How do Americans feel about extreme sports and activities?

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
January 10, 2023, 8:11 PM GMT+0

Some people will do nearly anything for an adrenaline rush — climb a mountain, chase a storm, or even dive with sharks. But as recent polling by YouGov shows, not everyone is on the same page when it comes to extreme sports and activities. While some people maintain that the thrill and sense of accomplishment that comes with participating in extreme sports is worth the risk, others argue they are inherently dangerous and can at times be addictive.

Which extreme sports and activities have Americans done — and which are they interested in doing? To find out, we developed a list of 30 sports and activities that could — by some definitions — be considered extreme. On two polls, we asked Americans which, if any, they had done before, as well as whether they'd be interested in doing each if given the chance.

Fewer than one in five Americans have ever participated in each of the activities asked about — though some were more common, including motorcycling (33% have done it), skiing (29%), off-roading (29%), skateboarding (26%), and whitewater rafting (24%). The most common activity by a longshot, however, is riding a roller coaster, something 58% of Americans say they've done.

People who hadn't done each activity were asked whether they would be interested in doing it or not. Hot air ballooning, ziplining, and scuba diving top the list of activities that Americans are most likely to say they'd want to do — but haven't yet done.

Many extreme sports and activities are not appealing to majorities of Americans: more than half of people who haven't done them say they're not interested in doing 29 out of the 30 asked about. The one exception is hot air ballooning: 47% of people who haven't done it say they'd be interested in doing so, while 45% say they wouldn't be. The activities that Americans find least appealing are cliff jumping (81% of people who haven't done it are not interested), ice climbing (79%), bungee jumping (76%), and shark diving (75%).

When asked broadly about the idea of participating in extreme sports or activities, far more Americans say they dislike (30%) or hate (22%) them than like (19%) or love (7%) them. Men are more likely than women to say they like or love them, and younger adults are far more fond of them than older people.

Why do Americans who enjoy extreme sports like them? When presented with a list of 10 possible reasons and asked to select all that apply, the most common reason given is "experiencing new things," followed by "stress relief." At least one in three also emphasized physical fitness, confidence-building, thrill-seeking, or the pushing of personal limits.

Why do some people not enjoy extreme sports? This group was also presented with a list of 10 possible reasons for not liking them and asked to select all that apply. The most common choice was "lack of interest," (60%) followed by fear of injury, physical limitations, and a lack of skill. (Fear of injury is not unfounded —- our poll finds that 21% of Americans have been injured while participating in what they consider to be an extreme sport or activity.) Other potential barriers — such as cost constraints, time constraints, and limited access — were each selected by just one in five or fewer.

We also asked Americans to weigh in on some common debates surrounding extreme sports and activities, including their addictiveness, insurance coverage, regulation, and safety:

  • Most people — 62% — believe that extreme sports and activities can be addictive, while just 12% say they can't be.
  • Half of Americans (50%) say they think extreme sports should be covered by health insurance, while 21% say they shouldn't.
  • Just one in five — 22% — thinks that extreme sports and activities should be regulated by the government; 51% believe they should not be.
  • Half of Americans (51%) believe that extreme sports and activities can be done safely, while 34% say they are always dangerous.

— Carl Bialik, Linley Sanders, and Matthew Smith contributed to this article.

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: The poll was conducted among 2,000 U.S. adult citizens on two separate surveys conducted from December 8 - 13, 2022 and December 9 - 13, 2022, with each survey conducted among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 2.4%.

Image: Adobe Stock (Victoria VIAR PRO)