As the name implies, extreme sports tend to be high-risk endeavors. While some competitions have pretty firmly set schedules (think the U.S. Open of Surfing and the Olympics), others have windows or “waiting periods” (time periods within which the events can run).
They not only allow for flexibility based on conditions, but many of these sports’ governing bodies consult with athletes to determine the best course of action. It is the athletes, after all, who are most impacted by the calls.
Here are four institutions and events that factor in athletes’ two cents, and why.
World Surf League
The World Surf League has long considered its athletes in decisions on whether to run contests or put them on hold. Calls used to be made jointly by the head judge, a surfer representative and the event director, explains World Surf League VP of communications Dave Prodan.
“It is now the decision of the commissioner, so Kieren Perrow (or his proxy) at the men’s events and Jessi Miley-Dyer at the women’s events,” Prodan says. “They’re in daily communication with all of the surfers, so they make their calls with a lot of input from them.”
That’s input with regard to conditions, judging, format and locations. Most WSL events have one or more backup sites, and events like the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast have been known to hop from beach to beach depending on which break looks most conducive to power hacks and mondo boosts.
Even in the case of the U.S. Open of Surfing, with its detailed festival schedule, Prodan says that events can be rearranged to make the most of conditions. Since it’s a Championship Tour (CT) event for the women, they usually take precedence when it comes to prime time slots.
Freeride World Tour
Freeride World Tour athletes put their lives on the line when they enter the competition arena, so the FWT has extensive safety measures in place and riders’ feedback is a huge part of that. Skier Jackie Paaso says that while riders don’t necessarily have the final say, their concerns about conditions are always taken under consideration.
The Freeride World Tour’s head of sport development, Berti Denervaud, explains, “There is a board of riders who will be consulted in the event that conditions are difficult. They can be consulted on start positions, closed areas, face options or whether we judge all the way down or stop before the finish line. Sometimes, when conditions are tricky, one or more boardriders are called a few days prior to the event to help the organization make their call. In the past years, the riders who have been the most involved in this process are Reine Barkered, Jackie Paaso, Stephan Haüsl and Flo Orley.
“In Verbier [two seasons ago], the male skiers chose not to compete because some of the athletes, along with the organizers, felt uncomfortable with the conditions on both possible contest days,” Paaso offers.
The X Games sees the biggest names in action sports pulling their biggest tricks, so while there’s a lot of inherent risk involved, X Games event organizers also take every possible measure to keep athletes safe.
Part of that is asking riders to weigh in on course design prior to competition and then touching base with them during events.
The X Games are somewhat unusual in that they actually do have a set event schedule, but they also factor in athletes’ misgivings (or enthusiasm) about conditions.
For instance, at X Games Austin 2016, the Big Air finals were cancelled due to athletes’ concerns about wind.
ESPN X Games director of sports and competition Rich Bigge says, “We greatly value athlete feedback at the X Games and regularly engage them and sport organizers in a variety of discussions throughout the year.”
Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series
Competitive cliff divers engage in lengthy and balletic free falls from dicey ledges before plunging into deep water. During Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series events, the athletes have the final say in whether fight or flight is the best bet.
“It’s their feedback that counts,” says Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series media manager Katrin Strobl, “in terms of platform adjustments (even last-minute), water depth and scuba divers; if they don’t feel comfortable with one of them, we bring in another one.
“On top of that, it is always the athlete’s decision to participate in an event, no matter what the sports director or anyone else involved decides,” Strobl continues. “If the sports director, for example, has approved the wind conditions but the athlete thinks it’s too gusty, he’s free to withdraw any time. However, it’s usually the other way around: The athletes always want to compete.”