Here at Pokatok, we’ve spent the last three weeks trying to get to the bottom of the mystery that is the question of what is the most difficult sport. On the journey so far, we’ve covered stick-and-ball sports, combat sports, and motorsports. From one thrill-seeking sport grouping, we dive into another as we try to determine which of the action sports is the most difficult.
Referred to by alternative names like adventure sports or extreme sports, action sports are admittedly a group of sports I am entirely unprepared for. For the first time in the “What is the Most Difficult Sport?” series, we’re getting into a category where I haven’t participated in a single sport. While I have strapped on a snowboard, slowly working my way down the slopes is about as close as I’ve come to participating in an action sport. It is, however, my solemn duty to determine the most difficult of sports and so I am honor-bound to try my best.
We kick the action sports off with skateboarding – possibly the poster child for the genre. Skateboarding began in the 1940s with wheels attached to simple wooden boxes. As the boards evolved, so did the sport of skateboarding. In the ’70s, dedicated skate parks began to be built across the state of California – rapidly spreading beyond the West Coast in the following years. Different disciplines began to form with some skaters focusing on vertical ramps while others focused on a street skating flatter style.
We fast forward to the modern day where skateboarding has exploded in popularity thanks to legends like Tony Hawk. Balance, mental fortitude, and creativity are all required to become a successful skater, regardless of which discipline you hope to pursue. The talent these athletes have legitimately blows my mind as I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of time required to reach their level.
From board to bike, the next sport on the list is BMX. Short for bicycle motocross, BMX draws inspiration from its motorized cousin. BMX athletes have a number of options if they want to compete in the sport. Street or off-road, racing or freestyle – there are several possible paths to choose.
No matter which discipline a BMX athlete is going to pursue, a high level of balance and athleticism are going to be mandatory. The mental hurdle of bodily risk will always be a factor as well. One big key difference in difficulty in my mind, however, is the use of handlebars. Whereas skateboarding tricks and racing can feature board grabs, BMX handlebars are a key feature allowing for more control over the mode of transportation. This factor knocks the difficulty level down a little bit in my mind.
A first in the “What is the Most Difficult Sport?” series, we depart dry land for a water-based sport. With roots in monowaterskis, wakeboarding didn’t really start taking hold until 1985 when the “Skurfer” company was founded by Tony Elliott. The increasingly popular watersport features a board with straps that allow for gravity-defying tricks.
Generally, the wakeboarder is pulled behind a boat while holding onto a rope with a handle at the end. Speaking from painful personal experience, simply even standing up behind a boat on a wakeboard is not an easy feat. The athletes that are able to add flips, spins, and other tricks on water have my utmost respect.
You may not have been expecting a philosophical dilemma in an action sports debate but surprise! I have quite a big one here for you. Is snowboarding technically a water sport given the fact that snow is made up of frozen water? I’ll let you decide. With the first snowboards developed in 1965, it wasn’t long before the sport rapidly spread across the world.
You might argue that being strapped onto a snowboard makes the sport a little easier, but I have to disagree. The slick surface and unforgiving surface of the snow. The previously mentioned mental barrier of bodily risk. The cold conditions of the mountain. All of these factors play a role in what I think is an incredibly difficult sport.
We’re sticking with watersports (or going back to watersports if you decided that snow doesn’t count as water) as we move on to surfing. The sport of surfing is easily the oldest of the action sports, with modern surfing traced back to Hawaii around AD 400.
The balance and bodily risk factors that have been present throughout the action sports we’ve covered so far are still very much present in surfing. However, one issue that we haven’t encountered yet which is very present in surfing is the unpredictable nature of the waves. That singular difficulty is a massive factor in what makes surfing a major competitor for the most difficult sport.
Climbing may have been around as long as humans have existed but in competition form, it’s a relatively new sport. Competition climbing came about in the ’80s from French climbers looking to ascend non-traditional climbing routes. Indoor climbing facilities with artificial walls were quickly developed for safety and competition climbing was born.
From a purely physical point of view, the demands of climbing in any form have to be among the highest in action sports. A sport that demands strength from every part of the body and high levels of focus, competition climbing is absolutely a solid candidate for the most difficult sport on this list.
Let me start by saying that every single sport on this list comes across as incredibly difficult. I have a ton of respect for anyone that takes on the unique challenges presented by these sports. Each action sport highlighted requires high levels of balance, athleticism, and mental strength. However, I do have to pick the most difficult sport from the category. After painstaking deliberation, I’ve decided that sport is skateboarding.
Acrobatics, risk-taking, creativity – all of these were factors in my decision. However, I think the element that really sold me on skateboarding is that the skater is not attached to the board while attempting jumps. A mistimed movement can be catastrophic. With this in mind, skateboarding claims the top spot as the most difficult action sport on my list.