1. Touching the Void (2004). This story of Joe Simpson’s near-disastrous ascent of Siula Grande in Peru had me sitting up at night, gripping my duvet so tightly that my sleepy boyfriend woke up and asked me what the hell was the matter. If it doesn’t do the same to you, you’re not human.
2. Endless Summer (1966) Let’s ignore the egregiously imperialistic narration in this trailer for a moment and just appreciate the documentary that started it all. For better or for worse, this classic busted open the doors to the concept of surf travel. It was also the movie that the aforementioned boyfriend insisted we see on our first date.
3.Bicycle Dreams (2009) If you have trouble understanding why anyone would put themselves through the agony of the 3,000-mile Race Across America, one of the world’s longest endurance competitions, this film does a good job explaining it. The scenery is beautiful too.
4.Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) What Endless Summer did for surfing, the 1970s’ Zephyr skateboard team of Venice Beach did for extreme sports. Director Stacy Peralta, an original Z-Boy himself, captures the ingenuity and lasting effects inspired by flat waves and a summertime drought.
5.The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975). Completing his mission to ski down Mt. Everest after losing eight team members on the ascent makes Yuichiro Miura, the Japanese poet and alpinist at the center of this story, seem self-indulgent. Such sentiments aside, as the first sports documentary to win an Oscar, this movie is worth watching, despite its narration.
6.Step into Liquid (2003). Dana Brown, son of Endless Summer‘s Bruce Brown, reinvented his father’s film for the MTV-generation. Not as groundbreaking but more death defying, the movie can even be watched on mute, as long as it’s on an HDTV.
7.20 Seconds of Joy (2007). Never has BASE jumping seemed so poetic. This award-winning doc chronicles Norwegian Karina Hollekim career and recovery from a near-death injury, presenting a meditation on living with fear along the way.
8.Deep Water (2006) By the same producers who made Touching the Void this doc follows participants in the world’s first non-stop around-the-world yacht race. The perfection of the film lies in the way it leaves us unsure of whether the protagonist is a hero or a loony tune. Maybe both; either way, it makes for a harrowing story.
9.Riding Giants (2006) I may be biased, but it’s undeniable that surfers gliding across technicolor water make for mesmerizing imagery. Add direction by Stacy Peralta, big-wave surfers’ testosterone, and large amounts of water to the mix, and that’s a fine cocktail of a documentary.
10.Murderball (2005) Maybe it’s not a typical “adventure sport,” but these quadripelegic wheelchair rugby players have the same hardcore personalities and drive as explorers who climb uncharted walls in South America. Besides being humorous at times, this documentary will also make you feel really lazy.
Feature image: Neeta Lind.
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Benita Hussain is the former Editor of Matador Sports. With a degree from Cornell University, she is a writer, lawyer and yoga teacher . She has also written for GOOD, Women's Adventure, SIERRA and Wave Lines, among others, and she was featured in Lonely Planet's Around the World with 40 Lonely Planet Bloggers.
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