Mud is the least of one’s worries in any one of Tough Mudder’s 35 events across the globe. A British Special Forces agent designed these wildly challenging 10- to 12-mile obstacle courses as the antidote to the mindless pavement pounding of typical marathons. The result is an onslaught of spine-tingling challenges, such as swimming through ice baths, swinging through buttered monkey bars, running through a field of live wires, and scaling 12-foot walls.
But for every ounce of Tough Mudder’s bravado, there is an equal measure of humor. Many racers wear ridiculous costumes, finish-line prizes include free Tough Mudder tattoos and mullet haircuts, and one of the official race rules is, put simply, “no whining.” Organizers are also quick to establish that Tough Mudder is not, in fact, a race—participants are expected to help each other through obstacles. The result is an atmosphere of camaraderie that few other endurance events pull off.
This year, new races are popping up in highly vacation-worthy locales, such as Sydney, London, and Vancouver. But no matter where you go, the raging postrace party is the same, with live music, free beer, medals for the fastest finishers, and awards for best costume, mullet, and Mohawk.
“I just wanted to get a bomb and was really enjoying the ride,” says bodyboarder Chase O’Leary of catching this six-foot wave during the Shark Island Challenge, in June 2011, near Sydney, Australia. “But I didn’t read the wave properly, hence why I got smashed into the reef.” Surfing’s little brother, bodyboarding is a sport that’s growing up. “There’s been a real boom in the younger generation—not just in Australia but around the world,” says O’Leary, 19, who has been bodyboarding for nine years. “People see it as a more functional way of riding a wave than surfing. Once you start to get the hang of it, it becomes addictive.”
On the far southern coast of Tasmania, jutting into one of the Earth’s most unpredictable and tempestuous seas, lies a point break so remote and isolated it’s reachable only by boat or an hour-long wilderness trek. This is Shipsterns Bluff, a cold and dangerously unpredictable break where waves start crashing at eight feet (two meters) but can top 20 feet (six meters). The waves’ characteristic steps trip even expert surfers–recently such as Kelly Slater and Ryan Hipwood (pictured)–and swing perilously close to rock fields, but the rush of lassoing the goliath of all waves beneath the coast’s dwarfing black cliffs keeps surfers returning. “The scariest part is seeing the wave and committing to catching it,” says local surfer Charles Ward. “But once committed, it all tends to feel surreal and I forget about everything except what’s right in front of me.”