Many people were surprised last week to learn that Alan Eustace had successfully outdone Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner by setting a new world record for high-altitude skydiving with his death-defying jump from the edge of the stratosphere.
Even more surprising? Eustace, who leaped from a balloon more than 25 miles above the earth and fell at more than 800 miles per hour, isn’t your typical daredevil. In fact, he’s a 57-year old computer scientist who also happens to be Google’s senior vice president of knowledge.
Kudos to Eustace –who is more than a decade Baumgartner’s senior – for taking some time off from his day job to tackle such a heart-racing feat. Of course, it occurred to us that Eustace’s side-project was probably a bit expensive, as far as hobbies go. No one has said how much the feat cost Eustace, who spent several years preparing with a small team of scientists and engineers and who very well could have received outside funding. After all, Eustace needed a specially-designed spacesuit with a life-support system as well as a special parachute and helium balloon. (Baumgartner’s balloon reportedly cost about $70,000, though his jump was sponsored by Red Bull.)
In other words, it’s the kind of sport only a reasonably wealthy executive (or, in Baumgartner’s case, a corporate-sponsored daredevil) would likely take up. Here’s a look at a five other expensive sports for only the most affluent of athletes, and some of the top executives who love them.
Skiing is already a sport for the wealthy, what with the equipment and lift passes likely to run you a pretty penny. Tossing a helicopter into the mix just seems extravagant (it always does). But heli-skiing is gaining in popularity despite day-long excursions often costing around $1,000 per person. The idea is relatively simple: A chopper flies you to a not-so-accessible part of a mountain, where you’re dropped onto some of the freshest snow imaginable for a few very pricey runs. Russian billionaire and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov apparently enjoys the sport as does the original extreme billionaire, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.
Actually, speaking of Sir Richard . . .
Kite-surfing (and, pretty much every other Richard Branson hobby)
Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson has long-held the reputation of a man who enjoys life in the fast lane. That’s what happens when you sky dive regularly and attempt to cross the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon. (Branson had even hinted that he wanted to break Baumgartner’s record one day by jumping out of the private spacecraft his company is developing.) But, in recent years, Branson has set his sights on breaking records in the extreme sport of kite-surfing, which involves riding a board (like a surfboard or wakeboard) while holding onto a wind-propelled parachute. Two years ago, Branson set a record by becoming the oldest person to kite-surf across the English Channel – a feat he achieved after his son set a record for the fastest kite-surf across that body of water.
Larry Ellison is best known for founding business software company Oracle, but the billionaire’s current obsession is likely planning the defense of the America’s Cup. The high-stakes yacht race only happens every few years, but Ellison’s Oracle Team USA brought home the world’s oldest international sporting trophy last year. Ellison has not confirmed how much he spent on the 2013 race, but the runner-up, Emirates Team New Zealand, reportedly shelled out roughly $100 million. And, among Ellison’s competition for the next America’s Cup, in 2017, will be Patrizio Bertelli, the CEO of Prada. The fashion house has already committed more than $60 million to the challenge.
Formula 1 racing
Fast cars seem to be a constant when you’re discussing the free-time exploits of the rich and famous. Racing enthusiasts among the billionaire set include Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, the aforementioned Sir Branson, and even the new guy on the wealthy executive block, GoPro founder (and Fortune 40 Under 40 member) Nick Woodman. Formula One racing is not a sport for the casual driver, though. Before you even have to worry about renting out a race course, you need to get your hands on a car, which can cost millions of dollars each.
Jerry Seinfeld isn’t the only person who thinks ponies are expensive. Equestrian sports – whether it’s dressage, racing, or polo – are always costly because acquiring, stabling, and caring for horses is a huge expense on its own before you add the training and materials needed to participate in any kind of sporting event. That being the case, equestrianism seems to be a popular sport for billionaires’ daughters. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter, Georgina, is a professional rider and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates reportedly spent almost $1 million recently to encourage his own daughter’s love of the sport.