Tired of being a hamster on that never-ending wheel of monotonous motion, otherwise known as the running machine? Ditch the humdrum of your local gym and get high on the plethora of extreme sports that are closer than you think.

1/ Snowboarding

Fresh mountain air, vigorous exercise and après-ski – what’s not to like?

What is it?
Given that surfing and skiing have been around for aeons, it’s surprising that snowboarding is a relatively new sport. The first commercially available boards were welcomed with much fist-shaking by ski purists in the early ’70s, and while it may seem that every other bloke on your Easyjet flight is a boarder, they still account for just 17% of the wintersports market. Nevertheless, snowboarding is thriving competitively, with a frankly baffling array of disciplines. Giant slalom, half-pipe and snowboard cross will all feature at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

What’s it good for?
‘Toning’ is a mercilessly feminine fitness term, yet just a couple of weeks on the slopes will burn enough fat and hone enough muscle to warrant a hero’s return to your bedroom mirror. Tumbling learners, especially, benefit from improved arm and core strength.

Who runs it?
Despite the name, Ski Club of Great Britain (skiclub.co.uk) covers both skiing and snowboarding. It offers discounts on holidays, travel, UK snowsports shops, board hire, etc.

Where can you do it?
Ski Club spokesperson Betony Garner recommends: “Your best bet to get started is to visit your local indoor or dry slope – check our website which has an interactive artificial snow slopes map.”

Some of the best are:
Xscape, Milton Keynes
The Snow Centre, Hemel Hempstead
Kendal Ski Centre, Cumbria

“From there, head to the snowboard-friendly Aalps. Mayrhofen in Austria and Avoriaz and Tignes in Ffrance are particularly good.”

Key rules
1/ Board to your ability. Leave black runs for the experts.
2/ The person in front has right of way – no matter how slow they are going.
3/ When joining a run, look uphill and yield to others.

Pro skills
Says Leo Addington, Team GB World Cup Halfpipe Coach: “The sport is about balance, turning and confidence. Stand with your knees bent, your head up and make small body movements to retain balance. Turning involves putting weight upon your front foot and making your whole body follow your eyes in one smooth movement. And when it comes to confidence, the more aggressive you are, the easier you’ll find it. Lean down into the hill.”

Rallying call
Says Addington: “Iit’s great fun, exciting, and you get outside into the wilderness.”

Essential kit
Betony Garner advises hiring your kit in the early days, “but don’t skimp on gloves, waterproof jacket and trousers – they’ll buy you more time on the slopes to perfect your technique.”

 

2/ Hang gliding

Get fit lugging your kit up a hill. Get de-stressed by soaring off it like an eagle.

What is it?
First developed in the ’70s, hang gliding takes getting lofted momentarily by a kite to the next level. Pilots, suspended from their gliders by a harness, launch from hills facing into wind (or from winches on flat ground or by being towed behind a microlight), with the objective of staying airborne in thermals. The UK record for distance currently stands at over 250km and for altitude at an impressive 16,000ft.

What’s it good for?
A social sport, there’s relatively little effort involved in soaring up to cloud base on a summer’s evening. However, as David Wootton of the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA) points out: “If you have to hump a hang glider up a hill, it will give your heart and leg muscles a good work out, so you see few portly hang gliders. But that said, the challenge is mainly mental – working out where micro climates and thermal sources are.”

Who runs it?
The BHPA has around 7,000 members and offers many registered schools and clubs around the country (see bhpa.co.uk). Iit’s best that you contact them as learning off a mate could see you “very easily kill yourself”, apparently. Iit normally takes around ten days of flyable weather to train to Club Pilot level, although two-day ‘taster’ courses are offered.

Where you can do it?
As Wootton explains, you can hang glide “basically, anywhere where there is wind and hills”. Favoured spots in the UK include:
The Lake District
Yorkshire Dales
The Scottish Highlands

Key rules
When it comes to competitive gliding, the emphasis is, broadly speaking, on flying time. GPS tracking is used to gauge mileage and prizes are also given for altitude, accuracy and speed. Handily, if a tree landing is inevitable, the BHPA advises pilots to: “Aim the glider at a large one and try to ensure firm contact. Point your closed legs at it and try to crash through to the centre trunk. Then, having found a firm footing, hang on. DO NOT TRY TO CLIMB DOWN.”

Rallying call
David Wootton is poetic in his endorsement: “It’s a rare privilege on a long summer’s evening to congregate after work on a nearby hill, united in the pursuit of an hour or two’s soaring in the face of life’s pressures – and the setting sun.”

Essential kit
It’s not cheap, so be sure you’re going to see learning through, before buying kit. A decent machine will set you back £3,000 (second hand ones much less), a training course is about £900, and pilots also need a harness, helmet, flying suit and boots. Visit airways-airsports.com.

 

3/ Windsurfing

What is it?
A sport that saw a boom in the early ’80s, windsurfing went Olympic in 1984, prompting yet more middle-Englanders to load up the Golf and head to the coast, whereupon they promptly got cold, so dumped their kit on the way home. Technological developments in both wetsuits and the boards have led modest numbers to return to the water, and 1,500 now compete regularly in the UK. There are three major disciplines: racing, wave sailing and freestyle.

What’s it good for?
Louise Emery of the UK Windsurfing Association says: “In the Athens Olympics, windsurfers were the fittest athletes of them all. It challenges your cardiovascular capabilities and you need tremendous strength, with participants developing phenomenal upper back and shoulder muscles.”

Who runs it?
UK Windsurfing (ukwindsurfing.com) organises all pro events and competitions in the UK. The Royal Yachting Association (rya.org.uk) takes care of things at club level and will help you find a local training school.

Where can you do it?
Gwithian Beach, near St Ives, Cornwall: three miles of sandy beach and a steady wind makes this a Mecca for sail-powered surfers.
West Wittering, Chichester: ‘non-gusty’ wind makes for speeds of up to 30 knots.
Colchester, Essex: shallow waters and sandbanks create an easy sail for beginners.
Rhosneigr, Anglesey, North Wales: the prevailing south-westerly wind brings competition-standard waves that are perfect for riding and jumping.
Isle of Tiree, Inner Hebrides: the UK’s premier windsurfing location and home to the Tiree Wave Classic competition.

Key rules
The basic etiquette is the same as surfing, explains Emery, with the principal one being: “The surfer who is nearest the white water or breaking part of a wave in either direction has priority. ‘Dropping in’ – catching the wave midway and interrupting another person’s ride – is universally frowned upon.”

Pro skills
Phil Horrocks is one of the UK’s top three wave sailors (“I jump the waves on the way out and ride them back in”), and he recommends nailing moves such as: “turn-around and the forward loop. First though, you’ll find the whole experience much more satisfying and less exhausting if you can master the water start. Position your board across the wind and swim backwards to release water off the rig and draw air under it. The wind will push the sail up and pull you out of the water.”

Rallying call
“It really is great fun, with jumps that last for three or four seconds, and there’s so much mad stuff to learn. I love nothing better than nasty conditions, when it’s you against the elements. The challenge is immense,” says Horrocks.

Essential kit
Louise Emery reckons you need a board (obviously). “Start big and blast around on the smaller ones later”; a sail: “Buy a good one as it’ll take you from beginner to pro”; and a decent wetsuit: “Purchase the best you can afford and you should be able to keep going to Christmas.” And, in her view, “O’Neill does the best.” Buy for about £150.