In the little seaside town of Nazaré, north of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, I once stood on the flat roof of the 16th century Forte de Sao Miguel, terrified, rooted to the spot, my hands shaking as I attempted to clutch the surrounding stone wall in an attempt to steady myself.
In front of me was the Atlantic Ocean doing something it does rather well, especially in this particular place.
That something is, creating waves of gargantuan proportions. Marine monsters. Slamming walls of slate-grey surf. Churning cataclysms. The end of the world riding on the backs of giant white horses. And, in the middle of this washing machine of the Gods, there were people.
Tiny insignificant people, dressed in neoprene suits, standing atop a flimsy, elongated board of polyurethane and fiberglass, attempting to tame the turmoil around them. Surfers.
Are they insane, I asked myself while holding down the bile which was rising in my stomach?
The mere sight of the feats which they were attempting made my head spin and turned my knees to rubber, no longer able or willing to support my weight. One after another they rode these freakish acts of nature. They seemed oblivious to the dangers around them, the crushing sea and the bone-crunching rocky shoreline. They were focused only on the there and the now.
I was incredulous, nobody put a gun to their reckless daredevil heads, forcing them to be there, in the middle of this raging maelstrom of madness.
And, that is the point. Nobody forced them. They were there because of adrenalin (and possibly a childhood head injury) and they enjoyed it. In fact, most of them live entirely for an experience which most of us will probably never know or understand.
As if by extension to this story, I once had the huge pleasure of meeting a very down-to-earth man who had done something similar, but for this superhuman, the results were nothing short of the extraordinary.
For some time he held the record for surfing the tallest scariest wave in the world – 78 ft or 24 meters in height – right here, in this very spot, Nazaré.
The man was Garrett McNamara – or GMAC as he’s known in the surfing fraternity, a fraternity of which I am not a member, and never shall be.
“Were you not scared?” I remember asking him rather stupidly. He didn’t even have to think about his answer. “No, I’ve never been scared of anything”, he replied, “except maybe my wife when she was giving birth”.
In a situation like that, he explained, it’s that shot of adrenalin which keeps a sportsman focused, that keeps their senses wide awake to everything happening around them, and allows them to make split-second decisions that sometimes can be the difference between life and death.
I remember nodding, pretending to understand what he meant.
Breaking records like surfing the tallest wave, climbing the highest mountain, or jumping from the highest cliff may not be for everyone. But, for the super sportsperson, the act of pushing themselves just that little bit harder, that little bit farther, or that little bit higher can be enough to release the surge of adrenalin which they continuously strive for.
For the rest of us, the ordinary Joe and Joanna, experiencing even a fraction of that surge of adrenalin is becoming more necessary in our lives. It seems that for many of us, partaking in new experiences and new adventures remind us of how life is meant to be lived. It can even go a long way towards making us happier, and more fulfilled human beings.
People are wising up to the science, that adrenalin-inducing experience activities make us far happier than the accumulation of material goods. It seems that we are increasingly demanding new experiences, new stories to tell, and less actual stuff with which to clutter our lives.
And now, more than ever before, it is easier to experience activities which provide us with that espresso-like shot of happiness.
The number of places where we can experience hang-gliding, parachuting, abseiling, zip-lining, scuba diving, mountain climbing, and so many more adventure experiences is forever on the increase, and it seems like we’re lapping it up.
It also seems that we love these new experience opportunities so much that we have even started giving these experiences as gifts.
Far-thinking companies, like the Lithuanian based Tinggly, present us with the opportunity to give each other much more meaningful adrenaline experience gifts, instead of adding to our ever-growing piles of material possessions.
This unique gifting company is evolving the manner in which we can give the gift of experiences, memories, and stories. They offer a huge range of hand-selected adrenalin-pumping gifts, which can be presented to friends, family, colleagues, or even clients in the form of experience gift vouchers.
Their adrenalin-soaked travel-based experiences are located in over 100 countries right around the world, ranging from the best skydiving and bungee jumping experiences to the best helicopter rides and balloon flights.
For those who prefer their adrenalin rush on two or four wheels, Tinggly even offers the most thrilling driving experiences that are guaranteed to push your rev-counter through the dial – think everything from Aston Martins in the UK to dune buggy safaris in Dubai, or off-road in Otago to a Vespa tour through Tuscany.
And what’s more, the recipient has five full years to take advantage of their experience gift. We think that’s a winner.
Surfing waves the size of four-story buildings might not be for everyone, but, we all have an envelope that we sometimes like to push to the limit. Even me.
I personally have a fear of heights. However, from time to time I like to test that fear and to test myself in the process.
Whether I’m trying to test myself from the roof of a skyscraper, inside the gondola of a hot-air balloon, or through the windows of a mountain-top cable car, it is that pulse of hormones flowing through my body which gets me through the moment.
And, whether we realize it or not, it is also the effects of that adrenalin which bring life to our stories, even long after the experience has happened. Adrenalin actually heightens the vibrancy of our stories, crystalizes the moment in images, colors the landscape, and enhances our memories.
Is there a better gift you can give someone than an experience gift? If there is, I can’t think of it.
Rad's top 10 action sports, adventure events and music festivals in 2019