Nothing symbolizes the rise of “extreme sports” like the X Games, which over the past two decades has helped bring former fringe sports into the mainstream. Extreme sports is now a big-bucks business, with events held in high-profile locations like Aspen and L.A., but it all began on the streets of Newport and Providence, which hosted the inaugral Extreme Games in 1995 and the first X Games in 1996.
So, Rhode Island is no stranger to adventurous outdoor activities, even if our mountains are more like hills and we don’t have the skateboarding street cred of, say, Southern California. If you want to get outdoors and active in some unique ways - everything from light adventure to serious physical and mental challenges – the birthplace of extreme sports competition in the U.S. has a
lot to offer.
You don’t have to go to the Serengeti or even Sea World to get up close and personal with a wild animal. Roger Williams Park Zoo offers you the opportunity to feed harbor seals or giraffes through its Animal Encounters program every day in the summer. You can toss fish and squid to Bubba and Action, the zoo’s harbor seals (a species that also can be found in the wild on Narragansett Bay) or let the zoo’s three Masai giraffes (Jaffa Prince, Sukari and Amber) snake their 18-inch tongues into buckets of grain and leafy “browse.” Each 20-minute experience costs $20 (plus the price of zoo admission) and is open to visitors ages five and older.
Many of us live our whole lives within hailing distance of the sea without ever learning to sail. Discover the difference between a tiller and a tack at the Edgewood Sailing School, part of Cranston’s Edgewood Yacht Club (risen from the ashes after a devastating fire in 2011), where you’ll start with classroom education on sailing basics before climbing aboard a Rhodes 19 sailboat for hands-on training. Once you’re ready, you can also take a class on racing tactics or learn to compete in the classic Sunfish sailboat in races sponsored by the Yacht Club throughout the summer. If you discover that you have both salt water and icewater in your veins, join Edgewood’s diehard “frostbite” sailors, who race Sunfish all winter. Classes are open to all ages, and you don’t need to be a member of the club to participate.
Urban environments aren’t generally seen as ideal for outdoor activities, but the concrete jungle is exactly what’s called for in the sport of parkour, which sees the city landscape as a sort of real-world obstacle course to climb, jump, vault and run over. (If you remember the on-foot chase scenes from the Bourne Ultimatum, Casino Royale or, more recently, Brick Mansions - that’s parkour.) If you want to take part in an event like the Spartan Race, Tough Mudder or Rhode Island’s own Bold R Dash, parkour is great training. Part of the beauty of this sport is that you can do it almost anywhere there are walls, benches, stairs and fences to play on - “I love it because I can do it whenever and wherever I want,” says Parkour Rhode Island (PKRI) member Juliet Emma Zailskas. PKRI meets for training at local gyms and “jams” at popular spots like Waterplace Park and on the streets of downtown Pawtucket. Weekly meetups take place Saturday mornings at Brown Street Park.
You can get two kicks for the price of one with kitesurfing, a blend of surfing and sailing that includes occasional exhilarating moments of air time. Christian Schlebach, owner of Newport’s Sky Kitesurfing School, says you can kitesurf pretty much anywhere with a steady, side-shore breeze, and some popular spots in Rhode Island include Conimicut Point Park in Warwick, Barrington Beach, Colt State Park in Bristol, Matunuck State Beach and Second Beach and Fort Adams in Newport. Sky offers beginning and advanced lessons - basically, ground and on-water training - as well as equipment sales. “Kitesurfing is really easy to learn, but it’s 80% kite and 20% surf, so you need to learn to control the kite first,” says Schlebach. Beginner lessons are $230 for a three-hour ground course; on-water lessons are $350. Special “flight school” lessons will help you develop crowd-pleasing aerial moves. kitesurfingschool.com Or, stay cityside to take lessons from the Rhode Island Kiteboarding School at Narragansett Terrance Beach in Riverside. They’ve got over ten years of experience and offer classes year-round.
Rhode Island is a relatively flat state, so while you won’t find many dramatic cliffs to scale here, we do have a relative abundance of indoor rock-climbing facilities as well as one well-known spot for the related sport of bouldering. Rock Spot Climbing in Lincoln has more than 10,000 square feet of climbing space and dozens of top-rope walls and bouldering problems to solve, with trails reset every few weeks to keep things fresh and challenging. Instruction and equipment is available and beginner, intermediate and advanced climbing routes are established. Snake Den State Park in Johnston is one of a handful of locations in Rhode Island where you can rock-climb outdoors; some of the cliffs here are 35 feet high. Bouldering - climbing smaller rock formations without ropes or harnesses - is popular at Lincoln Woods; a total of 113 routes have been mapped out over a variety of boulders scattered around the park.
If you don’t think playing paintball isn’t exercise, you’re not doing it right. There’s far more to this combat-oriented game than standing around shooting at people; you’re constantly ducking, dodging and crawling as your enemies blast away at you at a rate of up to 14 shots per second. Plus, there’s just something about getting shot at that gets your heart rate up, even if it is just paintballs or plastic BBs. Providence Paintball has a carpeted, air conditioned indoor field dotted with inflatable obstacles; $32 will get you in the door and fitted out for combat with a gun, 200 paintballs, CO2 and safety equipment.
SHARK CAGE DIVING
There’s extreme sports, and then there’s willingly letting yourself be dropped into the ocean and surrounded by sharks, even if they are mostly blues and makos, not great whites. The shark-cage diving offered by Wakefield-based Snappa Charters is a genuine thrill, and after 40 years, Capt. Charlie Donilon and his crew have this “bucket list” experience down to a science. Bait Divers can choose between being submerged in a 5 x 6 1⁄2 x 7 1⁄2 foot cage or laying on “the Playpen,” a platform that allows you to observe the chum-hungry sharks from the relative safety of the surface. All-day shark-cage trips run in June, August and September with prices starting around $200 per person; go in June if you want to see the most sharks, sea turtles, porpoises, and fish; September if you want warmer water and bigger sharks.
SURFING AND PADDLEBOARDING
East Coast surfers are a different breed, willing to put up with all kinds of terrible weather to get a taste of the kind of wave action that’s commonplace in California or Hawaii. On the other hand, the relatively tame everyday conditions on Narragansett Beach make it a wonderful place to put your toe in the water with surfing lessons, especially when aided by instructors like Peter Pan, a member of the Surfing Hall of Fame. Individual lessons from the Peter Pan Surfing Academy (which also offers stand-up paddleboarding instruction) cost $65 for an hour, including use of a surfboard and wetsuit. Summer surf and paddleboard camps are also held at the Narragansett and South Kingstown town beaches. Warm Winds Surf Shop is another option for surfing lessons on Narragansett Beach, while Paddle Surf RI specializes in the growing sport of stand-up paddleboarding.
The Arcadia Management Area in West Greenwich is the biggest swath of protected and undeveloped woodland in Rhode Island, and its 14,000 acres are ribboned with trails, making it one of the most popular mountain-biking destinations in southern New England. You can literally ride for hours in here, and the singletrack trails range from beginner to advanced. The nearby Big River Management Area has an abundance of easily navigated cross-country trails, with more challenges around the Carr’s Pond area, while Burlingame State Park in Charlestown has 17 miles of mountain-biking trails, including some hilly, rocky and bumpy intermediate and advanced routes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can connect here with the North-South trail, a bikeable trail that runs the length of the state - 75 miles in all. The Rhode Island chapter of the New England Mountain Biking Association organizes group rides and has more information.
BMX has been a part of the X Games since the event’s earliest days, and the history of the sport goes back to the 1970s, when young motocross fans in California began imitating their heros by racing their bikes and doing stunts on homemade dirt tracks. The Woodland BMX track in West Greenwich - a serpentine course with three banked turns and more than a dozen bumps and jumps - is open to riders of all ages racing 20 or 24-inch BMX bikes. Races are held every Saturday from mid-April to November, and the track is open for practice on Tuesday nights. Free clinics are also offered to riders who are new to the sport. The track is located behind the Dan’s Place restaurant, convenient for post-race snacks and bragging over beers (or Mountain Dew for the kids). woodlandbmx.com
The Kayak Centre in Wickford is ideally situated for on-the-water adventures for any skill level. Kayakers can put in at a calm cove across the street from the shop, where beginners can learn the basics in individual or group lessons before venturing out into Wickford Harbor – itself well-protected compared to the open waters of Narragansett Bay. Once you’ve got the hang of launching, steering and paddling, you can join one of the Kayak Centre’s “gentle adventure” tours of the harbor and its islands, a sunset or moonlight paddle, a seal-watching outing or a river trip into the Great Swamp to see local wildlife and waterfowl. More advanced kayakers can take part in a guided tour of the Newport or Jamestown coastline or a 12-mile, open-ocean crossing from Charlestown to Block Island (the return trip is by ferry). Tours start at $40; lessons begin at $55.
Parasailing - which basically entails being pulled behind a speedboat while wearing a parachute - is one of those thrilling activities that only seems to be available when you’re on vacation. Fortunately, Rhode Island is one of those places that people actually visit on vacation, so you can sign up for parasailing off the coast of Newport or Block Island pretty much all summer and into early fall. It’s reasonably affordable (prices start at about $60 per person) and well worth the money for the experience of rising from the deck of the boat to as high as 800 feet in the air, thrilling to the sensation of flight as your boat captain dips you down to water level and back up again by gunning and cutting the throttle. Block Island Parasail and Watersports will get you aloft in a parasail solo or with a friend; Newport’s Island Style Parasail will go that one better if you have kids, who can go up three at a time.
The East Bay Bike Path is the longest (14 miles) bike path in Rhode Island, a ribbon of paved recreation trail running from East Providence to the Bristol waterfront. By bike, the roundtrip is a scenic and safe workout over mostly flat ground; for runners, it’s a marathon-plus. The smooth and well-maintained East Bay path is excellent for inline skating, and you’re also likely to encounter a variety of other self-propelled wheeled vehicles along the way, from recumbent bikes to ElliptioGOs - a bicycle/elliptical machine hybrid. The path runs through the center of Riverside, Barrington, Warren and Bristol, so there are plenty of places to stop for a drink or a bite to eat, and you can extend your workout with a loop through Colt State Park or a stroll on the boardwalk at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s Environmental Education Center in Bristol. Check out our East Bay Bike Path Guide.
SEEKONK GRAND PRIX
Go-karts may seem more like kids’ play than an extreme sport, but things can get pretty competitive on the slick track at Seekonk Grand Prix, a fast, slippery oval where you can race against a group of up to a dozen friends. Go around a few times and you’ll emerge from your kart with a new appreciation of the physical and mental skills it takes to be a NASCAR driver. The Family Track is more laid-back but has a stimulating 1/4-mile layout with a variety of turns, straightaways, tunnels and a bridge; new two-seater karts allow parents and kids to ride together. Little ones can get their first taste of solo driving on Seekonk’s Rookie Track, a smaller oval with junior-size karts. Each race costs $5.25, with discounts on purchase of multiples; the same pricing applies to the mini-golf, bumper cars and bumper boats.
They call this place Skydive Newport, and your plane will take off from Newport State Airport - but both are actually in Middletown. Regardless, you’ll be jumping out of a (“perfectly good”) airplane with breathtaking views of Aquidneck Island and Narragansett Bay as you descend 10,000 feet - the first 5,000 in freefall - with an expert instructor on your back. Just pay $230, sit for ten minutes of instruction and you’ll be ready to climb aboard one of Skydive Newport’s specially equipped Cessnas for the ride of your life. You probably won’t be doing much other than screaming as you exit the plane for your tandem jump, plunging earthward at 120 mph for nearly a minute before your parachute opens. For the next few minutes, however, you’ll drift leisurely toward the landing zone, giving you ample opportunity to open your eyes and look around, perhaps spotting the Newport mansions, the Mount Hope Bridge or even Block Island in the distance.
Looking to channel your inner Tony Hawk? There are about a dozen skate parks scattered around Rhode Island; the newest, the Tiverton Skate Park, is located in the Bulgarmarsh Recreation Area; its ramps, rails and jumps are open to skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX bikers and are great for beginners as well as more advanced tricks. For views, you really can’t beat the Easton’s Beach Skate Park, located in a corner of the parking lot at Newport’s “First Beach,” although the modest skate park in Bristol’s Colt State Park is also grinding distance from the shore. All of these parks are free and open to the public. On a rainy day, check out the indoor Skater’s Edge Skate Park in nearby Taunton, which has 30,000 square feet of bowls, halfpipes, stairs and more. Three-hour sessions are $15 during the week, $20 on weekends.
You don’t need to own a string of polo ponies to learn how to play the Sport of Kings: Newport Polo offers beginner polo lessons year-round starting at just $75. Nor do you have to know how to ride a horse: instruction begins slowly in a football-field sized arena before moving to 300-yard-long grass fields where you’ll learn to trot, then gallop, in pursuit of the ball, mallet in hand. Students learn the rules of the game and strategy in small groups (six to eight players) before scrimmaging in their first “chukker.” Summertime Discover Polo programs include weekend lesson packages, and an eight-week Coaching League with professional coaches leading twice-weekly practice games. A variety of beginner, intermediate and advanced education and game-play opportunities are available between the spring and fall arena season and the summer grass season.
Geocaching is part exploration, part orienteering, part treasure hunting: the sport involves located hidden caches following clues and GPS coordinates - the latter made simpler by the proliferation of GPS-enabled smartphones. Token gifts and a log book to sign are your reward for hiking through the woods to find caches stashed inside hollow trees, under rocks and in other hiding places, including the Bristol Harbor boardwalk, Warren’s Osamequin Point, Simmons Mill Pond in Little Compton and Fort Barton in Tiverton. The East Bay has some of the best established geocache sites in Rhode Island, including “challenges” in Colt State Park and in Middletown’s Albro Woods that have been maintained for more than decade and discovered by hundreds of geocachers. The East Bay Bike Path is another popular geocaching area, making it possible to play by bike as well as by foot.
Fishing for bluefin tuna and sharks in the Atlantic – fish weighing hundreds of pounds each – is about as close to big-game hunting as you’re likely to get in New England. The sportfishing offered by Coastal Charters may not be as extreme as that seen in Deadliest Catch, but you’ll get a taste of that kind of action if you sign up for one of the 30-hour runs out to the deep-sea canyons led by Captain Dom Petrarca, who employs an energetic jigging and popping method of attracting “large pelagics” – damn big fish, in other words. The less- adventurous can still get a thrill with an intimate bottom-fishing or inshore day trip in search of stripers, blues and fluke. Charters run through November, and Captain Dom will bring his boat to whatever dock is closest to where the fish are most active, so you can enjoy more time fishing and less time traveling.