Monday 10 May 2010

Spectrum Magazine 9th May 2010

What is Extreme Sport

ex·treme adj

1. highest in intensity or degree -

2. going far beyond what is reasonable or normal, drastic or unreasonable measures

3. denoting an activity in which participants actively seek out dangerous or even life-threatening experiences

Since the adoption of the word “extreme” by sport marketers in the mid nineties, every naff product wishing to be associated with mountain and street sports has become “extreme”. Every thing from poisonous “energy” drinks to razor blades, have ridden on the back of images nicked for my/your sports.

In the USA and now I hope Europe, here there is solid backlash from Mountain and street sports practitioners against the “Rad”icalization of the activities they hold dear. The mainstream media is full of these types of images. Insurance companies and banks, using mountaineering and climbing images to sell their financial services, beauty and male grooming products and car companies trying to sell flatbed trucks they may think will appeal to the young trendy lifestyle people, whoever they are.

Almost weekly I get asked, what is the most extreme thing I have done, wow you’re an extreme sports person, I really hope not. Dave Macleod a Scot, is arguably the best all round climber in the world at the moment, he is far from extreme, on his most difficult and dangerous routes, he is never working at the “Highest” level of intensity, he does not take unreasonable measures “for him” and he does not seek out life threatening experiences, Dave would describe them as, life enhancing. Dave and people on the cutting edge of mountain sport do not seek out death. They are cool, calculated and very, very measured.

The cutting edge big mountain boarder Xavier de Le Rue from France, boards regularly on the steepest faces Chamonix has to offer, Glen Plake the inventor of modern big mountain skiing equally tests, conditions, hones his skills, watches the weather and the temperatures fastidiously. They do exceptional things, inspiring things, but they do not take unreasonable risks. Even the word adventure in the sense of risk is over used. Yvon Chounaird the founder of Patagonia Equipment and 1% for the Planet Foundation said “its only adventure when things go wrong”

My point is that words like extreme and rad have lost their value; they have been adopted by the marketing mainstream to sell products using images of sports and activities that they do not understand. Whilst this may seem insignificant in the greater scheme of things, there is another contributing factor. For years companies have used/taken the styles and images from these sports and given nothing back. Its for the most part, take. These images of death deifying risk, also act as barriers to participation, images of untouchable “radical” elitism serve to push people away from outdoor activities and this is a great mistake.

We live in a country with a predicted obesity rate of 60% for all UK adults in 10 years. With an increasing level of sedentary behaviour In a more litigious and risk adverse society, we don’t need multinationals just taking imagery to sell stuff. We need investment. We need more outdoor education in schools, more skate parks, mountain bike tracks and facilities generally. We need more and better-funded programs to encourage our youth into these activities, which once adopted remain key life enhancers for many years.

I am not against marketing companies and brands associating with outdoor and street sports, in fact the opposite. But we the consumer have a job to educate the companies who take, and do not invest in the qualities they purport to promote, through using “lifestyle” images groomed from our activities.

How do we do this, quite simply, don’t by the products. If you know a company who is investing in competitions, grass routes activities and/or supporting the athletes, buy the phone, used the face cream and drink the drink; If not boycott them.

You may think this is extreme, I don’t think so, after all, if the predictions are right, soon the western world is going to be so unfit, that only images of active people you might be left with will be of me. And you don,t want that.

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