THE 50 BEST: PUT THE EXCITEMENT BACK IN YOUR LIFE

Sporting leisure activities have undergone a revolution in the last decade. Time was when `adventure sports' might have meant a little light orienteering with the local cub scouts; now it's more likely to involve flinging yourself off the edge of a bridge with only a length of elastic between you and oblivion. Alister Morgan, writer on extreme sports for `The Independent', brings you bang up to date on how to get the adrenalin pumping: whether your fancy turns to solo leaps out of the belly of a plane, extra-intensive ways to get fit, or more sedate - but no less exciting -

activities that families or groups can enjoy together

1

BUNGEE JUMPING

Adopt a crucifixion pose 100ft above the ground before plummeting head first towards the earth - extreme sport or extremely stupid? One second of pants-wetting descent before a jolt of G-shock signals your ascent towards the sky. When your feet next touch the ground, you'll be a member of an exclusive club, giving you instant kudos and a great anecdote for dinner parties. Bungee jumping remains the ultimate adrenalin quick fix.

Who's doing it: the UK Bungee Club (0171-731 5958) holds jumps countrywide each weekend; pounds 35 members, pounds 50 non-members.

2

BOXERCISE

One of the oldest forms of exercise can now be practised without an opponent trying to punch your lights out. The aggressive nature of the training burns off excess fat, pent-up energy and frustrations as you punch a heavy bag that never loses it temper. This kind of workout can be found in many modern non-boxing gyms, and has proven immensely popular with women. Combining it with various non-contact exercises, like rope and speed work, ensures every level of fitness is catered for. Who's doing it: call the Boxercise Corporation (01327 844 686) for details of clubs countrywide; sessions around pounds 5.

3

BALLOONING

Circling the earth in a balloon requires considerable knowledge and cash, but you can circumnavigate your local town for a fraction of the price, without any training, and still be home for supper. Ballooning is the perfect way to spend a summer's day - especially when someone else is the pilot. In addition to great views, you have the added attraction of people staring at you in wonderment as you drift by. Who's doing it: call the British Ballooning & Airship Club (01296 436930) for details of venues countrywide; trips around pounds 140 per person.

4

BAREFOOT WATERSKIING

This is one of those great sports that looks incredibly difficult but is quite easy to learn. There are no complicated skis or other equipment to worry about: the boat travels just fast enough for your body to skim over the water's surface. The technique needed to get to your feet is quite simple, and after a few high-speed spills (remember to keep your mouth closed when falling), you'll be skiing au naturel.

Who's doing it: call the British Waterskiing Federation (0171-833 2855) for information on barefoot waterskiing venues countrywide; lessons around pounds 20.

5

DRAG RACING

Anyone who's driven a high-performance car will imagine that they know what this sport is about - they're wrong. The sensation is more like flying a jet plane, with vehicles reaching speeds of 0-60mph in 1 sec. There are no corners, and the first past the line is not necessarily the winner. Drivers race to a "bracket", which means that if your racing bracket is 9.9 secs, you must finish as close to this time as possible to win the race. With the smell of burning rubber, the smoke and the bellow of huge engines, this is the sport for speed freaks.

Who's doing it: call the RAC Motor Sports Association Ltd (01753 681736) for tracks countrywide.

6

PARAGLIDING/HANGLIDING

Once you conquer the nagging doubt that humans are not supposed to fly, paragliding is one of the most rewarding of any sports. Unlike other flying activities, the noiseless equipment used here feels almost organic as you glide above the earth like a modern pterodactyl. In addition to being quite easy to learn, paragliding provides the perfect environment in which to think clearly, presumably about anything but crashing.

Who's doing it: call the British Hangliding & Paragliding Association (0116 261 1322) for more information; lessons around pounds 79, tow launches around pounds 18.

7

TRAMPOLINING

For anyone who wanted to fly like Superman as a kid, trampolining is a sport for all: if you miss-time a jump, you'll simply end up waist-deep in soft polystyrene. Individuals interested in participating at a higher level should know that the UK has an impressive tradition in the sport, but they'll need the leg strength of a sprinter, the agility of a gymnast and the aerial awareness of fighter pilot to get to the top.

Who's doing it: most large gyms countrywide; call the British Trampoline Federation (0181-863 7278) for more information; sessions from around pounds 3.

8

GORGE WALKING AND COASTEERING

At its extreme, gorge walking involves following the course of a river wherever it takes you. That sounds simple enough... until you encounter a 20ft waterfall and have to jump. Coasteering involves climbing down cliffs into water before bobbing across the bay using buoyancy equipment and ascending the adjacent cliffs. Both sports require considerable nerve as you travel over land, water and everything in between - count on getting very wet.

Who's doing it: call the British Orienteering Federation (01629 734042) for centres around the country; about pounds 30 a head per day.

9

CANOEING

Not for individuals who want to stay dry: if your balance and co-ordination aren't up to scratch, you'll be dipping more than an oar in the water. Canoes, or kayaks, are usually single-seaters, and equipment and professional tuition are available at dozens of centres around the UK. The degree of difficulty depends on the stretch of water, but it's one of those sports that's fun even if you spend more time in the water than on it. Who's doing it: call the British Canoe Union (0115-982 1100) for more information; half-day sessions around pounds 10.

10

GRASSBOARDING

Snowboarders who can't wait for next winter's action should check out grass-boarding for an intoxicating thrill. All you need is a hill and some grass - commodities that the UK is, thankfully, blessed with. Pneumatic wheels give the boards a smooth transition, so you can concentrate on carving at speed. With so many designs on the market (some even feature hand-held brakes), it's advisable to rent one before buying. Unlike snowboarding, you don't need additional equipment.

Who's doing it: limited stockists. Try the London Beach Store, 178 Portobello Rd, W11 (0171-243 2772); boards retail at pounds 180-400, weekend rental pounds 50.

11

PARACHUTING

You need a licence to throw people out of a moving aeroplane, which, thankfully, means that any of the dozens of skydiving schools around the UK have to adhere to strict regulations on safety and training. Opt for a full training course of around six lessons before an inaugural jump, or try a tandem jump (attached to a qualified instructor) for an unforgettable one-off experience. Best during the summer, as jumps are always dependent on the weather. Who's doing it: call the British Parachuting Association (0116-278 5271) for more information; tandem jumps around pounds 195, full training courses with one jump around pounds 120.

12

INDOOR ROCK CLIMBING

One of the most popular pastimes in urban areas, indoor rock climbing offers more than the chance to improve your fitness. Agility, balance and strength are all essential skills, but, just as importantly, it's a "problem solving" exercise - with multiple routes to the top available, indoor climbing is akin to making moves in a chess game. Hugely popular with both sexes and all ages, this is also a sociable activity that requires you to work successfully with others.

Who's doing it: climbing centres around the country. Try The Castle (above) in Stoke Newington, London W4 (0181-211 7000), or, for more information, call the British Mountaineering Council (0161-445 4747); sessions cost around pounds 6, children pounds 3.50.

13

PAINTBALLING

Shoot at your friends and colleagues with impunity in a paintballing session. It's essentially a war game where people separate into groups before trying to eliminate each other - so if running around in woods clutching fake firearms is your idea of fun, then this may be your perfect group activity. Protective eyewear and professional instruction are provided, but lack of experience shouldn't dampen your killer instinct.

Who's doing it: organisations around the country. Try Mayhem, nr Abridge, in Essex (01708 688517), which has 10 themed game areas, semi-automatic weapons and free pick-up from Theydon Bois tube station on the Central Line; pounds 16 per head (pounds 13 in groups over 20), plus pounds 2 for army overalls and semi-automatic weapons, 5p-6p per bullet.

14

SURFING

For many, surfing is still the original and the best board sport around. You can't do it at your local reservoir or lake, but a regular exodus to the sea is an integral part of the whole experience. Learning to surf is an organic process, but, fortunately, the early faltering attempts are also fun. Once you do manage to "get up", you'll ride a wave that seems to have a life of its own - the sensation of carving on the water simply has to be experienced.

Who's doing it: call the British Surfing Association (01736 360250) for more information; clubs charge around pounds 20 for a half-day lesson or pounds 30 for a full day, including equipment.

15

LAND YACHTING

A sport which draws elements from a wide range of activities, but is basically high-speed yachting - without the water (it usually takes place on beaches where strong wind currents are easier to find). Rigs closely resemble a canoe on wheels; some have sails attached, while others use huge kites to power them. Many protagonists hail from a sailing background and top sailors can reach speeds of up to 70mph, but you don't need a great deal of experience to drive a rig. Activity centres offering equipment and tuition provide an excellent introduction into the sport.

Who's doing it: call the British Land Sailing information line (01509 842292) for details of clubs around the country.

16

MICROLIGHT FLYING

Microlights offer an excellent introduction to aviation training, with none of the taxiing and endless delays associated with most people's experience of flying, in passenger jets. These small, lightweight planes offer breathtaking views, whether you're studying for a pilot's licence or simply out to have fun. You'll feel the turbulence every time you hit a thermal of hot air; hear the wind whizzing past your ears; and - when the time comes for you to take the controls yourself - your jaw will hit the floor. Who's doing it: call the British Microlight Aviation Association (01869 338888) for details of clubs and airfields around the country; passenger rides around pounds 45, full training for private pilot licence around pounds 2,000.

17

BIATHLON/TRIATHLON

Consisting of swimming, running and cycling, triathlons and biathlons (which cut out the swimming discipline) take place around 12 times a year throughout the country. If you think you can survive racing, for around an hour, in each discipline, then you could be eligible to join the fittest group of athletes on the globe. Don't worry, there are plenty of shorter races on offer for beginners to try before you attempt the legendary Iron Man race in Hawaii, which comprises a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a mere 13.1-mile jog to the finish. Get training now.

Who's doing it: call the British Triathlon Association (01530 414234) for information on your nearest club and forthcoming events.

18

KITING

Some people seem to have a genetic disposition that prevents them from successfully flying kites, but the activity remains a perennial favourite, even in today's high-tech world. Sport kiting contains a strong freestyle element, though the most popular discipline is team formation kite flying. Top competitors practise synchronising their aerial manoeuvres every day. Watch them at festivals around the UK, and pick up tips to improve your own technique.

Who's doing it: call STACK (Sports Team and Competitive Kiting) on 01277 373865 for details of the sport and forthcoming events; kites cost anything from pounds 8 to pounds 195.

19

WINDSURFING

Windsurfing has one of the steepest learning curves of all adrenalin sports: it's been estimated that only 18 per cent of novices manage to windsurf successfully during their first session. A combination of balance, co-ordination and a strong breeze are needed, but once you put it all together, the experience is simply exhilarating. Beginners should look out for rigs with smaller sails and boards for their first attempts - some models even boast semi-inflatable boards to help you stay afloat.

Who's doing it: call the Royal Yachting Association Windsurfing Division (01703 627457) for your nearest club and additional information; lessons from around pounds 25.

20

MOTORCROSS

Sharp dirt corners, table-top ramps and massive aerial jumps: motorcross involves lining up around 25 dirt bikes at the start of a purpose-built dirt track, then sitting back and watching the ensuing carnage as they all head for the first corner. The rules are simple enough, and boil down to the simple maxim: "Finish first by any means necessary". It's fast moving, very, very loud, and one of the best spectator sports anywhere.

Who's doing it: several schools around the country offer motorbike-racing tuition, starting at around pounds 95. Call the Auto-Cycle Union (01788 540519) for more information and race schedules.

21

MOUNTAINEERING

Planet Earth boasts a wide range of summits, and the UK in particular provides a mixed-ability playground for one of the most demanding sports around. Whether pursued solo or in a group, mountaineering demands sound technique and constant attention to safety, and repays balance and flexibility over brute strength - so if you're looking for a climbing partner, pick a ballerina over a bodybuilder. Who's doing it: artificial or natural rock faces at centres around the country; a two-day beginner course in the Peak District, for example, costs pounds 90 (incl. accommodation). Call the British Mountaineering Council (0161-445 4747) for further information.

22

ALL-TERRAIN IN-LINE SKATING

Forget leisurely jaunts through the park - the next generation of in- line skates are a nightmare for every council that spent millions of pounds gravelling parkways. Coyote Rollerblades boast oversized pneumatic wheels that quite literally take the rough with the smooth, whether riding on grass, gravel or loose stones. All the usual freestyle tricks are possible, in addition to a user-friendly braking system that enables you to stop without hitting trees or pedestrians. The next level in skating evolution.

Who's doing it: restricted stockists. Try Slick Willie's, 41 Kensington High Street, London W8 (0171-937 3824); from around pounds 260 a pair.

23

SKYDIVE SIMULATION

A great chance to try skydiving at 10ft as opposed to 10,000ft. Once you've donned protective goggles and baggy overalls (designed to catch the wind current), a powerful jet of air is passed through a grill, and off you go. The simulation cage is largely inflatable, so you literally bounce off the walls when you fall out of the jet stream. Professional sim skydivers can perform impressive aerial manoeuvres, but for beginners it's just fun bouncing around.

Who's doing it: call Mark Robson (0831 213982) for more information and your nearest location; sessions pounds 25 per person.

24

POWERBOATING

Travelling at 70mph in a car isn't really much to write home about. Travelling at 70mph in a powerboat, however, feels like speeding in a rocket. Naturally, objects move faster through air than water, and powerboats literally skim across the surface, periodically lurching into the atmosphere like a dolphin. A satisfying activity for speed fanatics.

Who's doing it: call the Royal Yachting Association (01703 627400) for information on clubs countrywide; around pounds 500 for a full day's tuition.

25

OFF-ROAD COMMANDO TANK DRIVING

This may not be the cheapest motorsport available, but it is definitely one of the most unusual. Not only will instructors let you drive a tank, but they've cleverly put the word "commando" in the activity's description - a definite crowd-pleaser. A purpose-built off-road track at Mallory Park Circuit, Leicestershire, gives you the chance to drive an Abbot Tank or six-wheel-drive Stalwart without the inconvenience of enlisting with Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

Who's doing it: restricted centres. Try Everyman Motor Racing at Kirkby Mallory, Leics (01455 841670); pounds 195 for a full day, pounds 115 for half a day.

POTHOLING

When you're crawling on your hands and knees through a dark, damp hole deep underground, you don't really want to know if the liquid oozing between your fingers is the result of condensation or the shuffling bats high above your head. Twisting through gorges and narrow tunnels - some as deep as 50ft - is an eerie experience, but great fun. Many centres offer trips through one of Britain's many limestone regions: in addition to guides, they'll furnish you with the all-important mud- repellent clothing. Who's doing it: scores of clubs around the country, many taking trips without charge; call the National Caving Association (01225 311364) for details.

26

27

KARATE

With a plethora of styles and disciplines, karate (meaning "closed fist") remains one of the world's most popular martial arts. Even if you're never called upon to use your karate skills outside of the gym, you will improve your fitness, strength and, more importantly, confidence. All good "dojos", or martial-arts schools, have experienced teachers catering for a mixture of abilities, and you can start at any age. Karate is all about mental and physical strength through technique and training - it's a skill that is learnt by degrees, and is accessible to all. Who's doing it: call the English Karate Governing Body (01225 834008) for more information; sessions around pounds 4.

28

ECO SPORTS

Fancy getting back to nature? Then take your pick of a wide range of activities, from woodland walks to week-long treks in search of rare birds, wild cats or deer. True eco sports are ethically run, so that your incursion into the habitat of another species is as unobtrusive as possible. The overall aim is to blend into the environment to the extent that the wild creatures approach you.

Who's doing it: call English Nature (01733 455000) or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (01767 680551) for information on alternative nature activities around the country; for example Dolphin Ecosse, in Cromarty, Scotland, runs dolphin- and whale-watching trips (summer only) costing pounds 15 for half a day, pounds 50 for a full day.

29

WAKEBOARDING

The latest board-sport incarnation has been around for a few years, and is attracting an ever-increasing number of converts. A cross between snowboarding and waterskiing, it requires riders to carve sideways through the water, using "wakes" from a speed boat to launch into gravity-defying mid-air freestyle manoeuvres. Beginners should start on a sidebar tow before switching to a rope, but be warned - this sport is highly addictive.

Who's doing it: clubs on lakes and reservoirs around the country, with sessions costing from pounds 15; call the British Waterskiing Federation (0171-833 2855) for more information.

30

HILLCLIMBING

Popular on the continent, hillclimbing is developing a loyal following in the UK. Competitions involve finding a hill with a death-defying gradient, then driving off-road vehicles as high as possible up the slope. Cars come in all shapes and sizes, though most are four-wheel-drive. One thing you can guarantee is that many will turn over or spin off spectacularly (competitors must adhere to predetermined safety measures), making this a great spectator sport.

Who's doing it: restricted clubs. Try Prescott Hillclimb Drivers School in Cheltenham (01242 673136; tuition from pounds 110), or contact the RAC Motor Sports Association (01753 681736).

31

WALKING WITH WOLVES

A trip to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust in Reading reveals the truth about one of nature's most maligned creatures. Dispelling Red Riding Hood myths, director Roger Palmer assures me that no healthy wolf has ever attacked a human adult, and that, in the wild, they are actually far more afraid of humans than fire. You get to walk through woods with a wolf (held on a leash by a trained handler), and even to stroke it. This four- year-old centre has European and North American breeds, and promises an unforgettable experience.

Who's doing it: only with full membership (pounds 25) can you walk with the wolves. Times can be arranged to visit the conservatory alone or with a group; for more details, contact Roger Palmer on 01189 713330.

32

SLEDDOG RACING

A must for anyone who loves animals and the great outdoors: at amateur level, all you need is a willing dog, of any breed, and snow or a woodland trail. With single dogs, the owner spends most of the time running alongside a wheeled sled (or wheeled buggy at amateur level). At the other end of the spectrum are teams of Siberian huskies, which are bred to run. Sleddog races take place year round, and are an awesome experience, whether you're competing or spectating.

Who's doing it: for details of events and clubs countrywide, call the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (01761 436599), or Affiliated British Sleddog Activities (01732 822910).

33

SKIING/SNOWBOARDING

Extraordinary as it seems, expat Brits were the first people to ski for recreation - decades on, the word has spread. Improved transport links have made foreign destinations, from the French Alps to Aspen, much more accessible; while competition between resorts has resulted in some phenomenal package deals. And if time and money are short, dry-ski or indoor centres around the UK offer quick fixes. Nowadays, the unique thrill of conquering a mountain is no longer the preserve of the rich and famous. Who's doing it: numerous operators at varying costs; call the Ski Club of Great Britain (0181-410 2000) for advice. The indoor Snowdome in Tamworth (01827 67905) has real snow all year; sessions from pounds 14 for adults, pounds 9 for children.

34

SUB AQUA

Jacques Cousteau's invention of "scuba" underwater-breathing apparatus gave water-babies a ticket to a new world. Beginners must complete several hours of lessons in a swimming pool before taking to coastal waters, but it's well worth the effort. However often you've seen diving programmes on TV, you'll be astounded by the real thing: a colourful, slow-paced alien world of wonder. It's a feast for your eyes, but you'll only have the sound of your own breathing to keep your thoughts company. Whether in swimming baths in Balham or azure seas in Barbados, it's a must-try activity.

Who's doing it: call the British Sub Aqua Club (0151-350 6200) for clubs around the country; around pounds 15 a lesson.

35

ROLLER HOCKEY

Originally invented to provide ice-hockey players with practice away from the rink, roller hockey has grown into popular sport in its own right. In-line blades are now the favoured footwear, revealing the strength of urban influence on a game that's moving increasingly away from its North American ice roots. But the speed and aggression elements have remained: an addictive combination that's won die-hard devotees among young skaters.

Who's doing it: call the National Roller Hockey Association (01462 484022) for more information and details of clubs around the country.

36

SKYSURFING

A sport that truly deserves the label "extreme", skysurfing is a cross between skydiving, surfing and gymnastics. Skysurfer pairs jump in tandem; one performs death-defying tricks while his teammate films the manoeuvres for the judges below. The boards are reinforced snowboards that allow riders to carve through the air. With your feet strapped to the board (landing poses a different set of problems), the execution of inverted spins and somersaults places a tremendous strain on the body, similar to that experienced by jet pilots.

Who's doing it: for experienced skydivers only. Contact the British Parachuting Association (0116-278 5271) for details of clubs.

37

YOGA

Contrary to popular belief, yoga is one of the most challenging activities around, regardless of age or fitness level. Meaning "union", it aims to promote harmony in mind, body and spirit through a range of postures and breathing exercises. This may not sound too strenuous, but, if performed properly, even the most active person will find their fitness and concentration levels improve immeasurably. Ideal as a training supplement for other forms of exercise, yoga is also an excellent aid to relaxation.

Who's doing it: call the British Wheel of Yoga (01529 306851) for information on clubs around the country; classes from around pounds 3.

38

RAMBLING

Following the recent victory in parliament, rambling is the activity buzzword of the moment; but there's more to it than simply annoying the landed gentry. An impressive network of routes around the country provides a fresh-air fix for thousands of people around the year, whether for an afternoon jaunt or a full-blown organised walking holiday.

Who's doing it: call the Ramblers Association (0171-339 8500) or the Long Distance Walkers Association (01732 883705) for a wealth of information on national routes and organised rambles.

39

OCTOPUSH

Combine hockey with waterpolo and sub aqua, and you have one of the fastest-growing watersports in the UK, and a possible candidate for future Olympics. Octopush involves two teams of six attempting to push a heavy lead puck into a goal trough at either end. Competition bouts last 15 minutes each way, with frequent surfacing for breaths of air. It's not a great spectator sport, for obvious reasons, but has a growing following among both men and women of all ages.

Who's doing it: teams and leagues exist at swimming pools around the country. For more details, send an SAE to the Development Officer, British Octopush Association, Culver Farm, Old Compton Lane, Farnham, Surrey GU9 8EJ.

40

KARTING

Karts boast the same design principles as their Formula 1 cousins, but travel at a more modest 35mph. Whether on indoor circuits or larger outdoor tracks, the karts' low chassis and buzzing engines combine to create a sensation of real speed. Lack of experience is no obstacle: it's competitiveness that will win out when you're racing against friends. Perfect for groups.

Who's doing it: call RAC Motor Sports Association (01753 681736) for your nearest circuit and additional information; from around pounds 18 a session. NB: fireproof overalls, helmets and tuition should always be provided.

41

BRIDGESWINGING

For seasoned bungee jumpers seeking a new thrill, this is a must. As the name suggests, protagonists throw themselves off bridges, preferably tied onto a rope. Unlike bungee jumping, there is no eye-popping deceleration before you spring back toward the heavens; instead, you get an incredible feeling of weightlessness as you reach the apex of each swing. Who's doing it: restricted organisations. Try Wildside Adventure (01865 311179), who organise bi-monthly events at pounds 49 per person, or private sessions for groups over 12; or call the British Elastic Rope Sports Association (01865 311179).

42

FENCING

This ancient discipline remains as popular as ever, despite the demise of the foil blade in mortal combat. In competition, fencers fight on a "piste" area that allows them to move backwards and forwards but restricts lateral movement. Points are scored when the tip of the foil strikes an opponent's electronic chest guard. The necessary speed, fitness and lightning reflexes can be honed at clubs around the country. Perfect your Errol Flynn impersonation and learn a touch of French at the same time.

Who's doing it: call the British Fencing Association (0181-742 3032) for further information; from around pounds 5 a session.

43

FALCONRY

The predatory stars of this ancient art attract a wide range of people. Groups can watch while a selection of birds are put through their aerial paces, and the braver among you can have a go at handling one. Sessions works on the premise that the birds fly for food, usually raw meat. When they are literally "fed-up" (the phrase originates from falconry), they sometimes stay in a tree and refuse to return. Many of the birds used are endangered species, so, in addition to being educational, an interest in falconry helps to raise money for research. Who's doing it: centres around the country; call the British Falconers Club (01543 481737) for more information.

44

WILD-WATER RAFTING

This watersport is for individuals who crave more than a gentle meander down a river. Take eight people in a raft, find an angry river, and set off. Everyone has a helmet, paddle and a life vest, and each crew has a experienced guide. As the river's speed and gradient increase, the paddles are generally forgotten as you hold on for dear life. One of those sports where you contemplate the sum of your life during the ride, but can't wait for another go once you hit dry land.

Who's doing it: centres around the country, with trips costing around pounds 30; call the British Canoe Union (0115-982 1100) for more information.

45

RALLY DRIVING

Take everything you think you know about driving... and forget it. Deliberately skidding at 90mph around a muddy woodland trail between two wooden posts is a sobering and exhilarating sensation that every car fanatic should experience. Rally driving is a huge spectator sport, but for those who fancy a closer look, there are plenty of rally schools around the country teaching basic rallying skills on purpose-built off-road circuits.

Who's doing it: about 20 rally driving schools around the country, offering lessons from around pounds 110. Contact the RAC Motor Sports Association Ltd (01753 681736) for more information.

46

DOWNHILL MOUNTAINBIKING

Swap gentle rides along woodland trails for a narrow, muddy mountain track with an acute gradient, and you'll experience an unbelievable thrill. With Mother Nature providing branches, loose gravel and huge rocks for added excitement, you need to hold on for dear life. Too much front brake, and you're over the top; too much back brake, and your rear wheel slides off the trail. Master this sport, and the world's your oyster.

Who's doing it: call the British Cycling Federation (0161-230 2301) for a list of clubs and events around the country. Visit specialist bike shops for a sound mountainbike, and prepare to spend upwards of pounds 200.

47

HYPOXIC TRAINING

It sounds like something from a Star Wars movie, but hypoxic training is real enough. Sealed low-oxygen units provide an idyllic training environment by increasing the body's red blood cell-count. Benefits extend beyond improved fitness and stamina - it is said to relieve and slow down arthritis and cancer. And, with low air pressure but not low oxygen, hypoxic training has none of the negative side-effects of high-altitude exertion. At pounds 14,250 a unit, this brainchild of Russian scientists is still a rare commodity, but the word is beginning to spread beyond Michael Jackson and a handful of cosmonauts. Expect it in exclusive gyms around the world in five years time. Who's doing it: call Edge UK Ltd (0181-325 8111) for more information.

48

SAILING

This great British tradition has too many variations to list here; suffice to say that there are enough to cater for every taste and ability. Whether you fancy meandering along on a barge, yachting with family and friends, or simply messing about in a dinghy, sailing has to be one of the most popular, accessible and sociable activities in the UK. Hire a crew for luxury cruising, or attend a course for hands-on experience and a ticket to seafaring sallies around the globe.

Who's doing it: call the Royal Yachting Association (01703 627400), Boatline (01784 472222), or the Sea School Directory (01703 647454) for more information; one-day training around pounds 25, five days around pounds 500.

49

WATERPOLO

In its purest form, waterpolo is a fast-moving and physical game played by highly trained sportsmen, but less able athletes and spectators can take it at their own pace at one of dozens of clubs around the UK. Waterpolo accommodates all levels of experience, whether you want a high-tempo aquatic workout or prefer just mucking about in the water with friends.

Who's doing it: call the ASA Waterpolo Committee (0161-866 8588) or the Amateur Swimming Association (01509 618700) for details of your nearest club and for further information.

50

SKATEBOARDING

Invented by US surfers, "sidewalk surfing" has become one of the most enduring adrenalin activities of all time. Skilled riders defy gravity with a plank of wood narrower than a size-8 sneaker. Whether coasting through the park, pulling indy-grabs in the halfpipe, or just popping down to the corner shop for a pint of milk, skateboards remain the coolest form of urban transport.

Who's doing it: visit Club Blue Room, 141 Park Lane, London W1 (0171- 495 5444) for the biggest selection of equipment in the UK; skateboards cost pounds 60-pounds 150, and advice from professional riders is available on the premises. Contact your local council for the location of your nearest skatepark.

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Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
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Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
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film
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Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
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TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
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Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
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Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
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Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
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Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
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Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
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Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
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MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
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