From extreme to mainstream

With this year’s Dubai Sports World featuring new extreme sports such as parkour and skateboarding, Vision explores the growing interest in these former ‘sub-culture’ sports and highlights the benefits they offer to young people

Last year’s Youth Olympic Games in China underlined a growing trend in sports participation among young people. Alongside the traditional sports of athletics, swimming and gymnastics, the International Olympic Committee also chose to feature skateboarding, roller blading and rock climbing as demonstration events, highlighting the ever-increasing popularity of so-called adventure or ‘sub-culture’ sports among young people.

Each of these disciplines is now seeking inclusion in the main Olympic Games, as extreme sports continue their move into the mainstream. BMX and mountain biking have already been embraced at the Summer Olympics, while the Winter Olympics are steadily increasing the number of snowboarding and freestyle skiing events, as they seek to appeal to a global youth audience.

The growing popularity of adventure sports around the world has already been widely noted, with a 2013 report by the Australian Sports Commission highlighting the rise of lifestyle, adventure and alternative sports as a ‘megatrend’, estimating that more than 150 million people globally already participate in action sports.

The growing popularity of adventure sports around the world has been widely noted

This trend has not gone unnoticed in Dubai, which has seen an increasing number of clubs devoted to adventure sports, and last year hosted the Middle East’s first-ever dedicated extreme sports exhibition, the Spearo Extreme Sports Expo, at the Palm Island drop zone of Skydive Dubai.

Extreme sports were also included this year’s edition of Dubai Sports World (DSW), organised in partnership with Dubai Sports Council, which provided a 10-week programme of sports, tournaments, and academies held in the Middle East’s largest indoor sporting venue at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).

In addition to dedicated Summer Camps for popular sports such as football, basketball, cricket and tennis, DSW 2015 also featured extreme sports clinics for children aged between four and 16, which were operated by UAE-based sports academies.

These included an expansive skateboarding and BMX park, designed by extreme sports retailers RAGE, which featured an array of ramps, rails, pipes and vertical jumps, and a purpose-built parkour obstacle course, which hosted group classes led by the Against GraviTi parkour instructors.

Adventure sports such as parkour and skateboarding are offering other benefits to young people that differ from many traditional sports

Parkour, or free-running, is commonly defined as “moving most efficiently from point A to point B” and involves negotiating obstacles in the most creative way possible – usually in an urban environment – by running, jumping, climbing and flipping.

But as well as encouraging young people to get active and have fun, adventure sports such as parkour and skateboarding are also offering other benefits to young people that differ from many traditional sports.

The DSW classes, for instance, included Streetworkout for Strength (GX), which covered basic callisthenic moves like push-ups through to more advanced techniques, and Parkour for Flow (GX), which taught both basic and advanced parkour movements, as well as proper landing techniques and critical safety information.

And according to research by the University of British Columbia (UBC), children who participate in physical activity such as climbing and jumping, rough and tumble play and exploring alone, display greater physical and social health.

Play environments where children could take risks promoted increased play time, social interactions, creativity and resilience

Mariana Brussoni, Author and assistant professor

“We found that play environments where children could take risks promoted increased play time, social interactions, creativity and resilience,” says Mariana Brussoni, lead author of the study and assistant professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and Department of Pediatrics. “These positive results reflect the importance of supporting children’s risky outdoor play opportunities as a means of promoting children’s health and active lifestyles.”

As well as learning to manage risk in a positive way, activities such as parkour can also help encourage children to get off the couch and be active, instilling a healthy lifestyle in them from a young age.

“We want to use tools such as parkour to promote our philosophy of ‘keeping moving’,” explains Sachin Amin, one of the founders of Against GraviTi. “One of our biggest initiatives is to promote these sports in schools. We want to see outdoor sports being embraced in the region and we want to see kids off their iPads and living healthy, active lifestyles again.”

With the addition of parkour and skateboarding helping to boost this year’s DSW attendance by 13% to almost 200,000 people, it appears there is already a healthy appetite for adventure sports in Dubai, which looks set to benefit the next generation of Emiratis.