Skydive Mag


So, you wanna Learn BASE Jumping?

Words by Matt Gerdes

Matt, Matt, and Scotty, in AZ
Matt, Matt, and Scotty, in AZ — Image by Bryan Rapoza

BASE Jumping is probably the most dangerous sport in existence. It is also, I think, one of the most intense and amazing experiences that a human can have. 

The path to BASE is not too long and not too complicated. It requires a bit of patience and a bit of training. First, you will need to become at least a competent skydiver. People have skipped the skydiving step, but no one has ever claimed that doing so is a good idea. Skydiving provides the foundation of canopy skills and freefall control that will be a part of every BASE jump that you make. Generally, the recommendation is in the range of 150-250 skydives before doing your first BASE jump. This will set you up with a basic foundation of canopy skills and a basic understanding of parachutes - skills that tend to be important on every BASE jump you'll ever make (hopefully). Don't underestimate the importance of canopy skills in BASE. Focusing on freefall skills is also important, but most beginner BASE jumper injuries are canopy-related. 

It’s a bit like dedicating your life to risking your life, and you should expect it to take up a lot of your time and energy

If you decide to embark upon a BASE journey, then The Great Book of BASE is widely considered to be the ultimate reference. But you can't learn to BASE jump from a book. Really, you can't. It would be ridiculous and completely stupid to try… But, if you intend to begin BASE, then there are a lot of things you can focus on during those first jumps that will help you to prepare for your transition to fixed object jumping. Many of these steps, drills, practice points, are outlined in the BASE Book.

As you know, skydiving can be expensive and inconvenient. You have to travel to a dropzone and pay for coaching and instruction. You'll then need to purchase skydiving equipment because you'll be doing more jumps than you'll want to do with rented equipment. And you'll have to pay for all of those jumps, of course… But, the truth is that skydiving is a lot cheaper and easier than BASE jumping. If you think skydiving is expensive, wait until you want to travel thousands of miles to some of the world's best BASE sites. While it's easy to get ten skydives in a day, you'll be lucky to get just a couple of BASE jumps in a day, most of the time. So if the expense of skydiving is a turn-off for you, then you're not ready to BASE jump, either. (Unless you want to move to Moab and live in a tent, which is an increasingly popular option, these days.)

Ignorance and complacency are the two leading causes of fatal accidents

BASE jumping requires a very real commitment in terms of time, energy, and mental focus. It’s a bit like dedicating your life to risking your life, and you should expect it to take up a lot of your time and energy. 


Scotty Bob getting his no-slider fix in AZ.
Scotty Bob getting his no-slider fix in AZ — Image by Bryan Rapoza

The Steps to Learn BASE:

1. Become an experienced and accomplished skydiver:

This goes beyond the AFF and first few skydives - you will be wise to practice relevant skills and learn as much as you can about parachutes, rigging, freefall, and canopy skills.

2. Find a First Jump Course:

Sean Chuma’s world-renowned BASE courses are small and focused with great attention to detail.

Snake River BASE is the world’s largest school, based in Twin Falls ID, USA.

You a Euro? Well, the French BASE Association runs the most professional curriculum in Europe.

Miles Daisher teaches people to fly:

3. Find a Mentor:

Once you have completed your First Jump Course, you still won't know enough to BASE jump safely on your own. It is very important to become a part of the BASE community and find people who will help you to begin your career safely. Expect to 'Ground-crew' for local BASE jumpers, which may entail helping them setup and execute BASE jumps, driving for them, or providing other logistical support. This is where a lot of people get it wrong - they underestimate the importance of finding a good mentor with a long track record of safe jumping. There are plenty of jackasses out there who would love to show you some objects - that's not the same as finding a capable mentor who will be there for you when you inevitably try to mess something up, and that something is always something that can ruin your whole day.

You will learn something from every BASE jump and from every interaction with other BASE jumpers, if you pay attention

4. Train Consistently:

BASE jumping makes a terrible part time sport. It is highly important to maintain a level of currency with skydiving and BASE jumping in order to jump safely.

5. Keep an Open Mind:

You will learn something from every BASE jump and from every interaction with other BASE jumpers, if you pay attention. In BASE, knowledge is safety. Ignorance and complacency are the two leading causes of fatal accidents. The third leading cause of fatal accidents is believing everything you read on the forums.

Matt Laj landing his Outlaw
Matt Laj landing his Outlaw — Image by Bryan Rapoza

So how do people get it wrong? Why are there so many BASE deaths?

These are sensitive questions. Some will say that wingsuits are to blame. Yet people are still hospitalized and buried every year as a result of regular old BASE jumps. So what can one do to stay safe in the sport?

BASE kills somewhat indiscriminately, across all experience levels

There is no one answer to these questions, and no magic recipe for success. BASE kills somewhat indiscriminately, across all experience levels. It is desperately unforgiving of human error, and humans are prone to err. However, a common thread across BASE fatalities in recent years is a lack of understanding on the part of the jumper, of the specific situation that killed the jumper. BASE jumpers tend to believe that all of their previous BASE and skydive experience has prepared them for whatever they might attempt in BASE. This is untrue. While all experience is valid, there are now many facets to our sport. There are disciplines, sub-disciplines, categories, and fetishes, all of which may require specific training and preparation. Just because you have 900 slider down jumps from 150 objects all over the world doesn't mean that you're ready to BASE jump a wingsuit without a careful progression. Just because you have 900 wingsuit BASE jumps and you have your starts and glides totally dialed, doesn't mean you're ready to fly a committing line through do-or-die terrain. Just because you have 2000 wingsuit skydives doesn't mean you have what it takes to fly safely in the mountains, regardless of whether you exited from a cliff or a helicopter. And just because you're the world's greatest wingsuit BASE stuntman or target-striker doesn't mean you have the relevant skills to fly a simple formation with a couple of your friends, or take advanced skydive maneuvers into the mountains. Underestimating the differences between each facet within our sport has killed many expert jumpers.

One way to hedge against the risk of crossing into new territory that you might not be ready for is maintaining a constant awareness of the fact that whatever new thing you might want to try, may require a skill set that you don't yet have. Before you take that next cool step in BASE, whether it is slider down aerials or a “simple” wingsuit BASE multi-way jump, think carefully about the preparation you have done for that specific task. If you haven't trained for it, then skip it for now. Come back to it later, when you know you're dialed. Anything new or even slightly different must be prepared for. 

It's not all just “BASE”, any more.

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