The Extreme Sports Life on a Low Budget

My Mum bought me for Christmas this year one of those many “write a list” books that are popular at the moment, this one being “My Future Listography” specifically. In essence it is a dedicated notebook for assembling bucket lists. I assume part of the reasoning for this gift was my love of lists, and part based on the enormity of the number of things I would love to do, and final part being my previous experience with actually planning and implementing my wish lists.

At first, I had no difficulty in filling in the suggested lists (and lists for other lists too), but then I quickly came across a stumbling block. That is to say that writing down the lists of sports and activities I would like to do resulted in me once again looking into the feasability of doing each one, which led to the same conclusions as they normally do. They are possible, but just another few hundred pounds away.

The first thing to say is yaaay, ONLY a few hundred pounds away. Not the really impossible distant dreams that a lot of people often treat extreme sports as.

The second thing to say is noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. That’s several months of savings at the moment whilst I’m a full time undergraduate working multiple part time jobs and just about covering living costs in Edinburgh.

The costs of sports can generally be broken up into three main parts:

  • The Training/Coaching
  • The Equipment
  • The Travel

But when people are interested in starting sports, it often isn’t very clear how these costs add up to try an activity, how to bring those costs down, how they vary geographically, or seasonally. I am not going to try and solve that problem right now (but a niche market exists for someone to do this), but what I can do is share the extreme sports I have been involved in doing or have been researching or planning to do, here in the UK, and how the costs have added up for me.

Generic Hints and Tips

  • Never forget to check postage and packaging – most people selling large equipment secondhand will sell for collection only to avoid any hassle, or charge stupid money for postage and packaging, and this has been the biggest limiting factor to getting bargains across the board.
  • Always talk to the more experienced people before even considering purchasesthere may be some things not worth buying ever, some things an unexpected priority, and some things you can just borrow or share!
  • Safety is keythe first thing to do is to find out what is essential to do the basics safely, most extreme sports are relative safe if done properly and the rush should come from doing the sports bigger and better and more varied, not blind risk. It is never worth skipping costs if it is knowingly creating unnecessary high risk.
  • The helmets questionsthe effectiveness and necessity and re-usability of different helmet design s is only really something people have started researching in the last decade and a lot of people have a lot of opinions on them, but I generally go with wearing one specific to sport wherever possible just because it’s a simple decision and they are all around £20 anyway.
  • Clothing equipment is generally worth investing inequipment that fits you tightly is generally worth paying a bit more than the cheapest just so it fits you comfortably and you can actually enjoy the experiences.
  • Looking embarrassing and looking good are subjective thingsusing the cheapest option can be a bit misaligned with the culture of some sports, and if you are completely embarrassed such that your self consciousness will ruin your experience then just pay up for something that is more mentally comfortable for you. However, please never put looks at a higher priority than safety or physical comfort, and be aware that often things that look daft to an outsider is often almost a badge of pride to those inside a sport, I mean everyone looks squishy in a wetsuit and oddly clumpy in a jumpsuit (for skydiving) but you are all wearing them and would look super weird if you didn’t.
  • Set purchases as rewards for goals within the sports you look like an idiot spending thousands on skydiving gear if you’ve never even done one jump yet, so tell yourself for example that you can only buy if you progress further and pay £2 extra on fancier goggles  if within a certain time frame*, making that motivation as well as milestones for structuring the timelines of your budget.

*I have failed to get my fancy goggles goal by the way if you were wondering.

Extreme Sports & Activities I’m Doing Now

Wakeboarding

I joined the Edinburgh University Wakeboarding and Waterskiing Club (EUWWC) in 2015 as a complete beginner, paying about £30 for a year’s membership, and then about £15 per lesson (including transport and equipment hire provided by the club) at either Foxlake Adventures in Dunbar or Glasgow Wakeboarding School.

A couple of times a year, we head out to the fantastic Loch Lomond Wakeboarding School, and normally pay around £110 for a long weekend, 3 lessons, accommodation, and transport – again subsidised by the university club.

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Me presumably about to go in the cold waters of Loch Lomond || Photo by David Russell 2016

However these activities have been supported by the club in various ways that I will no longer be able to continue once I leave university this summer, and so I have been investing slowly in my own equipment and looking into transport and training costs.

I already own my wetsuit from years of surfing (see later section) and although most wakeboarding places let you hire them, I think wetsuits should be the highest priority for equipment purchase as owning one that fits you specifically makes such a difference. I did however also purchased a pair of neoprene socks for £11 but that was mainly because Scotland is cold and they help. I have never purchased gloves though as I was warned away from them by the more experienced boarders that the loss of feedback from, and grip on, the handle as a result of wearing gloves made wakeboarding too frustrating and not worth the warmth. An interesting (cheap) alternative proposed to me was outlined in one wakeboarding vlogger’s video below…

However, I have invested in my own impact vest as I found that again the comfort of a nice one that fits me, well worth the money over borrowing anything provided when training. This isn’t as common though amongst the sport, and some of that may come from being female – I generally find that there are so many variations of curves in the female body shape that the generic buoyancy aids designed for averages never quite fit me well, as with a lot of other sports gear. I got mine brand new, in an end of stock sale via eBay (I was given the opportunity to try it on and return it if it didn’t fit right) for £30. It is worth noting that I have only got an impact vest, because that is all I felt necessary for me, but you should be aware of the differences between impact vests, bouyancy aids, and lifejackets before purchasing any of them. I have never purchased a helmet as they are generally also included in the cost of training at wakeparks, and are not so necessary when behind a boat.

I was able to get a very old wakeboard for my size and weight and style (142cm length board if you’re interested) from eBay for around £15. It mildly alarmed the staff of Loch Lomond when I brought it up there with me in October. Partially because I discovered that the much older design meant it was strangely thinner than modern boards and so less easily controlled, and partially because I insisted on going out on it even though I’d left the fins at home by accident (some VERY wobbly boarding that was ~totally worth it~ because, I reasoned, if I could control that then I would be better on normal boards).

I had also managed to get boots and bindings that I think were not necessarily old, and just a very cheap design, but they fitted me reasonably tightly (better than the university club boots as I am a shoe size between their boots ranges), and were only £12 from eBay.

Training costs are basically paying the running costs for someone to tow you, either by boat (like at Loch Lomond) or by overhead rails (like at Foxlake). Generally, this is around £20 a session but can be reduced significantly by group or bulk bookings – the biggest problem here is having the money upfront to pay for the bulk bookings. If I can find a few hundred pounds then I will definitely invest in a bulk booking at either Glasgow or Liverpool wake parks as they are the easiest for me to reach via public transport from Edinburgh and my parents respectively.

Without a car or driver, I have also invested £30 in a wakeboard bag brand new but via eBay so I can carry everything more easily when travelling solo on public transport and walking. I struggled to find anything cheaper than that even secondhand, but also see it as a worthy investment because I expect it to last a long time, as so few people ever sell them secondhand.

Skydiving

So the first thing you need to know is that skydiving is waay cheaper to learn to do properly solo than the one off tandem jumps people do lead you to believe. Second thing is that there are two ways of doing this:

  • AFF – pay for the complete intense short course to qualify, normally around £2000?
  • RAPS (RAM Air Progression System) – pay per jump, at an average cost of £30 per jump, and expect to qualify at around 22 jumps.

I am doing the conventional route with the Edinburgh University Sky Diving Club (EUSDC) of RAPS at Skydive Northwest in Cark in Cumbria. There are various other good reasons than cost as to why RAPS is better than AFF for me, but I also do not regret this choice because the long term nature of it gives me a chance to save up money to pay for it as and when I can, although this has led to me long gaps between refresher training, and has constrained my visits to not necessarily align well with the weather, so overall I have only got in 5 jumps in the last year.

Others in the club set a much better example of what is achievable though with the likes of Lewis hitting over 30 jumps in the same period of time. So please don’t be put off anyone by my terribly sparse attendance.

If the weather is good then you can often get in multiple jumps in one visit to a dropzone (a site where you skydive) which is great because transport is the biggest unexpected cost here – dropzones are generally out of the way so as to provide minimal obstacles for people to potentially land on, but that also makes them a little bit costly to reach. For me, travelling to Skydive Northwest from Edinburgh or Merseyside is about £20 to £30 return in either petrol costs if I get a lift with others, or via train with a railcard.

Once I qualify however, more costs will start to appear as I will have to invest in owning my own equipment rather than borrowing the student gear. My estimations of the from research into secondhand or cheapest options so far:

  • Helmet ~ £20
  • Goggles ~£3
  • Suit ~£150
  • Altimeter ~£100
  • Canopy ~ £1500

I am planning on hanging around EUSDC, or joining another club for as long as possible so that when I qualify I can borrow club canopies until the day I am earning enough to own my own, but the others generally have to be adapted to individual preferences and so are worthwhile investing in earlier. I think it unlikely I will qualify before the summer, just because of my availability and earnings until then, so hopefully I will be starting to earn more money by the time I have to start spending any real money.

Richard Dixon generally films the dives he is instructor for so as to provide visual feedback (helpful stuff) but he very kindly sent over his videos of a few of us training in the summer, so I can show you me looking very serious (and utterly terrified) before doing my 3rd ever jump here:

Surfing, Paddleboarding, Bodyboarding

To be honest I haven’t actually done any of these seriously for a while. I used to go surfing for one week every year when we went on our family holiday to Devon and my dad would pay for lessons or surfboard hire as a holiday treat. Woolacombe and Croyde Bay were my places, but sadly we have long since been priced out of holidaying down there every year now and I haven’t done too much since then. I still have my bodyboard up in the attic at my parents but the enjoyment of that being far more one of warmer weather than adrenaline, I have never bothered even taking it up to Scotland with me.

I have done a few surfing occasional trips with the University club, and splashing about on SUP boards on Wakeboarding trips to Loch Lomond, but in Edinburgh the amazing Scottish beaches I am “near” to all require driving and long walks through marshes and dunes to reach, and somewhere with boards to hire and transport.

I own my own wetsuit and indeed my family have gone through many with us over years as we were growing up but this one was my Christmas and birthday present at our last family holiday when I was a teenager, it was end of season clearance from a shop in Woolacombe at £120 and has lasted me ever since. It is a good compromise for British weather all round, although can be a little too cold in Scottish winter and too warm in Devon summer but not by much, and I don’t think it worth the money buying separate wetsuits.

I would love to own my own surfboard and/or paddleboard and frequently check up on eBay and Gumtree but they are generally around £200 cheaply and I cannot justify those costs for the infrequency I travel out for the sports right now. But, once you own the equipment you could teach yourself if you really wanted to, or take the relatively cheap professional training, and basically only ever pay for transport to take part in the activity after that.

Sports I’m Going To Do In The Near Future

(I’m Good To Go When I Get The Last Of The Money)

Kitesurfing

Scotland has fantastic places to kitesurf, making travel a lower barrier for me at the moment. However, the first hurdle to cross is the important one of training – generally around £200 to go from beginner to safely qualified at any International Kitesurfing Organisation approved centre. I have come across a surprising number of people who have the money to invest in the equipment with much thought and so never look too closely before starting, and do not realise the importance of professional training here – this sport is easily a dangerous one. It is not as simple as surfing or wakeboarding although it may look like it at a glance – I think it has more akin to skydiving actually in terms of its mechanics of motion, as you need to learn proper canopy control in the very least. I do not plan on avoiding training costs any more than I would try and jump out a plane unqualified.

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It is precisely because of this overlap in skills of my current sports though that makes me really excited to do this sport as soon as I am able to. Yet even if I can pass the training I am then stuck with another problem of skydiving too – expensive equipment, namely the canopies. Again, not something you want to risk being too cheap with. I have seen a lot of flash sales online of secondhand full kitesurfing kits for about £500 that I think would be reasonably safe options, even if not optimal for you as an individual. This would also require wetsuit and impact vest (or buoyancy aid) hire or purchase on top if you don’t already own one. My estimates of the cheapest I could get the individual components secondhand from research is:

  • Canopy ~£300
  • Harness and Lines ~£50
  • Boots and Bindings ~£50
  • Board ~£30

However, I have been really lucky and have already been able to get a board for only £20 secondhand through Gumtree from a guy in Leith who only tried it a few times and stopped after his friend crashed and didn’t feel like resuming it. Neither of them had had any training, just saying.

 

I plan on using the wetsuit I already own, and the impact vest I already own, but you would need to invest in these if you did not have them already. I am currently still investigating the helmet situation, but expect to pay maybe around £20 for one if I buy another.

As with surfing though, this is one where you would then be generally only ever paying transport costs to participate in the basic activity once all the equipment was purchased.

Snowboarding

Snow sports were definitely inaccessible due to travel costs initially back when I lived at my parents (as I lamented years ago in my post about Antarctica) but since living in Edinburgh, these have definitely been significantly reduced with Scotland providing many locations close enough by to learn at.

But the equipment costs here are misleadingly large – I have managed to research and get a snowboard secondhand off eBay (collected in person in Liverpool) that I think should be suited for my size and weight and beginner level for £15. That did take a long time spent watching sales though, and forgets that the board is only one part of the snowsports equipment costs. Ski jackets, trousers, boots, bindings, gloves, goggles, helmet, and even socks, ideally need to be purchased to actually participate in the sport at all, and they quickly add up to around £200 for pre-packaged lots of snow clothing equipment.

As snowsports is a big part of the sports scene at the University of Edinburgh, I have been playing the longer game in saving up and buying things end of season and secondhand, with the idea that I would be able to afford lessons and to go the university club annual trip abroad (normally about £300 if you already own everything and don’t need lessons, quickly escalates to around £600 with everything included) before I graduated.

I have been able to get:

  • goggles (from a charity shop in Edinburgh) – £2.50
  • gloves (Mountain Warehouse sale, reduced from £25) – £7
  • trousers (Christmas present from the family this year via Aldi) ~ £30
  • socks (also Christmas present from family, though not sure where from) ~£5
  • helmet (another Christmas present from family – Lidl or Aldi?) ~ £20
  • boots and bindings (Gumtree in Edinburgh) – £30
  • ski jacket (Mountain Warehouse sale + student discount + voucher, reduced from £160) – £27

Which has been exciting stuff but still leaves the costs outstanding for transport and training, just as the local season is finishing and I missed out on affording the costs in time to join the university trip abroad in my final year. Ah well. I am currently looking into costs of training elsewhere and think it’ll still add up to at least £200 for basic training.

Sports I Will Do In The Somewhat Further Future

(Haven’t Done All My Homework For These Yet)

Windsurfing

No particular plans have been made to start this equipment-heavy sport, and I’d rather master the likes of kiteboarding first. However, one day… Quick estimates I think outline transport to be minimal, but equipment and training to probably be at least £500 altogether for the basics?

Dinghy Sailing and Yacht Sailing

I was a member of the Edinburgh University Sailing Club last year (2015/2016) for only £30 but I found it really difficult to engage with the club as a beginner. This was not due to any active discrimination, or even disorganisation, from the club, but just more a choice of focus of the club on the higher level members, coupled with perhaps a little lack of awareness. The events for training beginners were few and far between, and the beginners were really socially isolated from the competitors who never bothered turning up at nearly all socials (except the two Social Secretaries) because they were already socialising amongst themselves separately at competition weekends.

In other words, if you were not already very advanced before starting University then you were unlikely to get more than a few sparse beginners lesson in across the whole year. Those lessons would be well coached, and enthusiastic, but you were nonetheless given the impression that your “ship had sailed” if you hadn’t been learning to sail since childhood unless you were a natural sailing genius with every Sunday free to drop everything if the weather was right and coaches were available.

I really enjoyed my two lessons I got in at Linlithgow Loch (even after capsizing in the first one), and would love to dedicate the time to learning to sail properly, maybe through a local club who were less focused on competition, and have more time for beginners like me.

I am going to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they don’t all own their own boats, and so the biggest costs for this sport definitely come from the coaching. Travel varies hugely but sailing is such a varied, adaptable and long-running sport that for me at least, travel is generally not so bad to get to one of the many bodies of water that host it.

Snow Skiing

Equipment and travel (see Snowboarding earlier) are the biggest costs here. However, I’d rather learn snowboarding first and skiing later because in part I think I’ll use my time more effectively learning to board quicker, but also because I have found skiing to hold a culture similar to that of sailing – not so approachable for complete beginners. So I’ll hold off until I’ve mastered snowboarding first.

Climbing and Hiking

Financially I think climbing is actually one of the more accessible of the extreme sports, but I have listed it as a lower priority for me because I personally have found my limited experience with climbing and hiking to be a little boring if done for the sake of it. I love wildlife and so would love to have the skills and experience to access the places with wildlife that otherwise are too difficult to get to, but until I have a particular trip planned out I’d rather prioritise my time and money elsewhere.

Caving/Potholing

Similarly to climbing and hiking, this is lower priority mainly because although the costs may be slightly lower, I would still rather spend them elsewhere for now.

Luge Boarding

One day I will get far enough down my lists of engineering projects that I will start work building my own Luge Board (like done elsewhere here) but until then, meh.

Scuba Diving

I briefly looked into the costs of this many years ago as my Dad once upon a time took up the sport (in the 1980s so his ancient equipment isn’t suitable to be passed on unfortunately..) and I had the good fortune to be invited to a friend’s birthday party once in school in which we all had a diving lesson in a local swimming pool.

I looked up the price of the equipment and full qualifying lessons and I laughed, and accepted that it would be a while before I could afford this sport.

Interestingly though I have met several scuba divers over my few years at university and feel somewhat more informed about my eventual future plans – namely that for once, this may be a sport worth while investing more in travel to train abroad in warmer waters where I gather costs for training are slightly lower because more people are interested in training. And that whether or not to dive in the cold of UK waters is a further important equipment decision.

IMPORTANT COSTS PERSPECTIVES

(Some of my other student budgeting at the University of Edinburgh)

Image by Erin Nolan 2014 | pigeonsblue.com
Image by Erin Nolan 2014 | pigeonsblue.com

I will hopefully reach the end of my undergraduate degree nearly entirely financially independent from my parents (around £2500 from them in total for the 4 years I have been in Edinburgh, so about £600 a year) and so I calculate every last detail of how I spend my money. Some people (like my Mum) still believe that the experiences I have paid out for over this time are still un-affordable, despite my frugal efforts, for someone like me.

Generally I think of everything in terms of coffees, because they tend to be the most expensive cost per experience/quantity that people are willing to accept paying, at around £2.50 per latte.

That means, one lesson wakeboarding is about six coffees, or one jump skydiving is twelve coffees. I like coffee but I can rarely bring myself to buy them out (I bought two last semester) because of their expense when thought of as detrimental to doing sports that are going to give better, longer lasting experiences.

It is true though that the cost culture of some of these sports can be quite isolating at a university like Edinburgh, where a significantly higher proportions of the student population are middle/upper class, and thus a little bit sheltered from how much costs actually mean to those having to earn it all. For example, Edinburgh students pay an average of £112.05 on rent per week, compared to around £110 across the UK, but also spend the most on grocery and nights out, according to a study done by RBS recently. Trust me, a lot of this is so unnecessary and so I can easily budget to avoid as much of these costs as possible compared to my peers, and thus save up more money to match the sporting side of the lifestyle instead.

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