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Extreme Careers: Creating a Career in Extreme Sports

You love the thrill of extreme sports, but you're starting to discover a hard fact: only a select few manage to make a living flying through the air on a bike, snowboard or skateboard. And of those few professional athletes, even fewer are making good money. Should you give up your dream of an extreme sports career?

It's a tough business, but there is hope. If you want to be involved in extreme sports, there may just be room for you. Opening an extreme sports store, running a website or guiding tours are a few obvious choices. There are even extreme sports photographers and doctors who specialize in dealing with extreme sports injuries. It might take a little creativity to find your niche, but there are plenty of possibilities.

The definition of extreme sports is hard to pin down, but in general, sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and BMX are considered "extreme." Other sports, like sky diving, scuba diving, surfing and freestyle skiing are often called extreme. It takes a lot of people to keep those industries active.

Think of all the people you come into contact with because of your love of extreme sports. Many of those people have found a career combining their love of sports with other skills, like business knowledge.

Mike Redpath is one of those people. He owns a retail store that sells extreme sports equipment. When Redpath was attending university in 1986, he started working at a surf and sailboard shop. He's been involved with extreme sports ever since. And he enjoys taking part in the sports as well.

"Surfing, snowboarding, dirt biking, sport street bikes, and I have a past racing cars," he says when asked what sports he's involved in. "I have jumped out of perfectly good airplanes, competed in skiing, snowboarding, vintage motorcycle racing and surfing. I have raced cars on an oval track and a road course."

Redpath encourages people who are thinking about starting their own business to get financial training and education to help "prevent a lot of mistakes." He says the future in the extreme sports business looks stable, with a bit of growth. Interestingly, weather patterns might play a part in the future of extreme sports.

"The industry is becoming more mainstream," he says. "Having said this, there are always those who are going to push the envelope and keep things fresh. Surf will continue steady growth for a few more years, and skateboarding will hold steady, with the exception of the growth in longboarding showing some strength.

"We are all looking to see how much, if any, global warming will affect the mountains... and how that might affect the snowboarding industry. Other than that, we plan for moderate and steady growth in our sales and will keep a watchful eye out on the industry and to try to stay ahead."

Patrick Schoolen owns a mail-order store specializing in BMX bikes. Schoolen is a flatland BMX rider. He says BMX is his passion, and he has been making a living in extreme sports for about 15 years.

"I enjoy business in general -- making an idea work and doing it in an industry you love," he says. "There are stressful days in my job, for sure, but there is never a day I do not want to go to work."

Schoolen stresses the need for both education and experience. "Go to college and get a degree. You will use it. Also get work experience in the field you want to pursue. The last thing that everyone needs to succeed is work ethic. Work hard and give 100 percent at whatever you do, and success will follow."

Schoolen says it's very possible to make a living pursuing something you love to do.

"Most definitely. There is plenty of money in the world and anyone can earn their share if they are willing to work for it."

Redpath is a bit more cautious when asked if people can realistically make a living in extreme sports. "That depends on what people consider 'a living.' A lot of my friends make way more money than I do, and most people would consider [my store] a success," he says.

Schoolen agrees that the future trends in this industry seem to involve slow and steady growth. "I believe things will stay steady in the action sports industry in general, and we are seeing slow but steady growth in our niche, flatland BMX. Action sports have matured and become almost a regular part of our culture. They are here to stay."

Starting any business requires research. You have to consider all angles. In the sports world, you have to consider seasonal trends, for example.

Donna Froud co-owns a company that takes people on snowmobile tours through extreme terrain, temperatures and hills. She's an avid snowmobiler and loves what she does. "I enjoy talking to people in general and I especially enjoy the stories," she says. "Occasionally I get to hear about their adventures or small mishaps. It's quite entertaining!"

Because of the seasonal nature of her company, Froud works another job. She warns that due to the temporary and seasonal aspect of a winter touring company, this is not a very realistic career to make a living on its own.

"When my husband Bill first started this business, his intentions were to have something to do when he retires. He loves the sport and always will," she says.

"To say you could make a living at it would be unrealistic because it is seasonal. You would have to book a lot of tours to make it through the other seasons. But who knows what could happen with a business like this? Anything is possible."

Steve Richardson also works in the extreme tourism industry. Richardson is the North American director of A big downhill skier, his advice to youth thinking about starting a business in the extreme sports realm is simple.

"I encourage anyone to become entrepreneur in any type of business," he says, "but it's best if it is something you enjoy."

He also predicts growth ahead for the extreme tourism world.

"I see extreme tourism on the increase," he says. "Different age groups are getting into extreme tourism, transportation infrastructures allowing travel are improving, and overall, it is becoming easier to travel the world."

Richardson notices trends based on what is happening in pop culture at the time. "A good example is [the television show] Amazing Race -- we see a lot of interest in activities they partake in as well as in destinations when the program runs," he says. "I can even tell when an episode already aired here in the States is being televised in another country."

With some education and experience, it's possible to get a career in extreme sports, an industry that those on the inside agree is growing steadily. Loving sports will help you find success. After all, in any career field, the most important thing is to enjoy your work.

"In general, you spend half of your awake life at work," Schoolen says. "You must find a job and career that you enjoy. So just be happy doing what you do."


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