As one of the top extreme-sports athletes in the world, fearless outdoorsman and renowned wild man Will Gadd knows the true value of challenging yourself–body, mind, and soul. Here, in his own words and exclusively for MF, he breaks down the methods behind his madness and offers some suggestions on how you can experience a few thrills of your own with six of the most extreme sports known to man.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “Auto racing, bullfighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports… all others are games” And while games are great fun — I played on my high school basketball team with enthusiasm if not great distinction — today I’m less interested in them. My work calendar is packed with more important events: climbing frozen waterfalls in Norway, paragliding the skies of Europe, scaling icebergs and huge mountains of rock, kayaking crazy rivers. And between all that, I’m making films, teaching clinics, and just having fun. It’s a stellar job description made possible by a lifetime spent chasing dreams around the globe.
The only drawback is the danger. But even with the hazards, these extreme sports provide the most enjoyment I’ve found in life. And I think Hemingway would agree that these are real sports. There are no judges or referees to stop the action when it gets too aggressive. Many of my friends have paid the ultimate price, and when I’m introduced at a function as “The Extreme-Sports Guy” outsiders often ask, “Why?”
The answer is that real sports offer real rewards. And, as we all know, the bigger the risk, the better the payoff. I take big risks every time I climb into my paraglider or scale an iceberg bobbing in the Atlantic, but the reward of seeing dawn’s red light sear across a high mountain range is not only worth the challenge it takes to get there, it’s also the time I feel most undeniably whole and alive.
The public often calls what I do “extreme.” But, really, these sports are all about the possibility of living completely in the moment. The usual debris of life such as mortgage payments and workplace stress becomes almost irrelevant when you’re perched on an iceberg or gliding over the Grand Canyon at nearly 18,000 feet.
The following is a list of my favorite possibilities–activities in which the question isn’t “Why?” but something more along the lines of “How can I make this feeling last forever?” They’re sports Hemingway would approve of that take place in some of the most special places I’ve found around North America–places where the only thing that really matters is just how far you can push your own limits.
SPORT MOST SUITED FOR: Guys with a fondness for medieval weaponry (an ice tool is a bit like a battle-ax) or men with latent polar-explorer genes.
TRAINING/STRENGTH REQUIRED: Reasonable upper-body power–imagine performing vertical landscaping.
SCARE SCALE: Moderate. Facial cuts are common and scars are worn with pride, but death is unlikely.
DESTINATION: Ouray, Colo. Once the locals in Ouray started making ice (they call it “farming icicles”), the quantity of GoreTex-clad climbers showing up in town to climb the frozen water skyrocketed. Ouray’s townsfolk spend a lot of time and energy running shower nozzles and other central water pipes to flow some of the best and most easily accessible ice climbs in the world. When you’re done on the ice, warm up–and ease those aching muscles–in Ouray’s natural hot-springs pool.
WHERE TO LEARN: ourayclimbing.com
SPORT MOST SUITED FOR: The type of kid who would jump off the school roof on a dare–twice. Once for grins, and once to stick it after breaking his ankle the first try.
TRAINING/STRENGTH REQUIRED: No physical skills are required, but learning to skydive first is a great idea.
SCARESCALE: Extreme. Don’t tell your girlfriend what you’re planning. And make sure your insurance premiums are paid up. Just in case.
DESTINATION: Twin Falls, Idaho, the most “user-friendly” place in the U.S. to, as the local jumpers say, “Huck your carcass off a bridge]” Perrine Bridge soars 486 feet over the Snake River and has become a BASE-jumping mecca, with numerous “fall to your death” camps held for first-time jumpers. Twin Falls local Miles Daisher recently jumped off the bridge and hiked back up from the draw a record 57 times, earning a world-record adrenaline buzz–and a pair of seriously sore legs. Amazingly, the Twin Falls chamber of commerce awarded him its Person of the Year trophy for this stunt, which says a lot about this town. I chucked my carcass off the bridge a half dozen times under Daisher’s instruction and then gave it up. The adrenaline hits were simply too insane.
WHERE TO LEARN: baserigs.com/docs/courses
SPORT MOST SUITED FOR: Anyone who heard, “Get down from there this second!” regularly while growing up.
TRAINING/STRENGTH REQUIRED: You need to be strong but without too much bulk. Gymnasts often do well, but my dad is 60 and still climbs regularly.
SCARE SCALE: Moderate. The climbing should be relatively safe, but watch for other hazards–such as poison ivy.
DESTINATION: The White Mountains, N.H. With its iconic granite cliffs, Yosemite is the more obvious choice, but the police-state attitude at the national park and hordes of camera-wielding tourists can make it feel more like Disneyland than wilderness. The White Mountains are just as thrilling, offering fantastic granite walls up to 1,500 feet high but without the zoo feeling. I’ve spent hundreds of days climbing these beautiful rocks–and the experience was absolutely as good as what you’d experience in any other top climbing destination anywhere in the world. North Conway is less than 10 miles from the soaring granite of Cathedral Ledge, and there’s nothing better than climbing high above New England’s fall colors.
WHERE TO LEARN: ime-usa.com/imcs/index.html
SPORT MOST SUITED FOR: Anyone who ever looked into the window of a circulating front-loader washing machine and thought, “What if?…”
TRAINING/STRENGTH REQUIRED: Good general fitness and flexibility. And for those still working on finding their abs, a little extra padding doesn’t hurt.
SCARE SCALE: High — but when else will you get to wear a skirt and still be a badass (a spray skirt, that is)? Besides, drowning is reportedly a peaceful death.
DESTINATION: Southeastern United States. Paddling in the South got a bad name with the movie Deliverance, but today many of the amazing rapids in the film are run by the best paddlers in the world. The Southeast has an amazing variety of rivers, from insane waterfalls and steep creeks to classics such as the New River, located in West Virginia. But all the rivers share one great feature over their more northern cousins: warm water. Those who learn to paddle in snowmelt will be blue with envy when they realize how pleasant kayaking can really be.
WHERE TO LEARN: otterbar.com
SPORT MOST SUITED FOR: The guy who dreams more about flying than about sex.
TRAINING/STRENGTH REQUIRED: Not much. This is a perfect activity to try after a morning at the gym.
SCARE SCALE: Extreme. In a sport in which the ground is the limit, proper safety precautions are mandatory if you want to fly like an eagle. A very safe eagle.
DESTINATION: Point of the Mountain, Salt Lake City, Utah. The Point offers very reliable winds for soaring almost every day year-round, and pilots come from all over the world to take part in the experience. Hardcore gliders camp in the mountain’s blowing dust, but there are plenty of chain hotels and food options all over the valley. Several of the best pilots in the U.S. own houses in the new subdivisions along the Point–it’s that good. Many novice pilots come to the Point for two-week journeys to work on their skills and survey the Point scene; on good nights there can be up to 60 wings in the air, which has got to be pure torture for the inmates in the supermax prison down at the bottom of the hill.
WHERE TO LEARN: paragliders.com
SPORT MOST SUITED FOR: Those who like a little pain before pleasure.
TRAINING/STRENGTH REQUIRED: Strong legs and stronger lungs.
SCARE SCALE: High. Like anything worthwhile, going steep and deep in the backcountry is seriously dangerous — and addictive.
DESTINATION: Revelstoke, British Columbia. There are three main industries in the ‘Stoke: logging, backcountry skiing, and marijuana cultivation. And somehow, all three fit together, making Revelstoke one of the coolest towns in North America for skiers. Rogers Pass is just up the road; international hell-ski guides and “snoweratti” from around the world all make pilgrimages to ski the epic snow. If you get tired of hiking your way up, there’s plenty of “rotor crack,” or hell-skiing, as well. If you haven’t done much backcountry skiing, a guide is essential — and many of the best in Canada make their homes in the area.
WHERE TO LEARN: acmgguides.com