Larry Page gave a moving keynote back in 2013 at the annual Google I/O conference. In that keynote, he said multiple times that he believed the best technology was that which helps people do “the things that make them happiest in life.” Technology is meant to fuel our passions and promote our happiness and well-being. If you’ve ever met someone who enjoys hang-gliding, skydiving, surfing, or some other physics-defying activity, you know that they are often most happy when putting their life on the line for the sake of an adrenaline high. In extreme sports, technology can truly enhance some already incredible experiences by providing tools that allow us to document, measure, and take our game to the next level.
We’ve talked a lot about the quantified-self movement and how wearable tech is pushing the boundaries of what we can calculate, but counting steps isn’t nearly as cool as measuring torque on a backside 1080 or hang time on a double back flip. These measurements have a greater purpose than bragging rights; they could be the difference between nailing a trick and landing in a hospital bed. In extreme sports, a fraction of a degree can often mean the difference between sticking it and totally wiping out.
Wearables for extreme sports, like that from Xsens, help athletes by using small accelerometers to map the user’s motion in space. The athlete can then go back and view a 3D model of their movement so they can improve form, timing and execution. Being able to get hard data that translates directly to the physical world is what the wearable tech revolution is all about, and it is hard to think of a more closely quantified arena than the high-flying, death-defying stunts of extreme sports.
Possibly the most used accessory for extreme sports junkies is the much beloved GoPro, a wearable or mountable camera used to record athletes while they perform stunts. This allows them to capture amazing, close-up footage of their latest exploits. Although not purely a wearable per se, the GoPro is an asset for extreme sports enthusiasts. While there is obviously power associated with the influx of data and increase in the users’ connectivity offered by most wearables we consider, GoPro skips all of that for simplicity and quality.
And while the “anecdotal self” sounds more like a James Joyce novel than a thriving tech movement, there is something profound about pinpointing what the market wants and offering just that. Compare it to a high-profile wearable like Google Glass. Google Glass does what the GoPro can, and a million other things, but those million other things make it less appealing than the GoPro for most average consumers. This is certainly something for wearable techies to keep in mind while developing specs for their next products.
Another camera that has made waves is the SOLOSHOT2, also known as “the robotic cameraman.” The SOLOSHOT2 is different from the GoPro in that instead of mounting it onto your person, you strap a transmitter to your arm and set the camera up at good vantage point away from where you plan on performing your stunts. Then, as you move, the SOLOSHOT2 locks onto the transmitter, keeping you in frame and capturing distance shots to supplement your up close GoPro footage. This again falls outside the category of traditional wearables, but solves a real problem that extreme sport athletes are facing. No more taking turns being the loner on the shore while your friends attack the surf.
We all love wearables, but mobile is here to stay, so let’s be sure to also tip our hat to some of the best apps for extreme sports enthusiasts. One of the coolest is HookIt, an app that helps extreme athletes with something even scarier than a massive jump or giant wave, self-promotion. While not specific to extreme sports, it did get its big break at the X Games in 2013, when ESPN used its proprietary “Athlete Index” during broadcasts to monitor trends happening at the games. Hookit helps connect athletes to brands for sponsorship and endorsements, so users can take their passions from hobby to livelihood.
Another pretty awesome app is Nike SB, which socially gamifies skateboarding. Nike SB has a variety of different modes, including helping you learn and perfect new tricks, challenging your friends to a game of S.K.A.T.E., boast about your accomplishments on social media, and respond to “Get Featured” challenges, which are specific tasks you can perform and record to get noticed by the skateboarding community. Nike SB is a perfect example of a specific piece of technology leveling up the playing field. Instead of hot-dogging in front of a few friends or hoping someone stumbles across your video on YouTube, the really great (yet undiscovered) athletes can showcase their talents on a bigger stage.
Although they are still in their infancy, smartwatches could become the extreme athlete’s new best friend. By offering things like weather notifications, directions, and messaging services directly on your wrist, smartwatches give athletes hands-free access to the core functions of their smartphones. With an Android Wear device and a simple IFTTT recipe, surfers can receive instant notifications on their wrist whenever the waves reach a certain height. They can also ask their watch for the fastest route to the surf spot, savoring as much of the swells as possible.
The only problem is the fact that none of the Android Wear devices currently available on the market are truly waterproof, but that will likely change as more watchmakers enter the market. Although Surfline is the first extreme sports company to fully embrace the Internet of Things, it’s only a matter of time before skaters, BMX riders, skydivers and other daredevils make it easier for athletes to discover new spots by utilizing smartwatches.
Extreme sports are different than many other sports in that they are individual as opposed to team-based. That is why it is so essential for the communities to come together and push one another toward new, more incredible tricks. For extreme sports, technology is a key ingredient in an athlete’s recipe for improvement. New tricks happen in the margin, so the ability to thoroughly track, record, and analyze your progress is almost as valuable as health insurance.
Learn more about wearable tech by reading our Helpful Wearables Trend Report.