A growing breed of sports enthusiast representing the most active amongst us is pumping up the ante of what it means to have a good time in Charlotte. Not content with a brisk walk or a friendly round of golf, extreme sports enthusiasts are controlled ‘crazies’ who like to push themselves into a pulse-pounding frenzy of adrenaline.
For some, their idea of a good time is pulling several times the normal force of gravity while speeding sideways into a banked turn on a dirt oval in a Sprint Car. Others prefer leaping off a 46-foot tower on a soaring zip line with roaring whitewater rapids beneath them. Still others seek out a vertical wind tunnel to enjoy unencumbered body flight similar to a skydiving freefall.
Light-years from the laid-back and sleepy Southern banking and mill town it once was, Charlotte and environs is pure heaven for the adventure seeker who likes to play hard and thrill harder.
Whether you seek your extreme fun by land, air or sea, we’ve identified several activities nearby that will get your heart pumping and your blood flowing – all in the name of a good time.
Hit the dirt track There is no mistaking Charlotte’s position as the heart of race country USA. Why let the young guns have all the fun when you can climb behind the wheel at Charlotte’s Dirt Track Racing School?
Just 25 minutes from uptown Charlotte at Carolina Speedway, DTRS has enthusiasts experiencing firsthand what it’s like to get sideways in the dirt in one of four different types of race cars (Legends, Open-wheel modification, Late Model and Sprint Car). They offer lessons that have wannabe-racers out and screaming around the 3/8-mile track at Carolina Speedway year-round.
School owner/operator Shawn Parker has hosted aspiring racers since opening in 2008. “Our classes are geared towards all levels of drivers including those that have never driven a race car,” says Parker.
Mitch Schlater from St. Henry, Ohio recently drove a Late Model racer at DTRS and said he had a blast. “The class was a gift from family, and it was everything I had hoped for and more,” says Slater, who noted he was nervous at first but that it evaporated after his first loop around the track.
DTRS provides all equipment and programs beginning at $299.
Free of gravity 120 miles east of Charlotte in the heart of Hoke County, you’ll find Raeford, NC, home of the annual North Carolina Turkey Festival.
You can also get acquainted with a 16-foot diameter, vertical wind tunnel that rises over 50 feet from the ground at Paraclete XP Indoor Sky Venture, the Southeast’s premier indoor skydiving facility. The recycling wind tunnel sports four, 441-horsepower fans that envelope ‘body flyers’ that have flocked there since their opening in 2007. Recent hosts to the 2012 Indoor Skydiving Championship, Paraclete offers instruction for both novice and experienced body flyers.
Selwyn Facey is the chief instructor for Paraclete. “I’ve worked with folks as young as 3 and as old as 96,” says Facey, who notes people’s initial apprehension is almost immediately overcome as they begin to fly. “We’re a smile factory; you spend your entire life being bound by gravity – once you step inside the tunnel your experience is the exact opposite of everything you have ever known. People simply love it.”
Flyer packages start at $63.
Climb to new heights Carolina’s Piedmont is calling with 25-mile panoramic views atop the second highest peak in nearby Gaston County. Quiet woods, scenic valleys and rocky outcroppings await visitors to Crowders Mountain, a favorite weekend recreational destination for in-the-know Charlotteans.
One popular activity that can get extreme at Crowders is bouldering, a unique form of rock climbing done without the aid of ropes or special equipment. Hike about a mile down the Ridgeline trail and you’ll come upon the boulder access area known by many locals as “Buzzard’s Roost.” It’s the popular park destination for avid and novice climbers to ply their skills against massive stones that have been in place for centuries.
Edward Medina is a former board member of the Carolina Climbing Coalition, a grass-roots climbing advocacy group. “Bouldering is a fast-growing activity within climbing,” says Medina. “Part of the appeal is the rejection of the traditional sports paradigm; you’re really competing against yourself and seeing what you can accomplish.”
While there is no cost for park access, be sure to register at the park office.
Not your Sunday-afternoon ride Fans in and around Charlotte have enjoyed BMX or Bicycle Motocross long before it became an official Olympic sport in 2008. “It’s all about the speed and being side by side other racers going as fast as you can go,” says Mark Coates, track operator at Hornet’s Nest BMX Track in Mecklenburg County’s Hornet’s Nest Park just north of the city.
BMX tracks are typically 1,000 or so feet in length and offer banked turns, jumps and uneven terrain often sending riders airborne. “It is a sport the entire family can enjoy as we have racers as young as 2 years old on tiny strider bicycles and senior divisions made up of those 65 and older,” says Coates.
Helmet and bicycle rentals are available at the track, which offers races every Saturday. Practice access is $5 with race entries at $10. A $45 annual membership provides access and other benefits.
Rapids, zip lines and more Charlotte’s own U.S. National Whitewater Center is the adrenaline junkie’s Holy Grail. The only downside is you might need more than a full day to have the complete experience, as the Center has a mind-numbing number of extreme activities to choose from. Some highlights:
Whitewater rafting/kayaking: Home to the world’s largest man-made re-circulating river, the USNWC provides exciting rafting adventures on Class II, III and IV whitewater rapids. True extremists can opt for Rodeo rafting, an experience that has as much swimming as rafting. You’ll experience drops, huge whitewater, tight turns and the most aggressive of all the rafting experiences.
Canyon Crossing: Following a system of connected ‘sky bridges’ that traverse along the south gorge, extreme enthusiasts are harnessed onto a stabilizing rope 50 feet high in the tree canopy as they navigate to various tree platforms.
Climb 2 Zip and Mega Zip: Climb 2 Zip finds participants scaling a 32-foot tower with great views of the park, strapping into zip harnesses and soaring along a 100-foot zip line. Mega Zip lives up to its name and more as you’ll sail more than 1100 feet above the rapids after being launched from their tallest, 46 foot tower.
Mega Jump: Nothing stands between the jumper and the ground, nearly five stories below, before a freefall off the Center’s 46-foot platform. Good thing there is a special POWERFAN® assisted freefall system that allows for a gentle landing on terra firma.
Staffer Rod Bickett speaks about providing fun and challenges for all types of visitors. “We have special programs for people with physical disabilities and have even hosted groups of individuals who were blind,” says Bickett. “It’s all about connecting with nature and testing your own personal limits. People always leave here with a sense of accomplishment.”
Adult passes begin at $15.
Want to try it?
Dirt Track Racing School
13308 Steele Creek Road
Charlotte, NC 28273
Paraclete XP Sky Venture
190 Paraclete Drive
Raeford, NC 28376
Crowders Mountain State Park
522 Park Office Lane
Kings Mountain, NC 28086
GPS coordinates: 35.213316, -81.293555
Hornet’s Nest BMX
6301 Beatties Ford Road
Charlotte, NC 28216
Track Operator: Mark Coats, 704-226-8420
U.S. National Whitewater Center
500 Whitewater Center Parkway
Charlotte, NC 28214