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Exploring the Motivations of BASE Jumpers: Extreme Sport Enthusiasts

Tara L. Allman, Robin D. Mittelstaedt, Bruce Martin, Marni Goldenberg


The purpose of this study was to explore motivations for participation in the extreme sport of BASE jumping. Since the early 1980s, BASE jumping has become an alternative, extreme counterpart to its skydiving predecessor from which it evolved. BASE jumping is the activity of parachuting from buildings, antennas, spans (e.g. bridges), and earth (e.g. cliffs). Participants have been identified as voluntary-risk takers. Voluntary risk taking is defined as “a behavior that involves individuals' participation in activities that they perceive to be in some sense dangerous, but are undertaken deliberately and from choice†(Lupton & Tulloch, 2002, p. 114). BASE jumping is considered an extreme sport because of the considerably high level of risk involved in the sport, in which accidents could lead to injury or death (Brymer, 2005). BASE jumpers are also considered edge-workers (Ferrell, Milovanovic, & Lyng, 2001; Lyng, 1990). “Essentially, edgework involves exploring the limits of one's ability and/or the technology one is using while maintaining enough control to successfully negotiate the edge†(Laurendeau, 2006, p. 584).
Little previous research has been conducted exploring the motivational factors that influence a person's desire to participate in extreme sports. Lyng (1990) acknowledged that we do not fully understand what motivates individuals to partake in high-risk behavior. Lupton & Tulloch (2002) have echoed this concern by recognizing that littleempirical research has been conducted examining the meanings attributed to high-risk behavior. Despite the research that has been conducted, we continue to be perplexed, because extreme athletes often “claim that the experience is essentially ineffable and can be fully understood only by actually participating in it†(Lyng, 1990, p. 862). Previous research on motivations for high-risk behavior has recognized complex motivations, often focusing on sensual motivations related to crime and deviance (Ferrell, Milovanovic, & Lyng, 2001; Katz, 1988). More recent research (Brymer & Oades, 2009; Lupton & Tulloch, 2002) has explained experiences in terms of positive transformation, in which outcomes such as humility, true courage, self-improvement, emotional engagement, and control are gained. Rather than accepting the stereotypical view of BASE jumpers as daredevils with a death wish, the researchers operated from the assumption that motivations for BASE jumping tend to be more positively oriented.
The researchers used a means-end approach (Gutman, 1982) to explore BASE jumper motivations. Means-end originated in the field of marketing as a way to determine consumer motivations for buying a specific product. It has also been applied to analyze the draw of the tourism and outdoor industries (Frauman, Norman, & Klenosky, 1998). Means-end aims to link physical objects or services (the means) with the benefits and personal values of the individual (the ends)†(Klenosky et al., 1998). It “focuses on the interrelationship between attributes, consequences, and values as three levels of abstraction†(Gutman and Mialoulis, 2003). Attributes are the means. They can be thought of as the more concrete “physical objects, services, or antecedent variables†(Goldenberg, Klenosky, McAvoy, and Holman, 2002). Consequences are the outcome related to consuming a product or service, while “values are highly abstract consequences that summarize desired end-states of being†(Goldenberg, Klenosky, O'Leary, & Templin, 2000, p. 212). An example of each is as follows: social interaction, camaraderie, and sense of belonging, respectively. The motivation to consume a product therefore originates from the expected benefits the product conveys to the consumer†(Mort & Rose, 2004).

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