Monday, July 21, 2008

On the X-treme Map

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With all those unique diverse coastlines, deserts and mountains, and the added plus of sunny good weather almost everyday of the year; Egypt makes the perfect playground for Extreme Sports.

Extreme tourism is becoming ever more popular, and as opposed to traditional tourism requiring significant investments in hotels, roads, etc., extreme tourism requires much less jump-starting a business. Extreme tourism overlaps with extreme sport. The two share the main attraction, "adrenaline rush" caused by an element of risk mostly due to the relatively higher number of inherently uncontrollable variables, such as weather and terrain. As in any sport, it requires a certain degree of fitness, skill and with sufficient respect for safety guidelines, not much more is required for anyone to enjoy them.

Some of these sports include surfing, snowboarding, sandboarding, kitesurfing, bungee-jumping, BASE jumping, kayaking and rock climbing. Considering that the media is credited for defining what extreme sports are as well as popularizing them, many of these sports were made popular by the televised X Games (championship competitions sponsored by the cable-television network ESPN). The first X Games (then called the Extreme Games) were held in 1995 in Rhode Island. This television coverage brought extreme sports and their participants more into the limelight, boosting the number of enthusiasts as more people became aware of the growing number of extreme sports.

Being more of an individual sport, participants constantly challenge their creativity to produce new, more daring maneuvers and techniques. This assures the development and evolution of newer extreme sports. Some extreme sports combine the techniques and physical skills of two or more sports such as kitesurfing (surfing & using a giant kite), sandboarding (skateboarding & snowboarding on sand) and the more extreme sky surfing (sky diving & snowboarding).

Although surfing first came to see the light in Egypt as late as 1995, it is kitesurfing and sandboarding that are capitulating Egypt as an extreme sports holiday destination. While sandboarding maybe considered by many a new addition to extreme sports, there has been evidence that it was first invented by ancient Egyptians who surfed down golden dunes of sand on planks of hardened pottery and wood. The added advantage of sand being that, sand never melts, so as long as your snowboard is waxed you can extend your surfing season. With the variation of shifting the body weight to the back in sandboarding to reduce friction on the front, sand also provides a much nicer surface to fall on than snow, also making for an ideal environment to learn boarding skills.

Normally you'd have to go far into the desert to reach the large dunes, well not in Siwa! 100 meter high dunes are five minutes from the tarmac. Further into the desert it is believed, that the western desert of Egypt has some of the largest and steepest dunes on the planet. While it was first popularized in Siwa it is now available at Wadi El-Rayan (in El Fayoum) and in Gharb Sohiel (in Nubia, Aswan). And of course for a more "X-treme" experience the board can be powered with a kite, combining sandboarding and kitesurfing.
An unforgettable experience into the unknown will have to include trad climbing Mount Sinai. It was on Mount Sinai that Prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Built in the 6th century at the foot of this mountain, is one of the oldest continuously functioning Christian monasteries in the world, St. Catherine's Monastery. There are bolted routes and granite boulders to be tackled, but as the area is huge there are always lines that have never been pioneered before. The finger cramming cracks that run hundreds of meters up, take you to an endless mesmerizing view of the magnificent desert. Mt. Sinai can also be trekked on foot. Because of the daytime heat, the trek starts at night and the strenuous ascent takes about 3 hours. On reaching the summit one is gratified by the birth of a new day, with its hypnotizing change of hues of sunrise on the horizon, illuminating the tops of the surrounding mountains.

Today Egypt is the No. 1 windsurfing destination worldwide. It has become a Mecca for European windsurfers because the weather and wind conditions are almost always good. Although at present, kitesurfing is starting to replace the more traditional windsurfing. Powered by a kite as opposed to a sail it doesn't need much wind, nor high surf, and is much easier to master in a few lessons, making it very addictive. But the wide spreading popularity of kitesurfing is mostly attributed to it providing instant gratification as people want to learn a new sport and be pro the next day.

Egypt is inching slowly yet steadily, on to the map of "X-treme" sports. With the almost perfect weather all the year round and the many unchartered spots, just waiting to be explored and discovered.

1. Extreme sports have always been associated with "adrenaline rush" caused by the element of risk. It has been proven that medically speaking the rush or high associated with the activity is not due to adrenaline being released as a response to fear, but due to increased levels of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin because of the high level of physical exertion.

2. As compared to the huge waves of the Pacific Ocean breaking on coral reefs, the huge dunes of the Siwa desert always have a sharp reef bottom (fossilized coral).

3. It has been said that mapping the sea of sand is impossible, since it is always moving. In fact major dunes don’t move, they may gain or lose a few meters in height every year. The actual possibility of the dune going anywhere for the next century is highly unlikely.

4. BASE jumping is by far the most dangerous of all the extreme sports. In BASE jumping, parachutists jump from artificial and natural structures at heights between 90 and 1100 m. (The name BASE comes from buildings, antennas, spans [bridges], and earth [cliffs and waterfalls]—the four launching points for jumpers.) Because the launch heights are low compared to those in traditional skydiving, the parachutes used in BASE jumping are specially designed to open quickly. Also adding to the danger is that wind can easily blow a jumper into a rock face or other nearby surface. Most law enforcement agencies prohibit BASE jumping, but even where the activity is legal, only competent skydivers should attempt jumps.

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