How Technology Shapes Extreme Sports

From high-performance aftermarket automobile tuning companies like Brabus to the aerospace product company that Felix Baumgartner used to help design his custom skydiving suit, the world of extreme sports is rife with technological developments.

And it is these developments, in both technology and methodology, that have allowed athletes participating in a number of sports to excel to realms thought not possible in years past.

For example, thanks to specially designed squirrel suits, humans can now hurtle themselves off cliffs, careening left and right as they soar beautifully down to the valley below. High-definition video reels help halfpipe skateboarders and snowboarders see their mid-air rotations much more clearly, allowing them to adapt their techniques to learn new moves more efficiently.

In automobile racing, the race to build the most technologically advanced (and fastest) cars have led to direct-shift gearboxes, clutchless manual transmissions, high-performance tires, state-of-the-art transmission systems — you name it. It’s the sport of racing that has caused these technologies to trickle down over the years into standard consumer vehicles. Sure, you’re not racing an Indy car, but you should know that some of the technologies in your car are a direct result of Indy racers. Cool stuff.

In surfing, Laird Hamilton leveraged jet skis to surf waves of epic proportions. Forty, fifty, seventy feet — waves nearly impossible to paddle into without a little help. Tow-in surfing, as it’s referred to, is now synonymous with big wave surfing around the world. Sure, there are a handful of people who can paddle in to waves this size, but using a jet ski is easier and also allows for a quick pickup in the event of an emergency.

And I can’t forget the company GoPro, a sports-camera company that has helped bring the world of extreme sports to armchair adventurers browsing the web for the latest videos. GoPro, by the way, plans to IPO for up to $500 million sometime next year. One more indicator that extreme sports are not a fad, and that technology is helping to propel fringe sports to a whole new level.

So, without waxing philosophical on where technology has come from, where it is headed, and how it has played a vital role in the development of extreme sports — next time you’re either participating in an extreme sport (or soaking up the brilliance of one from the comfort of your own home), take note of what technological developments have led us to this point.

I’ll be curious to see what happens over the next several years.

Alan Perlman
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