Evoking the ineffable

Over the last four decades the world has been witness to an unprecedented interest in and engagement with extreme sports. While activities are still evolving for the most part extreme sports are unique in that they involve physical and psychological prowess as well as a particular attitude towards the world and self. Research into extreme sports is still in its infancy and as a result we are still developing our understanding of participants who engage in extreme activities such as BASE jumping, big wave surfing, extreme skiing, waterfall kayaking, extreme mountaineering, and solo rope free climbing. Phenomenology has provided a glimpse into the lived world of the participants and a more nuanced way of interpreting the experience that has moved us beyond the notion or risks, death defiance and the no fear concept. In a recent article to be published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness we extended this even further and presented data that drew upon interviews with 15 extreme sports participants across three continents. In particular we highlighted three aspects of the extreme sports experience not traditionally considered in sport research let alone linked to extreme sports. The first notion that emerged from the data was that the core of the experience was profoundly embodied and beyond words. Even highly educated participants were unable to express the central structure of their lived experience. Instead they spoke in metaphors and simile’s but still determined that only by living the experience could it be truly determined.  Participants described a powerful feeling of vigour where senses are enhanced and everyday experiences of factors such as time change. Extreme sports seem to also facilitate transcendence. The findings provide a valuable insight the experience of the participants and contribute to our understanding of the range of human volition and experience.

Brymer, E, & Schweitzer, R, D. (Forth coming) Evoking the Ineffable: The phenomenology of extreme sports, Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice

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