Wingsuit Progression Series
A series covering WS skydiving, from your FFC through Exits, Skydiving with Others & Safety, by Matt Gerdes & Taya Weiss...
Sweet, you want to be a BASE jumper! Rad. Epic. Unicorns. Wooooooo!
Okay, now that we have all that cliché BASE terminology out of the way….. Making a BASE jump is the easy part. Spending years BASE jumping without getting mangled or killing yourself is the part jumpers struggle with.
So what are some practices that may prevent you from a long, painful recovery or hosting one of those amazing memorials that we all get to attend? Here are a few things I have kept in mind over the past 12 years…. and a few things I picked up along the way.
BASE jumping is not going anywhere. It’s true that there are ways to expedite the skills needed for jumping, but there are zero ways to obtain experiences faster than you actually live them. If you go too fast, you’re missing out. You’re also choosing a path that often ends with an injury or a slot on the Base Fatality List. Get your BASE number, not your BFL number! Does that really need to be said?! Apparently. DON’T BE IN A HURRY.
Get your BASE number, not your BFL number!
Then learn more. Then learn something new! Oh, and then never stop learning. Being a student is THE most important role you will ever have as a BASE jumper. Find your weaknesses and ignorances, and address them. If you’re operating with the attitude that you don’t have weaknesses, it is very likely that you’re not being realistic. Even worse, you have stopped progressing. A good friend once told me that if he didn’t feel like he was always improving as a jumper, he felt like a dead man walking. With that in mind, maybe it is time to consider: canopy skills, climbing, rope access, medical training, skydiving, outdoor and survival skills, weather patterns, and physical fitness.
Be someone people want to BASE jump with, not somebody people like to watch BASE jump. Stick around BASE long enough, and your hard drive entitled “I AM FUCKING AWESOME!” will fill up naturally. You don’t need to force it. If you are only trying to do things that will get Youtube views and Facebook likes, you’re being “that guy,” and chances are, the flaws in your approach will catch up with you. If you’re super-confident in your skill and approach yet people keep trying to talk you out of your ways… realize you’re “that guy.” Be willing to listen, to learn, and to get to know the crew you’re jumping with.
realize you’re 'that guy'
It is no secret that BASE jumpers like to party. I’ve seen multiple people get mangled because they were under the influence. There is nothing funny or cool about jumping after you have been partying. Keeping the party away from the exit is a group effort. Sadly, the cross-eyed, stumbling jumper who just hucked made the sober people look bad. Hide rigs, pull cutaway handles, call people out for jumping impaired.
We all love to see completely dialed-in aerials, but seeing people learn aerials without knowing what they are doing is 1990s Bridge Day whuffo bullshit. Hearing questions like “What are you going to do?” replied with “I think I am going to do a gainer” makes me want to vomit. You’re seeking validation and approval to do something you’re not completely confident about, period. If you need those things, chances are you have no idea what you’re doing. If you’re drawn to aerials, pursue it in a way that allows you to learn. BE PROUD OF YOUR APPROACH! This is statement is true to all things BASE (and beyond), not just aerials.
Walk every landing area. Don’t set yourself up to find things while flying a canopy 50 feet above traffic lights and boulders. If I need to explain this much further, consider sticking to simple objects you can jump during the day, taking another first jump course, finding another mentor, or quitting.
Hopefully I don’t actually have to mention desirable body positions, and if you can run off an exit, RUN OFF THE EXIT!!! Don’t go poised unless you have a good reason. What I really want to talk about with exits is that it seems each year I hear more stories of jumpers falling, slipping, and tripping off exits. And as much as I want to mock the absurdity involved in falling off an exit… *raises hand*… Yup, it happened to me. The short version is that I was more focused on getting that extra rotation into my quad barrel roll than I was in observing my environment. Stupid! The second I pushed off, I discovered some gravel had fallen onto the exit inbetween jumps. My foot slipped out from under me and I was sent flailing off a 600-foot cliff. So what did I learn (and should have known)? Make it a practice to think about the physical exit that you will be jumping — and hopefully running — off. Is it wet? Is it loose? Is it plastic, stone, grass, mud, ice? There are a few critical elements that make up a BASE jump, and the exit is one of the most overlooked of those components.
Be careful not to get lured into jumping because of group mentality. “Boogie fever” is real. It is too common to stand on a crowded exit hearing everyone agree they aren’t quite sure about the conditions. After a few nervous minutes someone usually runs off the edge, and suddenly people follow. Yes, friends do make great wind indicators, but just because one person doesn’t get mangled, does not mean you are ready to go. There is no longevity in BASE jumping when other people make choices for you.
The truth is that BASE jumping is not the same as skydiving, but focusing on skydiving will set you up for a safer path through BASE jumping. Yes, freefall and canopy skills matter, but sticking with skydiving will also help you make better decisions, teach you about the community, and ultimately prepare you for BASE jumping in ways that can’t be directly quantified. BASE jumpers don’t always fit in at the DZ or understand the RW jumper closing his eyes and visualizing his docks, but BASE jumpers DO have a lot to learn from skydivers. Skydive. Trust me on this one. There is no debate about it. If you want to stay safe, keep skydiving.
If you want to stay safe, keep skydiving
BASE jumping was started by a generation that completely relied on jumpers’ familiarity with their gear. We are a generation that has the privilege of having the scary work done for us. With that privilege comes the disadvantage of ignorance. BASE jumping is easy… until we fuck it up. Too many of the incidents I have seen were avoidable, and an alarming number were simple rigging issues. The scariest part? The number of rigging accidents happening each year is on the rise. Don’t blame the guy who sold you the gear. Don’t blame the manufacturer. Take time to learn about your gear and the rigging that goes into it. Whether you realize it or not, we are all experimental jumpers. Learn about your gear and check it constantly.
If your goal is to make a BASE jump, that’s easy. If your goal is to BASE jump often, over a long period of time, you need to become very comfortable with not jumping. Yup, sometimes this means you will travel far, spend too much money, wake up early, put in the hard work, and then NOT MAKE A BASE JUMP. Sometimes it is obvious why you shouldn’t jump, sometimes it isn’t. Be able to hike or climb down. Be able to say no. I log the jumps that I do not do. When people ask me how many jumps I have, I often offer that number as well as the number of jumps I have not made.
Be able to say no
Allow yourself to be scared, but do your best to keep your nerves away from the exit. Some of the worst BASE jumps I have ever seen were done by people who were clearly emotionally peaking and outright terrified. Heck, I saw one guy who was so scared he puked before he jumped. Learning to control fear is important. Learning to operate around fear is a must. Being scared is a feeling, and it will keep you safe if you listen to it. It can also overwhelm jumpers and prevent them from performing simple tasks. If you’re deeply scared, don’t jump, address your fears, and come back to jump another day. Learning to control your thoughts while scared is also one of the most beautiful and personally rewarding parts of the journey thought BASE. Do not fight it or ignore it — deal with it. WARNING: NO ONE CAN TELL YOU, “You will be okay.”
NO ONE CAN TELL YOU, “You'll be okay”
There is no one perfect direction for every jumper to go. Some jumpers will excel at flying through mountains, others will do cleaner aerials than most of us can ever imagine, and some will excel at sneaking around urban playgrounds. Be honest about your skill set. Things are best done when you achieve them because you have followed your heart, not the leader. I’ve watched a lot jumpers miss out on the fun or get mangled because they so desperately wanted to keep up with the cool kids. Figure out the type of jumping that is realistic for you. Can you afford to spend months in Europe? What objects are in your area? What skill set and background do you have? What is your plan to achieve your goals?
Logging jumps is one of the most underrated and overlooked practices in BASE jumping. Logging is more than a way to keep track of how many jumps you have made or bragging rights. It is a way to collect facts to help you safely progress. If someone doesn’t log their jumps, be cautious of what they tell you. Memory is a terrible way to gather information.
Surviving BASE jumping means focusing on more than just the act of BASE jumping. The worst moments in BASE are when a jumper needs help and everyone else on the load has the realization that they are underprepared to help their friend. Have a plan for when things do not go as planned. Will you be able to rescue a friend? Will you be able to climb down if conditions are not right? If you have to spend more time than planned in a location will you be able to survive?
Have a plan for when things do not go as planned
Being “current’ is a phenomenon that our communities venerate. It is the idea that the more active you are, the more safe you are. I disagree with that as a generality.
There is no denying that currency is a strength, but there is something subtle that happens when we get current. We become confident. That is not, of course, inherently negative, but at a certain point it becomes difficult to for some jumpers to check in and ask themselves, “Why am I doing this jump? Is this jump necessary? Is this jump smart? Is this jump safe?” Being current is a way to sharpen your reaction times and your skills – but as we become more experienced and skilled, we need to maintain that beginner’s mind: that openness to stepping back and realizing you still have so much to learn, as all of us do.
I don’t know how to coach you on this one. I feel foolish including it, but the truth is that a certain amount of luck seems to come into play. So don’t push limits too hard, for too long, because you will run out of luck.
don’t push limits too hard, for too long, because you will run out of luck
Look out for part 2 of this article tomorrow – 10 Ways to Get the Most out of BASE