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26 March 2007

Chasing the adrenalin dragon

It’s amazing what some people will do for kicks. Whether it be leaping off the edge of a cliff, or coming face-to-face with a great-white shark, the hunt for the rush is always on.

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It’s amazing what some people will do for kicks. Whether it be leaping off the edge of a nauseatingly high cliff, or coming face-to-face with a ravenous great-white shark, the hunt for the elusive adrenalin rush is more common now than ever before.

So, to what lengths will these junkies go to get their rocks off? And if you’re keen to experience the thrill of the adrenalin rush, how far are you prepared to push your body and mind for the ultimate thrill?

Extreme sports have gained major popularity over the past decade, and are generally accepted as the way to go if you’re looking for an intense brush with possible death. Bungee jumping, sky diving, BASE jumping, roller coasters and white water rafting are all popular extreme sports designed to push your fears to the very edge.

But before you plunge off a bridge or hurtle down a winding metal track at eye-drying speeds, do your research. Reading on from here would be a good start.

Three, two, one, bungee!
The origin of this gravity-defying sport is an interesting one, and is thought to have originated from a traditional test of courage performed by the young men of Pentecost Island in Vanuatu. In this tradition, they would jump from boggling heights with nothing more than vines tied to their ankles to keep them from meeting their maker.

These days you get more than just a shrivelled branch for a life-line. Bungee chords are engineered under strict conditions, and allow you to leap off high obstacles without ending up a splat on the proverbial pavement. The elastic material stretches and absorbs the energy of your descent, giving you a short but intense free-fall.

And if you’ve been thinking about bungee jumping, our advice is to just go and do it. As far as extreme sports goes, it is exceptionally safe, relatively inexpensive and comes in at a thrilling three out of five on the rush-o-meter.

Sky diving
Humans have been jumping out of aeroplanes since the day those crazy brothers got their rickety machine off the ground. A serious step up from bungee jumping, sky divers rely solely on their equipment to make it back to solid ground alive. One wrongly packed chute, or badly timed release will result in a sudden and messy death.

Why do people hurl themselves from planes? Because it’s the closest you’ll ever get to flight. But it’s not a once-off experience like bungee jumping. You’ll need to get a license to become a freefall jumper, and this requires extensive training and static-line jumps.

But no matter your level of skill, you’ll still find yourself hurtling towards the earth at breakneck speeds, giving this death-defying sport a face-squelching four on the rush-o-meter.

But while it’s probably the biggest rush you can get, it doesn’t come cheap. The equipment needed is specialist and expensive, and that hasn’t even covered the training costs. But if you’ve got the cash and are looking for that ultimate rush, we say go for it.

BASE jumping
Building, Antenna (any uninhabited aerial tower), Span (bridges, domes and arches), Earth (a natural cliff or formation). These are the principles of this extreme sport, and if you’re a BASE jumper, any of the above are your launch platforms. It’s sky diving, but with a notoriously dangerous twist.

Most BASE jumps occur below 600m off static objects, the most dangerous of which being skyscrapers and antenna’s which can clock in at below 450m, and can be as low as 100m. This results in an extremely short freefall, and a complete reliance on specialised equipment and skill.

Once you’ve hurled yourself off a building, bridge cliff and antenna, you can apply for your very own BASE number – the goal of most jumpers. But this isn’t to say that it’s an every-man’s sport. It’s expensive, often illegal and highly dangerous, but its very existence warrants its growing popularity.

There is no room for error. A couple of seconds is all you have to get your parachute out, and if you don’t, you’ve got an unpleasant meeting with a sidewalk to look forward to. BASE jumping is only recommended for the rigorously trained and somewhat crazy adrenaline junkie, rating in at a death-defying five on the rush-o-meter.

White water rafting
If flying towards the earth at terminal velocity isn’t your cup of tea, getting wet might be your best option. How does plunging down a raging river with little more than a life-jacket, helmet and plastic ore sound?

White water rafting has picked up in popularity over the past fifteen years, and is an excellent extreme group activity. There is a certain element of luck to the sport - created by the unpredictability of the river your team chooses to take on - and that’s where the thrill lies.

Rapids and rough water are graded from 1 – 6, the highest recommended only for seasoned veterans. While there are fatalities and injuries, thousands of people enjoy rafting experiences every year as technology improves, and expertise grows.

A common misconception is made that rafting is similar to an amusement park ride. This is very far from the truth, as the only protection you have on the water is the inflatable craft below you, and your safety equipment. With a high danger rating, this sport gets a fearful four on the rush-o-meter.

Roller coasters
Strapping yourself into a seat and hurtling around a screeching track at up to 200km/h is one of the most popular activities of many adrenalin-seeking enthusiasts. It’s also one of the safest ways to get your heart racing with a couple of bellowing screams to boot.

Roller coasters come in all shapes and sizes, and are generally made out of either wood or steel. As technology has improved, so has track design, which now incorporates unbelievable loops, twirls, twists accompanied by chest-crushing speeds - a vast improvement from the boring tracks of the early 20th century.

Most roller coasters rely mostly on kinetic energy that is created after the first major descent of the cart, which can be from a height of up to 329m (the height of ‘The High Roller’ in Las Vegas, the tallest roller coaster in the world), and can reach speeds of up to 204km/h.

It’s a safe, fun and relatively cheap thrill, and you’ll find a coaster at most major theme parks. Recommended for the less courageous, and for beginners of adrenalin-rush enjoyment, roller coaster riding gets a timid 2 on the rush-o-meter.

And for the faintest of hearts
If you’re ready to experience the thrills of adrenalin, but are still a bit scared to try any of the above, there are some more gentle (yet thrilling) activities that’ll get your blood flowing.

Hot-air balloon flights have taken off across the globe as a popular adventure for the more faint of heart. Relying on the skill of the pilot, and at the mercy of the winds, this might be a great adventure for your somewhat fearful mother-in-law, and scores a gentle one on the rush-o-meter.

What does adrenalin do to the body?
Adrenalin is released from adrenal glands found on top of your kidneys. It’s a hormone that is released to prepare your body and mind for a dangerous situation, increasing your heart-rate, upping your senses and raising your awareness.

It also diverts blood-flow from important areas of your brain and internal organs to your major muscles and limbs, and prepares you for escape.

An adrenalin rush is the sudden and massive release of adrenalin throughout your body. It may take a couple of seconds to reach your brain, but once it does, you’ll know about it.

This rush can induce some strange feelings, such as euphoria, a sense of slow motion and even a complete loss of pain. Combine these with its natural effects, and you’ve got a weird sensation to deal with, one which many find unpleasant, and others relish.

The psyche of an adrenalin junkie
An adrenalin rush for many is a thrilling and addictive experience. The hormone induces emotions and feelings that would otherwise never be experienced. From tunnel vision to the brightening of colours and enhancement of sounds, many crave the excitement of the rush.

For many who live bland and repetitive lives, jumping out of a plane or spending weekends racing down dangerous rivers is an escape from the mundane – it makes them feel alive. Chasing the adrenalin dragon is one way to keep life exciting and spontaneous, and is something many cannot live without.

(Warren Vonk, Health24)

 
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