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What is the most popular adventure sport in 2023? You may be surprised.

One might think this would be a simple question to answer. Unfortunately not. However, I have done the hard work for you and trawled high and low for the latest figures.

Participation Numbers Across Adventure Sports

The UK and the US have some of the most mature sport associations and national statistics collection so I have started there. Below is a table comparing the estimated number of participants across the most popular adventure sports. These figures vary in terms of methodology, e.g. how many times someone has to do an activity to count, more details below.

Chart of participation across adventure sports
SportUKRankUSARankGlobal
Mountain Biking3-6,000,000*19,000,0003
Sailing3,500,00023,460,0005
Kayaking & Canoeing1,900,000313,600,0001
Surfing1,000,00042,874,000635,000,000
Climbing1,000,000410,350,000235,000,000
Paddleboarding (SUP)600,00063,780,0004
SCUBA Diving365,00072,480,00086,000,000
Skydiving60,0008500,0009
Kitesurfing59,000940,000101,500,000
Paragliding 7,000108,00011200,000
Overview of participation by sport in the UK and US, dates vary but are 2023 or the closest I could find

Search volume for adventure sports:

The figures above don’t seem to capture the full picture or the trends of interest many of us in the industry are feeling. Therefore, I also checked each sports recent search volumes (annualised):

Chart of UK search volume for adventure sports
SportSearches UKRankSearches USRank
Kayaking & Canoeing       240,000                  1750,000                  4
Climbing       220,000                  2325,000                  7
Paragliding       220,000                  21,190,000                  2
SCUBA Diving       145,000                  4725,000                  5
Skydiving       120,000                  51,775,000                  1
Surfing       100,000                  6970,000                  3
Wakeboarding       100,000                  6265,000                  8
Paddleboarding (SUP)         90,000                  8195,000                10
Mountain Biking         80,000                  9530,000                  6
Sailing         80,000                  9265,000                  8
Kitesurfing         45,000                11145,000                11
Search volume for adventure sports on 1st August 2023 (Semrush)

Ranking for most popular adventure sport in 2023:

If you forgive the crude statistics, we can try to get a sense of current interest in each sport in the two locations. Now merging the two sets of data by taking a simple average gives us an indication of the level of current interest in the sports. For this I have added the rank of participation and searches together and divided by 2, e.g. for Kayaking rank of participation (3) and search interest (1) = 3+1 / 2 = 2.

Most popular adventure sports of 2023
Final RankSportAv. Rank UKAv. Rank US
1Kayaking & Canoeing                  2                  3
2Climbing                  3                  5
3Mountain Biking                  5                  5
4Surfing                  5                  5
5Sailing                  6                  7
6SCUBA Diving                  6                  7
7Paragliding                  6                  7
8Skydiving                  7                  5
9Paddleboarding (SUP)                  7                  7
10Wakeboarding                  8                  8
11Kitesurfing                 10                 11
Overall rank for most popular adventure sport combining search volume and participation data

So what is the most popular adventure sport in 2023?

Drum roll please……Kayaking and Canoeing takes the crown to be currently the most popular adventure sport in the UK. This is followed closely by climbing, mountain biking and surfing.

Kayaking & Canoeing is the most popular adventure sport in the UK

How popular is Mountain Biking?

Establishing firm statistics for mountain biking in the UK is a tricky task, so I made some educated estimates to get us in the ballpark. By meshing together the 29% of people who cycle regularly with the 30% proportion of mountain bikes in the mix, I landed on a figure of 6 million. However, this likely skews high. Taking into account the folks who pedal their mountain bikes on paved roads, a more accurate estimate might be in the range that 3-6 million people in the UK go mountain biking. This would rank it 1st or 2nd.

Across the Atlantic, the data is more straightforward. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), about 9 million folks engage in mountain biking in the USA. Interestingly, though there’s been a noticeable surge in sport adoption, the cadre of core regular participants is thinning. This trend points towards mountain biking becoming an increasingly accessible sport, albeit with a somewhat transient following. This ranks it 3rd in our list of sports.

‘Mountain Biking’ garners 80,000 searches annually in the UK and 530,000 in the US.

How popular is Scuba Diving?

SCUBA diving garners significant participation. There are approximately 365,000 active divers in the UK and nearly 2.5 million in the US, placing it at ranks 7 in both countries. In terms of online interest, it garners 145,000 searches in the UK and 725,000 in the US. Interestingly, PADI hands out nearly a million certifications each year. It’s estimated that of the 6 million active divers worldwide, two-thirds are from the US and Europe.

59,000 people kitesurf in the UK

How popular is Kitesurfing?

While less mainstream, kitesurfing still holds its own. The UK hosts 59,000 kite surfers while the US has about 1.5 million, ranking 9 and 4 respectively in terms of participation. ‘Kitesurfing’ enjoys 45,000 annual searches in the UK and 145,000 in the US. In terms of demographics, 90% of kiteboarders in the US are men, and globally there are nearly 1.5 million kitesurfers.

How popular is Sailing?

With the winds at its helm, sailing draws in about 3.5 million enthusiasts in the UK and 3.46 million in the US, holding rank 2 and 5 respectively. ‘Sailing’ has search volumes of 80,000 in the UK and 270,000 in the US. However, these figures can fluctuate significantly depending on the type and frequency of sailing, as well as boat ownership. Given the range of types of boat and sailing activities it is not easy to summarise the participation of sailing.

How popular is Surfing?

Making waves globally, surfing has around 1 million surfers in the UK and nearly 2.9 million in the US, ranking 4 in both countries. There are 100,000 searches annually for ‘surfing’ in the UK and 970,000 in the US. The sport, which debuted at the 2020 Summer Olympics, boasts 35 million surfers worldwide according to the International Surfing Association.

How popular is Kayaking and Canoeing?

Our overall winner for most popular adventure sport. According to British Canoeing’s participation survey, the UK boasts 1.9 million participants for kayaking and canoeing combined. While the US has a whopping 13.6 million, ranking 3 and 1 respectively. In terms of search interest, ‘Kayaking’ plus ‘Canoeing’ (maybe cheating having both in there but we move…) ranks 1 in the UK with 240,000 searches and 4 in the US with 750,000.

Over 600,000 people paddleboard in the UK

How popular is Paddleboarding?

Paddleboarding, or Stand-Up Paddle, is one of the fastest-growing sports, with over 600,000 participants in the UK. The US has 3.8 million people who paddleboard. ‘Paddleboarding’ generates 90,000 searches per year in the UK and 200,00 in the US. Notably, over 25,000 certifications were given out in the UK according to PaddleboardInsiders.

How popular is Climbing?

Climbing scales to an impressive 1 million participants in the UK and 10.35 million in the US, ranking 4 and 2 respectively. This covers both indoor and outdoor climbing. With annual search volume for ‘climbing’ of 220,000 in the UK and 325,000 in the US, it’s safe to say the sport is climbing in popularity… especially since sport climbing made its Olympic debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

How popular is paragliding?

How popular is Paragliding?

The wind-rider of the group, paragliding enjoys 7,000 pilots in the UK and around 8,000 in the US, placing it at rank 10 in both countries. This counts only active members of the respective associations which does not include current students on temporary memberships, tandem flyers, or those flying without a membership. The ‘paragliding’ catches 220,000 searches annually in the UK and 1.2 million in the US. This suggests that the participation figures massively underplay the interest and the growth in the sport.

Global participation data on paragliding is minimal, however the majority of c.200,000 pilots are found in Switzerland, Germany, France, and Italy, which collectively had over 125,000 pilots back in 2004 (yes, the data is that old…).

Many people ask is paragliding safe, check out our post here.

How popular is Skydiving?

This high-thrill sport, skydiving sees over 60,000 participants in the UK and half a million in the US, ranking 8 and 9 respectively. ‘Skydiving’ achieves 120,000 searches annually in the UK and an impressive 1.8 million in the US. Again the numbers differ whether you count active members of the association or include students and other divers. In the UK, 6,400 members are joined by over 60,000 students according to British Skydiving. Similarly, in the USA, 41,000 regular skydivers are joined by 500,000 students or tandems as per the USPA.

Check out our beginner levels here.

So there you have it. Hopefully a helpful breakdown of the lastest participation across these amazing sports. The way we see it is that these numbers are all too low. That’s why we exist. Adventuro aims to get more people into these sports growing participation rates and the communities and businesses around them. Check out some our fantastic courses.

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Max
Co-founder and Chief Adventurer

I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.

For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.

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