Skydive Mag


Catching up with Ellen Brennan

Words by Ellen Brennan

Ellen Brennan, fastest woman at WWL 2014
Ellen, fastest woman, WWL 2014

Ellen was inspired to fly by her father, who was a paraglider. She enjoys rock climbing, paragliding, skydiving, wingsuiting, speedriding and wingsuit BASE, where she became the fastest flying woman in the world.

Not naturally competitive, Ellen loves flying so much she excels at wingsuit comps. She has been competing in wingsuit BASE since 2012, winning the Women's Pro BASE race 2013 and the Women's World Wingsuit League title in 2013 & 2014. Her favorite thing about competition is the opportunity to learn and share ideas with the other competitors.


This is a tough one to answer. I am trained as an ICU nurse, and that is where my heart is; but since moving to France I can’t practice as a nurse currently. Instead I focus on learning French while I work over the winters in Chamonix as a sales woman and in the summer I work wingsuiting.

Number of skydives, breakdown of type:

400 Freefly/Belly/Funny jumps and 400 Wingsuit Jumps

Number of BASE jumps, breakdown of type:

300 Slider down and 720 WIngsuit

Time in skydiving, time in BASE

Skydiving since 2005, and BASE jumping since 2006

Nationality, and where you live:

American, born in New York , and now living in Chamonix France, the wingsuit mecca, for the last 4 years.

Ellen Brennan, Moab, Utah
Ellen BASE jumping at Moab, Utah — Image by Laurent Frat


Favorite place in the world to BASE jump & why:

My favorite places to jump are all the jumps surrounding Chamonix. Currently I would say my favorite jump is in Aosta, Italy about 45 minutes from home. I love it because the 2.5-hour hike is beautiful and you will rarely find another person on the trail. Once you get to the summit, you have an amazing 2000 m (6562 ft) flight where you land at a playground next to a café ☺ The whole journey is fantastic!

Skydiving and BASE achievements, claims to fame:

I have been most successful in my BASE jumping career. In the wingsuit BASE jumping Race circuit I have earned the “fastest flying woman in the world.” And most recently during the filming for a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial I became the first person to hit a target and fly away with it while in flight. For a personal achievement, during that project I also made my 1,000th BASE jump, which has been a goal of mine for many, many years ☺

We built a fire outside, slept on our wingsuits, and had a big cuddle-puddle to stay warm

Favorite BASE moment:

My most memorable BASE moment was not during a BASE jump, but more so on the way to a jump. Because it was a long hike, we decide to do half of the hike in the evening, stay at a refuge half way up, and finish the hike in the morning. However, when we arrive at the refuge we found out it was actually just some private hunters’ cabins. We had no food, no sleeping bags, nothing. So we built a fire outside, slept on our wingsuits, and had a big cuddle-puddle to stay warm. Looking back on it, it was really stupid to put ourselves in that position in the mountains. But thanks to the strong group of friends we were, we pulled it off and now we can laugh about it ☺

Ellen Brennan, World Wingsuit League 2014
Ellen Brennan, World Wingsuit League 2014
Do what makes you happy and everything else will work itself out

Who are your sponsors and why do you jump their gear?

Squirrel sponsors me, and there are SO many reasons to why I love jumping their gear. First off, hands down the best wingsuit I have ever flown. The Aura 2 is perfectly designed for the type of jumping I do. Quick starts for the small cliffs, and the lots of speed and power to fly confidently down the terrain. Also, I have been afraid of wingsuit skydiving for years because I would often have scary line twists and cutaways. But since Squirrel came out with the Epicene I fell in love with skydiving again. Beyond the awesome gear they make, their customer service and quick turnout is unbeatable. All around a fantastic company, and I’m honored to be working with them.

You seem super-relaxed when you’re about to jump. Do or did you feel fear?

I always feel fear before I jump. If I don’t feel a bit of fear I always step back and assess why standing at the edge of a cliff isn’t scaring me. I try never to feel complacent. But of course, if I am feeling too much fear I will also listen to that and hike down.

Ellen Brennan World Base Race 2012
"I always feel fear before I jump" – Ellen Brennan, pictured at World BASE Race 2012

Why do you enjoy wingsuit BASE so much?

So many reasons… but in short, wingusiting gives me a change to get outside and explore the world. Also, I love the challenge of controlling my fear when I am at the exit, and putting myself just outside of my comfort zone. It has given me the skills in life to handle those difficult situations where before I would have just given up.

What’s your life motto?

Do what makes you happy and everything else will work itself out.

Describe yourself in 5 words or less:

Positive, Happy, Easygoing, Adventurous, Shy

Ellen Brennan, World BASE Race, Norway 2013
Ellen Brennan, World BASE Race, Norway 2013
I love the challenge of controlling my fear when I am at the exit, and putting myself just outside of my comfort zone. It has given me the skills in life to handle those difficult situations where before I would have just given up.

What do you spend too much money on but not regret?

My car, and all its maintenance. But my car gives me freedom, and because I spend so much time in it I need to make sure she is comfortable and that I can rely on her ☺
After that, red wine. I would be stupid to not take advantage of all the yummy wine France has to offer ;)

What was the biggest breakthrough /decision of your life?

My biggest decision in my life was deciding to quit my dream job and move to France with Zero plan. I was looking for a challenge and I got it! To me the only thing more scary than moving to a new country was getting complacent in my current lifestyle. Complacency kills.

Whom do you admire?

I have always admired JT Holmes. Not only is he a downright badass, he is super humble, well spoken, and all around good person.


Tell us about the amazing Dunkin’ Donuts commercial, where you became the first person to pick up an object while wingsuiting

(Shown in above video)

How did you feel when Dunkin’ Donuts contacted you?

Although it sounded like a fun project, I didn’t take their proposal very seriously. Unfortunately wingsuiting has gained an unfair risky reputation, no thanks to the mass media and their desire to cover negative news. I found it courageous that they were considering this project, and it gave me mass respect for them. I was honored that they trusted my judgment and assessment of the stunt as something that was achievable.

What sort of pressures were there dealing with a production company?

The biggest pressure was the time restraint. They wanted to launch the On-The-Go app only a month after contacting me. I told them this wasn’t possible. Not only would I not be able to get my gear fast enough, I also needed to train with the new gear, verify that I could hit a small target, and train to fly with a bag. Once they understood this we were able to decide on a reasonable timeline.

Aside from that, the production team was amazing to work with! They always put safety first, never asked me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, and they worked very hard to make sure I had as little stress as possible while jumping. Thanks Seven Twenty Productions!

How about the pressures of the production team, the Client (Dunkin’ Donuts) and also the Advertising Agency people on the mountain staring at you?

In order to ensure that my only concern was doing the stunt safely, I had little contact with the clients before doing this project. We divided the project up into two teams: The Athlete Team who was concentrating on training and problem solving, and the Management Team (VBGPro) who handled all the communication with the clients.

Ellen with her sights set on Dunkin' Donuts!
Ellen with her sights set on Dunkin' Donuts!

What sort of pressure did it add that you had a lot of experienced wingsuit pilots telling you it was probably a bad idea?

This was so frustrating to me because I felt very confident that I could do it. I think this had a lot to do with the fact that I am a girl, and for some reason the majority of the population underestimate what we can do. But as I started training on specific aspects of the project, the naysayers quickly realized what I was capable of doing and switched from discouraging me to encouraging me.

Was it fun negotiating fees for a project like this?

Not at all. This is so stressful, and thankfully I had Rachel Service to help me with the business side of things.

How did you choose a location and manage that for everyone?

I chose Varan because it was one of the few places in the world I could think of where I could jump from a safe cliff, fly over a ridge that would then open up into clean space in case after hitting the bag my flight became affected. This location was a bit challenging on the production side of things because there was no electricity, and it was quite remote. But these challenges also made the project so special, and proving that we don’t need all the comforts that we are used to working with.

How did the bad weather rolling in add to the situation?

This was a huge stress. Because of the location, we factored in 2 weeks for bad weather, and we nearly used up the entire 2 weeks watching it snow, rain, or be completely clouded in.

Was it a difficult dynamic being filmed air to air by your boyfriend?

Not at all, Lau and I jump often together and because of that he knows my flying style and is good at anticipating my movements. I was a bit worried that he would be stressed watching me hit a target and that his stress would effect me flying, but that wasn’t the case at all. He was nothing but positive and encouraging.

How do you feel about the result?

I am beyond psyched with how the public received this stunt. It shows everyone how precise and calculated wingsuiters are. And the fact that a well-established company like Dunkin’ Donuts supports wingsuits says heaps about how far we have come in the last few years.


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