In the last 30 or so years, the number and variety of sports available has increased dramatically, partly due to improvements in equipment, but often as a result of greater inventiveness and better technology. In many cases, these new sports are the result of the evolution of existing activities (for example kitesurfing – a direct descendant of windsurfing), while other sports were formed almost as a fusion (e.g. snowboarding, which has its roots in skateboarding, surfing and, to a degree, skiing).
The Olympic effect – from obscurity to a global stage
The acceptance and awareness of these once obscure sports have grown considerably, with some now becoming almost mainstream. For example, many are now attracting increased media attention and have even been included in the most recent Olympics.
Traditionally, the Olympics has been a slightly staid affair, mostly featuring traditional sports like swimming, but the organizing committee, the IOC, has recently tried to expand the appeal of the Games to include more so-called fringe sports. With the inclusion this year of more off-the-wall sports like BMX, skateboarding and surfing, the future of less mainstream sports seems more assured, and there are plans to keep expanding the range of sports in future Games.
If you’re looking to get into less well-known activities and sports, below are some growing sports that are achieving more mainstream popularity (some through Olympic exposure), plus ideas to help get you started.
Despite its popularity through the 70s and 80s, skateboarding has largely remained a mostly underground activity – that is, until now. With its inclusion in this year’s Tokyo summer Olympic Games, skateboarding reached a global audience and is forecast to become a high-growth sport in the years to come.
Skateboarding originated from surfing with surfers trying to emulate the same feeling and sensation of riding the waves, just on the land. The basic techniques in both sports are similar, although skateboarding has considerably more tricks to learn as you progress.
Getting started skateboarding (also often known simply as ‘skating’) is easy. Most larger cities have at least one skateboard shop or, alternatively, you could search online for a dealer. A starter beginner kit of board, wheels and trucks could cost as little as $150, although you’ll likely want to upgrade your gear as you get better. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of safety equipment, at minimum, a helmet although you might also want to invest in knee and elbow pads.
The best aspect of skateboarding is, once you’ve made this initial outlay, there are no extra additional costs, unless, of course, you also want to pay for some lessons. Alternatively, you could search YouTube where you’ll find several great courses to learn how to skate and save money.
Wakeboarding is a descendant of waterskiing with riders being pulled behind a boat but standing sideways on a board that’s quite similar to a snowboard with bindings to attach the feet to the board. Also, wakeboarders tend to prefer the use of a specialist boat that cuts a deeper wake (or wave) in the water, to facilitate pulling tricks.
The basics of wakeboarding are easy to pick up, particularly if you have experience of any sideways-standing sports like skateboarding, surfing or snowboarding. Indeed, the hardest part for most beginner riders is standing up and getting vertical on the board above the water. From there, practice is the key to improve your balance and, eventually, start jumping on the wake created by the boat.
Wakeboarding was first considered for Olympic inclusion in 2013 but was shelved for the 2020 Games. It seems it may also miss out on the 2024 Paris Olympics, despite the organizing committee building a new cable park in the city.
Shooting has been an integral part of the Olympic Games from the start with three primary events – rifle, pistol and shotgun. The sport is also a combined part of other events such as the winter biathlon (cross-country skiing and shooting) and the modern pentathlon, where a laser gun is used to hit the target. Shooting requires a keen eye and a steady hand made all the more difficult in the combined athletic events.
To get started in shooting, you should first find a local gun club or range to practice, plus you’ll need to purchase a gun – https://www.80percentarms.com/80-lowers/ has everything you need to build a firearm. Depending on your country, you may also need to get a gun ownership license – check with your local authorities.
The popularity of rock climbing has exploded in recent years, due mainly to the proliferation of indoor climbing walls, which have appeared in leisure centers and dedicated climbing facilities in larger cities around the world. To get started, you should attend your local center and get some lessons. While it’s true most of us have an inherent understanding of how to climb, the range of techniques involved in scaling these walls – and, in particular, overhangs – goes well beyond basic knowledge.
Equipment prices will vary depending on the type of climbing you decide to pursue but, when you’re just starting out, you’d be better off renting gear. As you progress, you will probably want to invest in specialist harnesses, boots, gloves, ropes and a helmet.
Rock climbing is another sport that has benefited greatly from Olympic exposure this year and its popularity is now skyrocketing. Check local listings for your nearest climb center or climbing clubs for advice on how to get started.
Anyone who grew up during the 80s will remember the explosion in the popularity of BMX bike riding, a phenomenon that was helped in no small part by Steven Spielberg’s epic ET movie.
However, it could be argued BMX’s finest moment came this year with its inclusion (at last) in Tokyo’s summer games which saw both BMX racing and one freestyle event. Competitive BMX has two main disciplines:
BMX racing. Racing competitions are held on a dedicated course with (normally eight) racers competing head to head on a circuit of banked turns and jumps
BMX freestyle: BMX freestyle has five primary disciplines – street, park, vert, trails and flatland – although, of these, only the street event made it into the Olympics.
To get started in BMX, search online for a local bike club, shop or track. A beginner BMX bike could cost as little as $200 although, again, you’ll probably want to invest in protective knee and elbow pads plus a helmet.