Catching up with Amber Forte and Espen Fadnes

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A chance to learn more about this cool power couple in love with human flight…

Amber and Espen at the beginning of their journey
Photo courtesy of Amber and Espen

Espen Fadnes is one of the few people that evolved in the VKB golden era, with more than 20 years of continuous BASE jumping and wingsuit proximity flying. Some will say “old school”🙂.  Amber Forte is just the opposite, fully new school, from the tunnel to the sky and then to BASE. 

We were privileged to have the chance to get in their heads and find out how their dynamic works.

Espen grew up near the Troll Wall, the son of a rock climber, so he found himself standing on many Norwegian exit points from a young age ☺. He says that he felt BASE close to him, but he never really contemplated starting skydiving – and when he did he had no expectations. “I was coming from an upper middle class family and it was expected to have a very good education and a meaningful job after, so skydiving was not expected to be anything else but a hobby. And it was scary! I remember I was so scared when I did my first jump, a static line. I let go of the plane and I was almost immediately under the canopy… and I was like “now what?!?”… But I liked it. I liked the feeling of losing a bit the control. I came from a tradition of very organized sports so jumping out of planes was a bit wild and interesting and I was completely shit at it. It was fun 🙂. All the instructors were my age and that was really weird for me. We used a shitty plane back then, a small Cessna, the weather was bad… But I loved it and I loved the community. If we wanted to jump back then we had to call the pilot and beg him to come, and we had to find an instructor with the proper license, then talk to the farmer and ask his permission to land on his field… it had a bit of a “cowboy” feel”.  

For Amber the road to Voss was interesting. She left England at 18 and set on a journey to travel the world. She was on a quest for a place that she could call home, a job, and a passion that would give her meaning in life. She started her journey in Australia, then moved to New Zealand, then back to Australia and this was the time she started working in skydiving and jumping. She loved it from the beginning, going to work became pure fun and she pushed herself as much as possible to get better at it.  In 2014 Amber got a job at the tunnel in Sydney. “That was the moment the journey toward being a more professional coach and tunnel person started, but things really got going when I moved to Norway”.     

“Starting skydiving and deciding to get good at it brought a focus and dedication in my life that I really didn’t have before.” 

Team OneCall with Amber and Espen
Photo by Andreas Hemli

BASE jumping in the VKB era               

Espen is part of the very small group of people that have been constantly base jumping and flying proximity for more than 20 years and it all started with the VKB golden age [VKB is an acronym for Værdal’n Karsk og BASE, a BASE jumping group based in Trondheim, Norway. They specialize in high-speed tracking and proximity flying].

“The years between 2001 and 2005 were probably the wildest ride I was going to experience in my life. I think I was incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time to live through the complete change of BASE jumping. The sport basically went from jumping off and falling straight down to proximity flying in 3 years. I remember I was young and immature but I had a lot of guts and interest, I understood the mountains and I was there with some of the most inspiring and interesting people of this sport. There were a couple of key figures, the most important one being Hans Lange, who changed things and I think the mentality of VKB was highly important because they approached the issue with no limits. They were science people. They did all the math, all the calculations and they realized that there are more things that are possible to do, you just need to know what you are doing, through gathering data and understanding how far you can actually fly. And in the middle of these calculations Loïc Jean-Albert came… He was quite young, but already a World Champion in 4-way and 8-way. He was a super-talented and highly-motivated second generation skydiver from Reunion Island. He basically invented proximity flying. He had his own wingsuit and he already knew so much about flying that while other people, BASE jumpers and VKB flyers were still trying to figure things out, he just looked at the whole picture and started flying next to the terrain. 

I never felt uncomfortable with Espen’s extremely fast progression. He got it all; a skilled mountaineer and climber with motoric talent and an ability to control stress. Perception was fully on from exit to landing. A fast learning person that listens. One of the very few…

Hans Lange
Espen and friends in the early BASE jumping days
Photo from JT Holmes’s Facebook page

I met Loïc in 2004 and I think 2 or 3 months before I had an epiphany. I was jumping with a friend and I could not keep up with his tracking, he was better than me, and I got a bit annoyed and I was like “screw this fancy tracksuits and how far you can fly from the wall”… I just took a deeper angle and dove into a canyon in freefall and flew through the canyon pretty close to the terrain and I was absolutely shocked by the view. It was just ridiculous. Everything happened so fast and things were passing by so quickly. I had a camera; after I landed we watched the video and it was way cooler by far than anything we had done before. And then Loïc came ☺. What he showed the community then was just the most badass, amazing proximity flying you could ever imagine. It was a complete game-changer. He was flying for 5 minutes above the ground, with an intercom system, talking to the photographer, wearing smoke – everything was so next level. It was insanely cool. He was pushing so much because of his skills. He was like a combo of skills and balls… I knew instantly there and then that this was the path. Of course the difference between him and I was that he had a lot of skills and I didn’t… but I had a lot of guts and I was willing to do it anyway. Loïc went on his journey and we basically learned proximity flying by watching his movies, testing things ourselves and listening a bit to the old VKB guys that said: “Ok, ok, we see what you are doing. But remember the numbers!”” 

“When I met Loïc again, some years later, I knew how to do it 🙂” Espen smiles.

I remember flying with Espen in Norway back in 2006. At that time proxy flying did not really exist. When I came back the year after to fly with Shane and the boys, I saw him sending some high speed proxy and realized the boy was super skilled and had been training hard in his perfect playground: Norway. It was an honor to host him and his crew in Reunion. I am always super happy to see his videos and achievements and to see he is safe and in good shape… which is not so common in our sport!

Loïc Jean-Albert

Superterminal” movie by VKB

VKB produced this video in 2005. It introduced the world to proximity tracking and wingsuit flying. Espen played an important role for the performance in this video

First meeting… or not?! 😉

The couple met in 2016 in Norway and it’s funny that if you ask them how they met you get conflicting stories.

Espen: “I was at the tunnel (in Voss) and yes, you could say we didn’t actually meet, but I saw Amber, she was this strikingly beautiful crazy looking girl, she had this long curly hair with some weird stuff in it. She was roaming around clearly motivated to please customers and happy to be where she was… Obviously she didn’t see me because later on she claimed I was not speaking the truth and this never happened. “Then we met a few weeks after, on Norwegian National Day, and she was completely sober and I was completely drunk. I am Norwegian and on National you are just never sober” he laughs. 

Amber remembers the decision to move to Norway was a big leap into the unknown. She was in Voss for just a few weeks and she didn’t know anybody well so she went to the local pub. “Everybody was really, really drunk, so after I entered I just stood there thinking “Oh, God, where am I?!?” Then Espen kinda emerged from the crowd with a smiley face and he seemed quite interested in talking to me so I took the time to talk to him. I remember he seemed quite annoyed with me because I got a job at the tunnel and he would have wanted one 🙂, but at the same time he seemed happy that I was there”.  That was the beginning of an interesting journey 🙂. They started jumping and dreaming together.

Super Woman and her other half 🤣
Photo courtesy of Amber and Espen

Amber starts BASE jumping

Amber did her first base jump in 2016, the plan was to have Espen by her side, but the moment was delayed a few times because of bad weather. Espen had to leave in a rush to China and he “deserted” her in the hands of a very good friend that he trusted, Tom Erik Heimen. “It was the first time I actually hiked on a mountain. England is pretty flat. I remember standing on the top for a long time, realizing just then what I was about to do. It was like a feeling of shock because, once you are there you know you’ve already decided to jump, but it felt so extreme, like beyond anything that I was allowed to do… I stood there for quite a long time, breathing and trying to get myself ready for it. The jump itself… it’s really difficult to find words to express what it was like, it was so much to take in… Looking back I think I was a bit naive, not really understanding what I was about to do. It is extreme. After that first experience my respect for BASE jumping increased and I was actually more afraid. That was serious shit!”   

In this sport you can’t fuck up. You never get a second chance. The day you fuck up is the day you die

Espen Fadnes on BASE – Proximity Flying, Wingmen
Norway is the perfect place for proximity flying 🙂
Photo by Scott Paterson

Sometimes life serves you lemons

In 2019 Amber sustained a very bad accident on landing that forced her to take a big break from skydiving. Although she has been back to the tunnel quite soon after the back surgery she felt like she lost a bit her edge there and she says she feels better BASE jumping and skydiving these days.

“My injury has been for me maybe one of the harshest and largest realizations that have been put upon me without me actually deciding to experience it. I think that my injury in many ways has made me a better person in all the choices that I have made, it helped me to reflect on why I made those choices and how I ended up where I am now and this helps me to move forward in my life with new information on how to be a good person and how to approach things in a way that I really stand for and feel good about.”

“The recovery took a long way and now I am fully recovered… but in a way I feel like I will never be fully, fully recovered.”

What helped most in the recovery process?

“The main thing that kept me motivated and focused was definitely the dream of coming back to what I love. In many ways the goal of going to the World Championships was my biggest motivation. They were supposed to be last year but they were postponed for this year, which in many ways has been a blessing for me because I was definitely not ready. But I remember it as a very concrete goal because it was only 10 days before the World Championships that I injured myself so it became like this stubborn thing inside of me. I was going to go to the WC and I was going to win this thing! There were times when I was angry about this goal. When I was in rehab and my physiotherapist was telling me to reconsider, it’s possible I won’t make it, and all that I felt was “Fuck off, I am going to do this and it doesn’t matter what anybody says to me. It was going to happen and nothing was going to stop me” That dream helped Amber push through pain, tiredness and the other collateral things you need to deal with when you are injured. 

The best tool in any recovery process is a good sense of humor 🙂
Photo courtesy of Amber and Espen

“Also during the process of recovery my activity on social media really gave me a link back to who I was before the injury. I remember being on the ground, minutes after the accident, thinking of everything I was going to lose. Initially that was all I could think about, it was like dealing with an extreme feeling of loss that just keeps coming at you… but amongst this loss, in time, I managed to find the one thing that I could hold on to and that was my work with social media. It was then that I decided that I was going to make it to the WC, I was going to do it well and I was going to share the whole process in the hope that one day I will be able to stand somewhere and speak to somebody about it, and maybe inspire other people to do the same. It was more like a dream of achieving something that seemed almost unachievable, than a journey of sharing that path” Amber remembers.

Act silly, your soul will enjoy it
Photo courtesy of Amber and Espen

Couple & team – any challenges?

Espen laughs: “Oh, yeah! Oh, my God…” As Amber very politely said that it’s Espen’s turn to pick up that ball, as he usually lets her deal with this question, he had little choice but to comply. 

“Well, what can I say? First of all you never need to underestimate the challenge of being a couple, being married, having a family. It’s not like travelling in a field of flowers, you have hard days, so I am not going to claim that we are experiencing something different than the rest of the people. I think the easiest thing in the world is to be part of this loving, cool, awesome skydiving family, be best friends, share a couple of jumps now and then, go to parties. That is really easy. To be a team, an actual skydiving team, with three or more people working together towards a common goal is something else. We need to be honest with each other, give feedback, move forward, deal with the pressure, be time limited, basically sacrifice 90% of whatever else you want to do just to achieve THE GOAL. It’s way, way harder to stay in harmony compared with that field of flowers that is normal skydiving. It’s more similar with the challenges we face trying to be a couple, or a family in time.” He frowns: “It’s a weird thing but sometimes we end up saying the wrong things to the people that are closest to us… the filter is just off. So we had our share of serious disagreements and we could see that that was tough for our cameraman, Andreas Hemli, who is sharing this crazy ride with us. But the important thing is that we both really want this so we always found a way to go forward.”

Andreas was a true gentleman on the subject 🤣:

I love training with Amber and Espen. They are a super couple and so easy to be around

Andreas Hemli, Skydive Voss
From time to time do your soul a favor and do a rodeo 🙂
Photo courtesy of Amber and Espen

“For me the difficult part is to get over the falling out and get back to normal. It takes time to find the balance again” says Amber. “The thing that actually helps us get back to a place where we want to continue is the fact that we love each other. And we want what’s best for each other. No matter what was said and done we know that behind it is this goodness for each other. For me as long as that feeling is there, I know we’ll move forward. We shared a lot of things together and I think that I’ve grown a lot in the time that we’ve been together. Life throwed lots of stuff at us: my injury, Espen losing his dad, buying a house together, spending too much money that we didn’t have, all these things made us stronger together, as a couple and as a team. In the end, whatever we do at the World Championships, just following our path and sticking together through all of it we develop a bond that is super strong and impossible to destroy. This is what matters most”.

Happy to be back to training in Portugal after Amber’s injury
Photo courtesy of Amber and Espen

Competition fever

Amber in Espen competed just one more time in wingsuit acrobatics at the 2017 World Cup when they ended up in last place. “We were just not prepared properly and we didn’t stand a chance” Espen remembers. “But we learned a lot. It was like a humbling roller-coaster to be part of that competition. We realized that to be able to do well in a team event you really need to train specifically for that. That’s the only thing you can do. You need to do the work, you need to put in the time“.   

At that point they both really wanted to take it further, but they didn’t have the necessary money, so the next year they joined the performance competition. “I told Amber that the path to acro is for her to really do well in that competition. Because if she really did well in the World Championships we would both be part of the Norwegian National Team. There were around 80 competitors in performance that year and Amber finished 10th. Top 10” Espen smiles. “Job done 🙂. It was a really impressive result! It’s not easy to get there. The Federation noticed that they have a new serious talent so when the selection came she was in and we were approved to start a new wingsuit team. Since then it has been injury and chaos and COVID-19 so we haven’t actually competed in the discipline for which we were selected three years ago”.

Best “office” in the world 🙂
Photo by Andreas Hemli at Skydive Voss

For Tanay Mondial the FlyLikeBrick Team [Jarno Cordia, Jenna Gygi & René Terstegen] is favorite. “I’ve known Jarno for many years and he has been passionate about it for more than 10 years. Acro is his baby in a way. They have the most experience in the world in this discipline. They put a lot of work into it so in theory it will be quite surprising if anyone beats them” Espen says. “You also have the Russian team that is actually the reigning World Champion Team from 2018 [Mikhail Shumakov, Aleksandr Ivanov (replacing Sergei Burmenkov from the 2018 line-up) & Dmitriy Fisanov] and they are on home ground so who knows how many resources they have to train. I think they will be really well prepared. They’ve done a lot of training jumps and they are extraordinary. Then you have the Flatspin Team [Mark Krasinski, Sarah Chamberlain & Jeff Harrigan] from the States and they have been training hard as well, they made quite a few trips to the tunnel, so they might do quite well. And then, very interesting, is the German team, formed by the main instructors at the indoor tunnel [Venom Wingsuit teamPatrick Kramer, Arvid Endler & Andre Reichel], and they are by far the fastest in the tunnel doing the compulsory moves, one every 1,5 seconds. They are at a totally different level, but we don’t know how well they’ll do in the sky… It will be for sure an interesting competition. There are a lot of teams that are hard to place and we are one of them.”

“We have on our part the advantage of having quite a bit of skills between us, not only in wingsuit flying, but also in freefly and we have the Federation behind us, supporting us, so we could manage to train as much as possible and that matters a lot! So, we will see” Espen smiles. “And something else. We are entering the competition with Squirrel Freak4s which is by far the biggest wingsuit size ever used in an acro competition. Sometimes it feels like we are doing a totally new discipline, they are so much faster and bigger… It will be interesting 🙂”.

All hail the duke and duchess of human flight!

Matt Gerdes, Squirrel
Skydive Algarve in Portugal is the team’s second training base
Photo by Andreas Hemli

“We wanted to use the suit that we liked the most” Amber adds. “We definitely want to win the competition but for us is also important to be there in a way that is meaningful for us and that represents the top flying that we like doing.”  

Espen says that he learned one thing along the way and that is that “Whatever you want to achieve in life, whether it’s skydiving, BASE jumping, or something else, it‘s hard work that will get you there. Nothing else. There is no God-given weird talent that is just going to put you out there. Although maybe hard work is not the right expression to use because if you truly want it, if the motivation is there, it does not feel like hard work, it feels like the greatest joy you can have in life. Of course there are times when it’s tough but you won’t question yourself. You are going to give it all you have!” 

Training makes perfect 🙂

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Meet: Andreea Pistea

Andreea started skydiving at 16 years old and the step between hobby and passion was almost immediately made. Nothing changed in the years that passed.

She is a USPA coach, AFF Instructor, Multiple World Record holder in big-ways, former captain of TNT 4-way team and a Romanian Airclub athlete.

Andreea enjoys FS, wingsuiting and freefly. She flyes Sun Path, Aerodyne, Squirrel, Cookie Helmets and Cypres.

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