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Cowabunga, Baby: Sports Are Getting Extreme.

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Ulmer says she's been "wildly successful" making a living as a spokeswoman for the extreme sports industry. If extreme sports have a redeeming quality, she says, "They teach people what it feels like to follow your passion."

Safety is Schleser's biggest concern. "In traditional organized sports, that's less of a concern about safety because there is adult supervision. In extreme sports, kids are essentially supervising themselves and adults are relatively clueless about what exactly they're doing." However, he says, "I haven't seen a problem with that yet."

"There's tremendous skill involved to reduce risk," Schleser adds. "All things considered, we haven't had an epidemic of injuries coming out of extreme sports. But if you look at injury reports for football and overuse injuries from tennis ... it looks like there should be bodies lying all over the place, but from my perspective, it's been extremely low."

Parents' perception of extreme sports may need some work. "A lot of parents don't think of these as sports," Jack Raglin, PhD, sports psychology researcher and associate professor of kinesiology at Indiana University in Bloomington, tells WebMD. "I think they don't realize that people who are really good at those sports, the role models the kids aspire to, are highly trained athletes. It's a very challenging thing, just like any sport, but parents don't see it that way."

He agrees that extreme sports can be quite safe, says Raglin. "There's certainly a lot of safety equipment associated with it. And if you look at the pros, they're fully dressed out. And these are sports that require physical conditioning and training, so they will be safer. If kids are going to do it and parents want to support them, they need to treat it like any other sporting activity. They need to get into shape and condition for it."

He's seen one destructive aspect: kids on in-line skates are tearing up city parks. "Kids are using steps, handrails to do grinders and all these tricks. They put steel devices on skates; it's utterly destructive," Raglin tells WebMD. However, he's also seen skate parks spring up in large and small cities as a result. "Sometimes parents help kids organize efforts to set up these sorts of parks because these activities have been outlawed."

"I'm not here to justify how safe extreme sports are," says Gayton. "But last week I watched motorcyclists going over a pole vault bar. One can say it's weird or crazy, or one could say it's a unique thing to do. I wouldn't do it because I value my life. At 16 and 24 I did some crazy things, too. All I'm saying is, we need to keep in touch and remember where we were coming from at that age."

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