extreme sports

NYC’s Extreme Sports

What sports count as “extreme”? With the rise of the X-Games in the 90s across North America, Europe, and Asia, “extreme sports” have become popular among teenagers, daredevils, and the morbidly curious across the globe. Their popularity has also given rise to this interesting debate: what’s extreme enough?

While definitions vary (evidenced by the range of UrbanDictionary.com entries), everyone seems to agree that extreme sports are out of the mainstream, usually done independently, and involve heightened risk of physical danger. They are, essentially, indie sports for risk-takers. (Looks like your search for what to do in NYC today just ended!)

Using this common definition, we wondered whether some urban recreational activities fit the bill. It turns out there are more than a few! Through extensive research, we’ve identified the 13 most extreme sports NYC natives take part in every day. For your convenience, we’ve listed them in order of increasing risk of bodily harm. Though many of them are free activities in NYC that require no special gear, we also found equipment and local deals for those who want to take it to the next level.

We at Free Social Events do not, of course, endorse risk for its own sake. But we do endorse fun, exercise, and facing the reality that living—especially city living—is a dangerous business. You might be surprised by which activities are more risky than others… Skip ahead to the bottom of the list if you like spoilers.

Let the games begin!

1. Indoor Rock Climbing

Welcome to the employee rock-climbing seminar. You’ll learn valuable teamwork skills by doing dangerous things unrelated to your jobs. —Dilbert, cartoon

Danger: 2/10

Indoor rock climbers suffer 0.02 injuries per 1,000 hours of climbing time, or about 1 injury per 50,000 hours of climbing. (Rugby players, by contrast, undergo 91 injuries per 1,000 hours of playing time.)

The Flip Side: Clambering on vertical surfaces often leads to rock-hard muscles.

Deal: Of the dozen or so options for indoor rock climbing NYC offers, we found the best deals at The Manhattan Plaza Health Club and Brooklyn Boulders. (While the rocks in Central Park are free, we highly recommend indoor gyms for both safety and sanity.)

Equipment: Harness, carabiner, chalk bag and chalk, rock climbing shoes


2. Swimming

Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. – Demetri Martin, comedian

Danger: 3/10

Drownings are 200 times more common than traffic deaths when frequency of exposure to swimming and traffic are controlled. Between 1987 – 2010, 35 people drowned in regulated pools and beaches in NYC alone.

The Flip Side: In addition to being a staple of family fun and summer vacations, swimming is an all-body workout easy on the joints that anyone can do in the many pools in NYC!

Deal: NYC Parks has many free pools in the summer and annual rec center passes for $150.

Equipment: man’s swimsuit, women’s swimsuit, swim cap, goggles


3. Paintball

Never remove your goggles while on the playing field! WarPig.com safety tip #1

Danger: 4/10

With an average rate of 0.45 injuries per 1,000 participants, paintballing and paintball equipment causes a nationwide average of 56 emergency department visits daily.

The Flip Side: Stress relief, an unusual workout, and the chance to pretend to be in war without the casualties or trauma.

Deal: For paintball NYC offers, check Indoor Extreme Sports and Cousins Paintball.

Equipment: paintball kit


4. Buildering

People need to learn to live with more risk. – Alain Robert, “The French Spiderman”

Danger: 5/10

Buildering (also called urban climbing, stegophily, or structuring) is obviously at least as dangerous as rock climbing, which enjoys the benefit of being legal. Several guide books but no statistics have been published on the activity. Alain Robert famously climbed the Empire State Building and the New York Times Building (the 25th and 66th tallest building in the world, respectively) without harm, but he was both a professional climber and promptly arrested.

The Flip Side: Being mistaken for Spider Man, a great all-around workout

Deal: The underground nature of this activity makes it difficult to find builderers, let alone buildering businesses.

Equipment: Got Buildering? Tee, The Roof Climber’s Guide to Trinity, With Bare Hands: The True Story of Alain Robert,


5. In-line Skating

We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer (skating skill unknown)

Danger: 5.5/10

In 2012 alone, 12,828 injuries in the U.S. involved in-line skates. In 2009, over 47,000 children were treated in emergency rooms for skating-related injuries.

The Flip Side: Rollerblades (the most famous inline skates) are much cooler than roller skates and much faster than walking.

Deal: Roller skating at Riverbank State Park in Manhattan costs $1.50/person, with Skate Rentals at $6/day.

Equipment: women’s roller blades, men’s roller blades


6. Parkour

I don’t understand how people want to put themselves into great risk for money. – David Belle, parkour founder

Danger: 6/10

Closely related to buildering, parkour (or “freerunning”) thrives as an secret sport. But lately it has been getting more press, getting more organized, and attracting showy, reckless practitioners. Hence the inevitable horror stories, such as the first-timer who died by falling 17 storeys in Russia in 2012, the Russian freerunner who died in 2013, and the American stuntman who got carried fatally away in 2014. 

The Flip Side: Parkour produces the physical benefits of gymnastics, running, and climbing, and was founded on the idea of being practically useful in emergencies.

Deal: For parkour NYC style, check out NY Parkour Academy and the Movement Creative.

Equipment: parkour shoes The Parkour Handbook (for those who ask, “What is parkour?”)


7. Going to the Gym

You never walk out of the gym and say, “I shouldn’t have gone.” Taylor Kitsch, actor

Danger: 6/10

Taylor Kitsch was clearly not one of the 459,978 Americans affected by injuries involving  exercise equipment in 2012.

The Flip Side: There’s nothing like getting a good workout at a local gym after sitting on your butt all day.

Deal: Equinox NYC, the New York Sports Club, and Crunch gym offer frequent deals for new members.

Equipment: cross-training shoes for men and women, workout gloves, lifting straps


8. Surfing

Wiping out is an underappreciated skill. – Laird Hamilton, professional surfer

Danger: 6.5/10

One study puts the injury rate at 13 per 1,000 hours of competitive surfing; we can only imagine how much worse this rate is among amateur surfers in crowded public shores.

The Flip Side: Paddling improves cardiovascular health and back strength, while getting up on the board is great for your core and legs. Plus you get to show off to sexy beach bums while working on your own tan.

Deal: To learn how to surf, check out the New York Surf School and Locals Surf School.

Equipment: wetsuit, longboard, surf wax


9. Skateboarding

It’s better to go out like a man, trying, than to play it safe and get second. – Sean Malto, professional skateboarder

Danger: 7/10

In 2012, thirty people died skateboarding on roadways and 114,120 were hurt in skateboard-related injuries. In 2009, over 4,500 children were hospitalized as a result of serious skateboarding injuries.

The Flip Side: Skateboarding teaches coordination, provides a creative outlet, and keeps you flexible in addition to providing a whole-body workout.

Deal: Check out these skate shops: www.blades.com, www.shutnyc.com, www.bustinboards.com, www.unclefunkysboards.com, www.kcdcskateshop.com.

Equipment: skateboards, helmet, protective pads, skater shoes


10. Biking

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live. – Mark Twain

Danger: 8/10

In 2013, there were 3,872 bike crashes, 3,884 bicyclist injuries, and 12 bicyclist fatalities in NYC. The year before, there were over 550,000 injuries related to bicycles and their accessories nationwide. (Despite having nearly quadruple the proportion of people who walk or bike to work than the national average, NYC’s bicyclist fatality rate is barely higher than normal.)

The Flip Side: Getting on a bike means good old-fashioned (and perhaps nostalgic) exercise!

Deal: Check out Al’s Cycle Solutions and Bike Slug.

Equipment: road cycle shoes for men and women, padded underwear, bike lights, reflective vest, bike lock


11. Walking

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. – Bilbo in J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

Danger: 9/10

In 2013, 168 pedestrians killed and 12,014 injured in NYC. Pedestrians in 2014 fared no better: In Central Park alone, 38 pedestrians were struck by October 22 (over 50% more than the year before), causing five cracked skulls and two fatalities. The number of summons given out to reckless cyclists had quadrupled from the year before.

The Flip Side: When practicing good pedestrian safety measures, like staying on the sidewalk whenever possible (and avoiding Central Park altogether), walking is simply the simplest and cheapest transportation/workout option in a dense city.

Deal: Look at Big Onion, Joyce Gold tours, and Gotham tours for great tours at a great price.

Equipment: walking shoes for men or women


12. Subway Surfing 

Subway surfing is simply one of the dumbest things you can do. Don’t do it. – Kevin Ortiz, MTA spokesman

Danger: 9.5/10

According to the MTA, 13 people were killed skylarking or subway surfing NYC trains and 56 injured between 1989 and 2011. The activity was especially popular among teenage graffiti artists in the 90s. Though it’s now known primarily as a computer game portraying graffiti artists riding the trains, a few practitioners still exist, like the 45-year-old who died on top of the 6 train in April 2014.

The Flip Side: We endorse Mr. Ortiz’s advice. There’s no flip side.

Deal: Get the free Subway Surfers download for fun that doesn’t cost your money or your life.

Equipment: Subway Surfer twin sheet set


13. BASE Jumping

 I do have a screw loose, but this tightens it for me. – Joel Skaggs talking about BASE

Danger: 10/10

With 248 fatalities and counting, this “recreational activity” is 43 times more dangerous than parachuting from a plane. Don’t think you can BASE jump in NYC? One night in September of 2013, three men climbed One World Trade Center and jumped off the unfinished building. They kept a video record of their 105-storey drop for you skeptics out there.

The Flip Side: Adrenaline?

Deal: No legal deals available…

Equipment: It’s out there, but we can’t ethically lead you to it.



So if you’re looking for fun things to do in NYC this weekend with a little more kick than your usual weekend fun, consider rock climbing, paintballing, parkour, surfing, or skateboarding. (In January, you can even try skiing and snowboarding with us at Central Park’s Winter Jam NYC!) But don’t be fooled—biking to work, lifting weights, and swimming are all more extreme than you might have thought.

Just resist the urge to surf the subways. Walking to the station is dangerous enough.