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Cowabunga, Baby: Sports Are Getting Extreme.

WebMD Health News

Sept. 1, 2000 -- It's like a ballet in the sky, and then some ... flipping, dancing, plummeting head-first toward death itself. Call it artistry or athletics ... or just plain nuts: sky-surfing and free-flying are among the hottest Generation X sports, or, as they're more aptly known, extreme sports.

Street luge, bungee-golfing, dirt-bike jumping, mountain skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, and in-line skating ... some better known than others, but all reaching ever more radical limits. And they have taken over the airwaves with the recent X Games, Gravity Games, and MTV features.

Kristen Ulmer -- today's star in extreme free skiing and ski mountaineering -- remembers that adolescent angst led her into sports. She tells WebMD, "I was really, really insecure as a teenager. Sports gives you confidence at a time when you're young and superficial and just want to have fun. Sports are the healthiest way to have fun."

But pursuit of the ultimate persona drew her to extreme sports. "Everybody is searching for an identity, and this is a pretty good one," she says. "Everybody wants to be cool, and how cool is it to be a professional athlete? And how cool to be a professional extreme athlete?"

Another extreme athlete, Elissa Steamer, began skateboarding at age 11 in the streets of Fort Myers, Fla. She's now a superstar, with her own video game character and a signature shoe. Elissa's sport "came natural to her," says her mother, Cheryl Steamer Lawson. "She has a small frame so it was easy for her to do tricks."

Today, throngs of little kids surround her daughter at competitions, Lawson says. "It's pretty cool. Little kids like her, but she's real laid back about it. She doesn't get into being famous."

Steamer came out of it all OK, says her mother. "She's a pretty good kid, never got into trouble, did OK in school, graduated high school ... had two years in college. She's not stupid, not a dropout or anything," Lawson tells WebMD. "These kids aren't necessarily dropouts who risk their lives just to make a lot of money. That's true of some, but not all of them. A lot of these kids are in business for themselves."

Extreme sports are certainly the rage; kids across the country have dreams of going pro. Parents have questions. When they push kids into sports, into competition, are they possibly pushing them toward extreme sports?

"Not necessarily," Robert Schleser, PhD, professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, tells WebMD. "Kids themselves seem to be the ones choosing extreme sports. You don't see the traditional soccer mom or football dad in these sports. It's a generational thing ... like 20 years ago, when martial arts were the rage. On every street corner, you'd see young kung-fuers."

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