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Are you a base jumper that skydives or a skydiver that base jumps? 15 years ago there was no doubt. In a Norwegian skydive community with a path of withdrawing licences on members doing base jumps, you became a base jumper… who occasionally refreshes flying skills by skydiving on a dropzone abroad.
I and all my friends were base jumpers. We lived and breathed the anarchistic community, and pushed the boundaries based on the experience we could get from hiking, jumping, hiking, jumping, day after day. And yes, we pushed it. It was a time of exploration. Every month a new amazing achievement occurred. Always into the unknown. We can say we went from falling to flying, from flying to terrain flying, from being close every now and then, to following terrain in close proximity for longer periods. It only took 10 years. Those years are gone now. We are no more exploring untried terrain, we are repeating ourselves. Well, that's at least my opinion.
Recently I realised one of the best wingsuit flyers we have in our community has retired. Lutz Ludtke is returning to skydive only, and he is not alone. The fact that he retires makes me sad, but his reasons for doing it are quite interesting. The balance between what he gains and what he risks is now on the negative side: a classic situation to rethink your choices. Lutz says “more and more routine is coming with rising skills…this was decreasing the thrill and fun step by step”. These are well written words, I believe many other basejumper can recognise this in themselves. If you also add on the dark side of several accidents lately, worried friends and families, we see a most understandable pattern. Lots of skilled personalities inside the base jumping community are leaving. The risk:gain ratio has tipped over for a substantial amount of us.
I'm writing this from Voss, the place of the famous Norwegian Extreme Sports Week, and where groundbreaking moments of sports have happened for more than 15 years. It was in these mountains that Loic Jean-Albert changed our sport by performing proximity flying, June 2005. At Voss they have a very open-minded skydive community. It was the only dropzone in Norway where we could pack our base canopies side by side with skydivers in the early 2000s. It's still a place for innovative thinking, and also the only place in the world where you can base jump, skydive and do wind tunnel all in the same day. It is the only place I could find to safely and steadily work towards my next step in wingsuit base jumping. Sometimes you need to take a big step sideways to take new steps forwards. Several of my fellow base jumpers have made a side step now.
I kinda see the light in the tunnel for us
Skydiving and base jumping have completely changed since 2000. In skills, yes, but not least, in open-mindedness. Loic Jean-Albert was a skydiver who base jumped. Soul Flyers, that mad skilled French crew freeflying down the side of a mountain are these days, the same. They are actually closely related through Fly Your Body.
The early beginning of proximity flying started with skydiving, the latest innovative base jumps the same. So to all you base jumpers out there that struggle with motivation: please don’t quit. How about you skydive more, and still base jump? I will be doing both, and you are welcome in Skydive Voss. Here the mountains are a short drive away. Maybe we even can find the next level of wingsuit base jumping!
Extreme Sports Week was intense. I have seen a week of base jumping with high quality exits, high level flying and safe landings. What is also interesting is the fact that we saw way less close proximity flying. Do we see the signs of a base jumping community changing into a combination of fewer risk-takers, who are also more willing to learn? I like to think so.
I sat down at the landing area proud of the community I am part of
Last year I was the host of Helibase74 in Chamonix. I must admit I was nervous through the whole event, even though all participants were among the best in the world. At Extreme Sports Week at Voss I was the responsible for safety, on the Heli-day, lead by Kjersti Eide. I was calm through the day, when it came to safety. All the participants taking the helicopter up proved to be responsible ambassadors of our sport. I sat down at the landing area proud of the community I am part of.
Aurland Community held out a hand and gave us landing permissions, even after a bad last season with three fatalities. And we, the base jumping community, proved to be able to pull off a safe and spectacular show. I saw smiles, friendship and high level base jumping through the whole day, and we became one of many sports through the week that were able to evolve, progress but still remain within safety margins.
I sat on a train going away from Voss with a smile. I kinda see the light in the tunnel for us. Sure we are not cured from fatalities, we probably never will, but I think we are taking steps towards a safer sport, whether we are conscious about it or not.
See and read more: Espen & Jokke at world of Betsafe