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Extreme Sports in the Golden State

Jan. 16, 2018

California is world-famous for producing wine, movies, television shows, and endless orchards of fruits and vegetables. With an amazing collection of extreme sports activities to choose from, it’s also top of the mountain when it comes to fueling adrenaline and goose bumps. So if diving with great white sharks, hurtling down a crazy-steep mountain bike trail, or shooting some Class V rapids is your idea of a good time, then California has you covered.

The Golden State’s breathtaking natural environment, from snow-capped mountain peaks to wave-swept coastlines, has made it a go-to destination for action sports enthusiasts for decades. And many of those sports, such as surfing, mountain biking and rock climbing, were also developed or taken to new heights here by legendary figures. So when it comes to heart-pumping thrills, eXtreme marks the spot right in here in California.


Surfing: As California’s signature adrenaline sport, surfing has been part of the state’s DNA since a trio of Hawaiian princes first rode some redwood boards off the coast of Santa Cruz in 1885. California took surfing mainstream, leading the way with everything from board innovations to apparel lines and legendary contests. And surfing royalty still gather here for the fabled breaks and pro competitions, including the Mavericks big-wave meet in Half Moon Bay.

Kiteboarding and Windsurfing: We’re not just shooting the breeze when we say California has some killer spots for harnessing the power of the wind. From the San Francisco Bay and Sherman Island in the Sacramento Delta to Pismo Beach and Jalama Beach County Park on the Central Coast, kiteboarders and windsurfers will be blown away.
Skiing and Snowboarding: When one black diamond just isn’t enough, California’s ski areas — particularly those in the High Sierra — offer the wildly steep and challenging runs you’re craving to carve. Snowboarders will find all the rails, jibs, pyramids and boxes they can handle at three of TransWorld Snowboarding’s top 10 North American terrain parks, including number-one ranked Bear Mountain, Mammoth Mountain, and Northstar California Resort. 
Mountain and Road Biking: Mountain biking was born in California on Mount Tamalpais in Marin, and Sierra ski resorts have carried on the tradition, turning winter ski runs into sensational summertime bike trails (Mammoth Mountain even stages an annual Kamikaze Bike Games). Road cycling enthusiasts can compete in gran fondos, long-distance and multiday events throughout the state, from Wine Country to the desert.
Mountain and Rock Climbing: Yosemite remains the granddaddy of American climbing experiences, the site of evolutions that have redefined the sport, and a place that continues to draw world-class climbers from around the globe to push the limits of strength and endurance. California has many other peak destinations, too, like majestic, snow-covered Mount Shasta; Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48; and Joshua Tree National Park, with its surreal desert landscape. 
Trekking: If you’re looking for more than just a walk in the woods, how about taking on the storied Pacific Crest Trail? It begins just north of the Mexican border and doesn’t end until it hits Canada, 2,600 miles away.
Whitewater Rafting: Sierra snowmelt moves California to the top of the class … Class V, that is. That’s the designation for the scariest, gnarliest rapids you can navigate and live to tell about it. You’ll find them at places like Cherry Creek, Clavey Falls on the Tuolumne River, the North Fork Yuba River, and the California Salmon River.
Shark Diving: Ready to go nose to nose with a great white shark? Then there are outfits in San Diego and San Francisco who can make your dreams (nightmares?) come true. Clamber into a shark cage and get up-close and personal with one of the world’s most fearsome predators. 
Skydiving: If a window seat just isn’t good enough, how about jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet? California has plenty of options, including the chance to take it up another level with Skydive Monterey Bay’s 18,000 foot jumps, which give you plenty of time to take in the fantastic coastal vistas. Or practice your aerial moves in one of the state’s indoor wind-tunnel skydiving facilities.
Paragliding and Hang Gliding: The Torrey Pines Gliderport in San Diego is one of the world’s top spots for nonmotorized flight. Set atop the 300-foot cliffs above Black’s Beach, and adjacent to renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course, the views are sublime.
Flying: Slip the surly bonds of earth in any number of flying machines around California. You can choose from hands-on acrobatic stunt flying to roaring through the skies aboard a vintage WWII fighter plane. Or skim just feet above the ocean in an ultralight or soar on desert thermal winds in a glider. Just be sure to fasten that seatbelt.
Auto Racing: You’ll also want to buckle up for some high-octane excitement, rocketing around a speedway in a Formula One-style racecar or an exotic fantasy car like a McLaren or Lamborghini. You can start your engines with the Allen Berg Racing School at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Salinas or Exotics Racing in Southern California.
ATVs: Off-road warriors will want to check out Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. It’s an ATV playground offering more than five miles of beach and sand dunes along the Central Coast.
Marathons and Triathlons: Extreme athletes can test their mettle at annual races and triathlons set in uniquely Californian locations. Try to Escape From Alcatraz in San Francisco or take on the Graniteman Challenge in Mammoth Lakes. Or perhaps the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon, with its live bands along the course, is more your speed. Trail runners will want to take note of events like the Dipsea Race in Marin, the country’s oldest trail run, dating back to 1905, and the pulse-pounding Mount Baldy Run-to-the-Top race, where the route gains 4,000 feet in just over seven miles.
Flyboarding: From lakes to ocean, flyboarding is taking off. This new technology uses water jets to propel riders up to 50 feet in the air in Ironman-like fashion. No crime-fighting required.
Zip Lines and Bungee Jumping: If you like your adventure hanging by a thread, California offers plenty of opportunities for zip lining and bungee jumping, from the redwoods to Gold Country to Catalina Island. 
For true bragging rights, adrenaline junkies can also catch the Winter Wave. That’s the wintertime experience of skiing and surfing in the same day. Yup, thanks to the proximity of ski areas like Big Bear and Mt. Watermanto the SoCal coastline, it’s all possible.
And for those who aren’t on their way to X Games fame, not to worry … just about all of the above activities have entry-level experiences available for novices. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself. And spiders.