An extreme sport is one which is defined as very dangerous and exciting as well as physically hazardous. It is any sport or recreational activity that is potentially unsafe and where there is an increased risk of serious injury or death. Activities include BASE and wingsuit jumping, free climbing, freediving and heli-skiing. Individuals who engage in extreme sports are risk-takers and seek to push themselves to the limit, but often the only outcome of having gone too far is death.
For insurance purposes, high-risk sports are those which increase the risk of injury or death as an inherent part of participation. Sports that involve high speed, great heights or depths, extreme physical exertion and highly specialized equipment require careful underwriting.
While there are studies available detailing injury and fatality rates for most sports, it is not always so easy to identify participation rates, particularly where the sport is unregulated or participants are not required to be registered with any governing body or association. Risk assessment can be complicated if an insurance applicant takes part in multiple extreme sports.
Extreme sports are hugely popular with millions of Americans, and the following table gives an indication of participation rates in 2011.1
Table 1: 2011 US Participation Rates
Outdoor recreation has increased dramatically in the US over the past 20 years. Whitewater rafting is popular among thrill seekers, with up to 1 million Americans engaging in the sport each year. According to the American Whitewater accident database, 799 people have died in whitewater accidents over the last 15 years, primarily during private activity.2 Other personal watercraft such as jet skis can pose significant risks to an inexperienced operator, who may be inclined to drive using excessive speed. In the US, jet ski use accounts for the second highest number of injuries in water sports. During 2016, there were 46 fatalities from jet ski use. Over the last decade, jet ski deaths have accounted for 5% to 10% of all boating deaths in the US.3
The sport of cave diving has been in existence since the mid-20th century, when Jacques Cousteau, a French naval officer and explorer, pioneered this form of diving. Approximately 10 cave divers from a population of only a few thousand people who participate in the sport die each year. This compares to a fatality rate of 1 in 15,000 scuba divers annually. An analysis of American cave diving fatalities from 1969 to 2007 found that of the 368 fatalities, 95% were male and that professional divers and/or diving instructors accounted for only 5% of the 275 divers whose occupations were known.4
Freediving does not involve the use of any supplementary breathing gas but can include the use of a dive suit, mask, snorkel and/or fin(s). Competitive freediving has become popular over the last couple of decades. In its directory, the International Association for the Development of Apnea (AIDA) lists only 139 professional freediving athletes from countries all over the world, some of whom are capable of diving to a depth of over 200 meters on a single breath. Risks can arise from lack of oxygen (hypoxia) and excessive carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) as a diver swims deeper below the surface, or from hyperventilation as he or she returns to the surface. In a recent review of incidents between 2006 and 2011, a total of 55 freediving deaths were recorded, while more recent data for 2010 to 2013 indicates that there were 46 freediving deaths.5, 6 Read More +