Competing at the limits of human skill is something that both men and women have always done—but there’s no denying that extreme sports have always had a serious lack of female competitors. The icons of skateboarding, snowboarding, parkour, dirt bike and off-road racing and other extreme sports have usually been male. For a long time, women interested in extreme sports had a hard time finding awesome female role models who excelled in their sports of choice—but it looks like that might finally be changing.
Now, a new generation of extreme athletes is on the come-up, and they’re the most diverse the world has ever seen. Here are nine of the world’s top female extreme athletes turning the world of action and adventure sports upside down and raising the bar for everyone else. Some of the names on our list are legends (or even retired), while others are just starting to make a name for themselves. The common thread: fearlessness, never-quit spirit and the maybe-a-little-bit-crazy quality that makes the best extreme sports athletes who they are.
The most successful women in extreme sports
BASE jumping is about as extreme as you can get, and Clair Marie takes it to a new level even for her sport. At just 16 years old, she became the youngest female BASE jumper, and she hasn’t stopped there. She’s also a mountain bike racer, rock climber and a model to boot. She’s become something of a social media celebrity, known by her Instagram handle @thebasegirl, but it’s clear when you watch her amazing feats that Clair Marie is in it for the adrenaline, not the clout.
Professional skater Lizzie Armanto has never been afraid to hang with the boys, especially since she can skate circles around just about any of them. The dual-nationality Finnish-American was the first female skater to complete the infamous 360-degree “Loop” ramp as well as the first woman to appear on the cover of Transworld Skateboarding—and she holds a 2013 X-Games gold medal in the Women’s Park competition. Now she’s moving on to her biggest stage yet: skating with the Finnish national team in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Professional snowboarder Jamie Anderson has dominated the heights of her sport since she took home the gold for women’s slopestyle snowboarding at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics—and then did it again in 2018 in Pyeongchang. Between the Olympics and the X-Games, she’s got over a dozen medals to her name, including an X-Games Bronze she won at just 15 years old. And thanks to her impeccable technique and fearless ability to conquer any slope, she’ll likely continue to be a dominant force in professional snowboarding.
It’s hard to fit in 10 world kitesurfing championships by the time you’re 23, but Spanish kiteboarder Gisela Pulido has done it—by winning her first championship at age 13 and continuing to blaze her own trail ever since. Pulido is still crushing it as one of kite surfing’s most competitive riders, as well as the instructor at her own school in the renowned Spanish kitesurfing hub of Tarifa.
A true athletic prodigy, Meagan Ethell started wakeboarding when she was eight years old and landed her first 180 by the time she was 9. By 11, she had moved to Florida to train semi-professionally, and after a 2012 Wake Games win, she was well on her way to the top of the sport. Now, just entering her 20s, there’s no telling how good Ethell can still get as she continues to show us why she’s one of the best wakeboarders in the world.
Parkour requires insane physical fitness and coordination in just about every area from agility to strength, but Amanda Voll makes it look like no sweat. She can swing, jump, roll and backflip her way across nearly any urban landscape, and her insane free-running skills have given her a burgeoning career as a Hollywood stunt woman. She also instructs younger women in parkour, teaching her techniques to an eager audience and helping to grow the next generation of free runners.
Deaf people and women are both underrepresented in the motocross sport, but professional motocross racer Ashley Fiolek—who is both—saw absolutely no reason to let that stop her. After winning no less than five women’s motocross championships, Fiolek retired as a professional motocross racer in 2013. But talent and drive like hers don’t just suddenly stop, so she keeps her legacy alive through teaching at her own motocross school and performing in Marvel Universe stunt shows.
Snowboarder Kelly Clark, who just retired as of January 2019, is among the sport’s most legendary female figures. Another young starter, Clark started boarding at seven years old and had joined the US Olympic team by the time she was 18. Clark went on to win multiple Olympic medals and has put in dominant performances at numerous other snowboarding events. She now uses her position as a well-respected snowboarder to advocate for her Christian faith and mentor other young women in becoming extreme athletes.
At age 41, British Superbikes racer Jenny Tinmouth has been doing it longer than some of the people on this list have even been alive, and her 2010 Supersport Cup win made her the first woman to win a British Championship Race. But perhaps her greatest achievement is setting the women’s speed record at the Isle of Man TT. The ironically named Isle of Man, off the coast of the UK, is among the most legendary places in motorcycle racing–thanks to its viciously curved tracks–and Tinmouth handled it with ease to put up a blistering 119mph with the aid of her team via her motorcycle communication system.
Hear the message ringing loud and clear across your helmet communications system: The extreme sports world no longer has time for stereotypes or sexism when these women are showing the world how it’s done! As the new millennium brings us to new frontiers in women’s equality, look for women like these to keep bringing their A-game and giving the boys a run for their money.