With a new study suggesting that procuring life experiences not possessions leads to greater happiness, what better way to mark the findings than by celebrating an activity that’s truly going make you feel alive – assuming you don’t die trying. Sure, the screwballs that are into wingsuit BASE jumping may look like the human answer to flying squirrels, but we’ll bet they’re having more fun than you are when you’re shopping down at the local mall.
Wingsuit BASE jumping has to be one of the most radical extreme sports out there, and it’s rapidly been gaining in popularity over the past few years. The grace with which these guys fly through the air and some of the moves they pull off as they hurtle earthwards are simply incredible. Giving new meaning to phrases like ‘living close to the edge’ and ‘brushes with death’, these thrill-seekers leave themselves little margin for error as they scrape roadsides and rock faces.
The colossal rock formations and mindboggling panoramas provided by the mountains of Norway and Italy make them some of the world’s best spots for this death-defying pastime. A very particular type of terrain is needed for the sport: steep-lying slopes for gaining speed but also sufficient room for flyers to open their parachutes. It’s also imperative that conditions are right, with little or no wind, since unexpected turbulence can be fatal.
As you’ve probably guessed, wingsuit BASE jumping combines elements of wingsuit flying and BASE jumping. Like BASE jumpers, the freefalling fanatics who practice it jump from sites like skyscrapers and cliffs instead of higher flying aeroplanes. In this way, they get closer to the environment they’re going to be rushing through than other wingsuit flyers, but also closer to a nasty bump that would in all likelihood be their last.
Wingsuit flyers are able to achieve slower speeds than standard skydivers; a leisurely 95 km/h is typical, rather than 180 to 225 km/h – though some of these guys look like they’re going a lot faster. But don’t go thinking wingsuit BASE jumping is somehow safer. It’s arguably more dangerous than typical BASE jumping because of factors such as restricted physical movement.
Of course the wingsuit is much more than just a limitation. It gives the flyer’s body the shape of an airfoil, creating lift by way of fabric sewn between the legs and underneath the arms.
In this clip from Baffin Island, you get the full vertigo-inducing effect of perching on the precipice before a drop into the abyss. Did someone say gulp? Didn’t think so.
But although it’s not exactly a stroll in the park, wingsuit flying is much safer now than it was in its early days. According to wingsuit legend, between the 1930s and 1960s, 72 of the original 75 birdmen died testing wingsuits made of everything from canvas and silk to wood and even whalebone.
Fortunately, things have moved on. In the late 90s, Finland’s Jari Kuosma and Croatia’s Robert Pecnik created the earliest wingsuit made available to the general public. Their company Birdman also helped institute the first ever instructor’s programme, greatly contributing to the safety of the sport.
So what’s stopping you? All you’ve got to do is get two hundred or so skydives under your belt and you’re away. Pull on your wingsuit, climb a cliff and prepare to leap into the ultimate in gnarly experiences.
With special thanks to photographer Ana Isabel Dao, who kindly supplied all the images
We’ll even throw in a free album.