities of the kit required.
Although many of these pursuits began life in the youth counterculture, they have now been acquired, subsumed and morphed into huge moneymaking marketing exercises by the likes of Red Bull promoting televised events and celebrity endorsement or surf wear makers offering $100,000 for the first surfer to ride a 100 foot wave. Whatever they may have originally been inspired by, they are all now just fodder for a huge global entertainment and merchandise machine that only aims to make money – so what’s the point in any of them any more?
The magnificent seven most dangerous outdoor pursuits
What are the most dangerous outdoor pursuits? Depends on you age, fitness, income and personality. Those who indulge risky outdoor pursuits say it’s the ‘adrenaline rush’ that makes it worthwhile. The challenge or the thrill that makes you feel alive. Those whose outdoor pursuits involve specialist equipment would also claim that, while seemingly reckless, they are in fact perfectly safe thanks to the kit they use. If you want an objective definition of the most dangerous outdoor pursuits, you should probably look at what the insurance companies think.
Their actuaries and experts draw tables and assess risk using hard-headed statistics and probable risk to them (i.e. the likelihood of actually having to pay out against a policy) on what they consider to be “dangerous avocations”. This definition includes sports and hobbies like learning to fly an aircraft or helicopter, motor racing and even hot air ballooning. The activities an insurance company will probably find too risky to insure are therefore, by definition, the most dangerous outdoor pursuits. In order of perceived insurance company risk then, the top seven most dangerous outdoor pursuits are:
- Motor Vehicle Racing: of any type including a car, motorbike, go-cart, dune buggy or powerboat. You might still be insurable if you raced under the supervision of an instructor with full medical back up, otherwise forget it for anything less than an eye watering premium.
- Flying: The highest rate of death among pilots is when they are learning to fly or have very little experience in the air. If you’ve logged less than 40 hours, forget it. Ballooning, Hang Gliding or Ultralite flying also comes into this category. Most of these activities are considered uninsurable unless you are highly experienced, but even then you would have a high rating on your policy.
- B.A.S.E. Jumping (Buildings, Antennas, Spans and Earth): where you do without the aircraft and leap from buildings, cliffs or towers wearing a parachute and a wingsuit so you can glide high enough for the ‘chute to actually open. This is considered one of the most dangerous outdoor pursuits in the world with a very high death rate. It is not insurable.
- Mountaineering: serious climbers who are into rock, snow and ice climbing are out and insurance companies laugh at people who climb alone or are free style climbers (those who do it without safety equipment). You’re probably OK if you climb with a club or school, provided you can prove that you’ve taken all the required safety training and use the safety equipment like avalanche beacons and radios.
- Scuba Diving: Have the chance of drowning and the possibility of decompression sickness. Insurance companies know there is a difference between people getting a kiss-me-quick holiday PADI license for a 25 foot dive in the Red Sea and those who do deep water dives in cold Scottish waters Surprisingly, They regard the serious diver as a much greater risk than the person doing it once on holiday.
- Parachuting and Sky Diving: not that bad really. Insurance companies will look at how experienced you are, whether you’re a member of club or a proper jump school, jumping alone or in small groups, doing fixed line jumps or free fall.
- Skiing and snowboarding: despite, as you might think, the anecdotal evidence of plaster casts and broken limbs, insurance companies have little problem with these outdoor pursuits, provided you stick to managed resorts and pistes. It’s only once you go off-piste that skiing or snowboarding are considered too dangerous to insure.
And if you equate ‘holiday’ rather with ‘relaxing’ I’d suggest a caravan holiday in beautiful Devon!