Presenter & Journalist

On The Edge

With so many extreme sports on the big screen, Jan Gilbert asks psychologist Rhonda Cohen why we love life on the edge.

Guy Martin on bikeEvery year people flock to the Isle of Man for the extreme thrills of the world-famous Tourist Trophy motorcycle race (TT for short). The bikes scream round the island, hitting speeds of 200mph on 38 miles of dangerous bends and sheer drops.

Released on 22 April, the cinema documentary TT3D: Closer to the Edge plonks you slap-bang in the middle of last year’s heart-stoppingly intense race. Loaded with action, laughs, and eye-popping 3D, the film follows the top riders on the TT trail including Guy Martin, who’s like an English version of Wolverine with his thick sideburns, wild hair, and broad northern accent.

So what drives people like Martin to live life in the fast lane? ‘When you do sport, the body releases adrenaline,’ explains psychologist Rhonda Cohen, head of the London Sport Institute. ‘That rush of adrenaline gives you a real high, a real sense of happiness, and that can be quite addictive. Extreme sport gives you a really quick buzz because it’s so intense.’

Tom Cruise racked up the adrenaline as a hot-headed race car driver in Days of Thunder. Obviously he still felt the need for extreme speed even after all the air-borne hi-jinks he got up to as a US Navy pilot in Top Gun.

Tightrope-walker Philippe Petit gets his adrenaline kicks from adventures with altitude. Man on Wire, a movie-doc with all the tension of a top-notch heist flick, captures the light-footed Frenchman treading the high wire between New York’s Twin Towers.

But thrill-seeking isn’t all giddy highs as Aron Ralston found when he ended up caught between a rock and a hard place… literally. Danny Boyle’s latest film 127 Hours stars Spider-Man’s James Franco as Ralston, who made extreme use of a blunt multi-tool when his arm was trapped by a boulder while he was canyoning alone in Utah.

Despite that harrowing experience, Ralston carried on climbing, as did Joe Simpson and Simon Yates after their death-defying descent of the Siula Grande mountain in Peru. Touching the Void retraces how the British mountaineers ended up in a tight spot when an already injured Simpson fell from the cliff face in to a crevasse.

Getting your kicks by catching a wave can be a risky business too, especially if you’re in pursuit of a bunch of bank-robbing surfer dudes, as FBI agent Keanu Reeves discovers in Point Break.

On the plus side, high-octane activities have benefits beyond the buzz. ‘People who do extreme sports tend to be less afraid about daily life,’ says Cohen. ‘They’re more confident about trying new things, don’t worry if they don’t succeed, and learn from their experiences.’

Fancy taking adventure to the max? ‘Never just go out and try an extreme sport,’ says Cohen. ‘You need to do a lot of preparation first. Read up everything about it on the web. Meet people who do it and learn from them. And make sure you get the right training and equipment.’

Flipside magazine

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