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(This is a transcript of a speech Moe gave at the Bridge Day 2003 Saturday night party, posted at VerticalVisions.com and reprinted here with permission.)
Where We’ve Been
Leonardo DaVinci, Frederick Rodman Law (who jumped from the Statue of Liberty in 1912 and later the Bankers Trust Building and then the Brooklyn Bridge), Carl Boenish (the father of our sport), and Jean Boenish of course, Phil Smith (BASE #1), the Harrisons, Richy Stein, Mark Hewitt, Marta (everyone knows Marta—no last name necessary, like Cher or Madonna), Kent Lane (the first to jump El Cap), and many others, helped in the very early pioneering of BASE.
Where We Are Today?
Bridge Day 2003. 24 years at this site. Yahoo!
Where Are We Going?
We’re going in!
In 2002, we lost over a dozen fellow jumpers. In 2003, we lost eight jumpers.
First, let me say there is a science to our sport. 32 years ago when I started jumping, it was a 10-year science. If one survived for 10 years, a know-it-all attitude could develop. If this same person was active for another 10 years and was mature enough to grow, he would realize that he didn’t know it all, and that this is a rapidly evolving sport. If he eked out the next 10 years with maturity and growth, it would be quite easy to somewhat predict the next 10 years.
So I’ll attempt to give you an overview of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.
Sport parachuting splintered off into many different facets. In the 1980s, BASE was being pioneered by a dozen or so people, some of whom are still active and lucky to be alive (and some not). This original group was part of the “no fear” generation, the pre-extremers. The bungee craze was in full swing, as was AFF, and the public had this “Here’s my dollar, here’s my life” carnival-ride attitude, expecting the instructors to keep them alive. After Carl Boenish said, “The world is jumpable,” the U.S. Parachute Association was part of a program where we were permitted to jump legally in Yosemite under rules and guidance.
We lasted TWO WEEKS! We broke the rules, including trying to drive a truckload of jumpers part-way up El Cap. At that point, skydivers and the USPA didn’t want to have anything to do with BASE jumpers. USPA was already trying to clean up their own public image of barnstorming lunatics and crazies.
Not much has changed. We continue to step on our own collective dicks. It makes me wonder if our two prime (currently) legal sites—Moab, Utah and the Perrine Bridge—will survive. Moab is full of high-energy, high-risk sports. The community has accepted us. If we don’t respect the nearby off-limit sites, we lose respect in Moab. The Perrine is an excellent training ground and just downright fun. Two rules: Don’t stand on the rail, and don’t jump the local cliffs.
The attitude of “Rules are for those who want to be ruled” gains us no credence. The science shows we will always have the “me first” BASE jumpers. The science shows we will always have jumpers trying to jump way beyond their abilities. Much of this stems from lack of education. Early magazines such as BASE Magazine, BASELine, and the Fixed Object Journal helped keep us informed. Today [in 2003], it’s Skydiving Magazine and, more so, Mick Knutson’s Baseboard. Videos abound and objects can be jumped anywhere.
Skydiving from aircraft is a great model for us to study for a better understanding of our own science. We got all caught up with AFF, or “Accelerated Frap Factor,” as I call it; the focus was on freefall. We’ve been neglecting canopy-control courses for years, as we continue to eat it under high-performance canopies. There’s nothing wrong with the canopies, just a lack of proper and continued instruction. Peer pressure and no-fear attitudes are bouncing the newbies everywhere. This weeding-out process doesn’t help our sport.
In BASE jumping, we pretty much have the gear figured out; using it at the appropriate time and place is another story. Legal sites and the locals need to be treated with respect. That goes for the environment as well. I just returned from a European tour of climbing, mountain biking, hiking and BASE jumping. Where was all the trash? At the BASE sites.
During the Carl Boenish era, we bounced one or two a year, sometimes zero. As BASE-specific gear manufacturers tested and developed equipment in the dark, instruction came from the manufacturer or a buddy with fewer than 100 jumps. As time went on, anyone with a credit card could get gear and instruction continued to be at a minimum. Today’s BASE introductory courses teach the students about evaluating the jump with a site-specific eye, to not litter, ethics and packing. But when a student has the opportunity to make a jump that he may not be ready for, going for it seems easier than remembering what their instructors said. BASE jumping started growing in leaps and bounces. This not only attracted more of the “no fear” types, but individuals who could see the future.
This next 10-year cycle of science sparked an offshoot from the U.S. BASE Association called the Cliff Jumpers of America Association (CJAA). We don’t own towers, bridges or buildings, but we should have access to Mother Earth. Cliffing would open up many new sites, but the soreness still existed in the parks. The cliffers know that hardcore BASE jumpers and pretty much they themselves would continue to leap from anything doable. They knew what they did in the city would give them an image unwelcome in the mountains.
Years later, some of these folks and new hardcore followers formed the International Pro BASE Circuit (IPBC). Keyword: PRO. Only the best of the best would compete. This group took a big step forward in promoting our sport. Still, problems arose. How can you not let your good buddy make his first cliff jump in the meet? He’s got 13 BASE jumps. Was he a pro? Not then. Fear oozed out of him on his first jump, which he nailed. On his second one, he yahooed the exit, thumbs-up at the camera, and bounced off the wall. Today he is a competent BASE jumper. He was lucky; he lived, he learned—we learned. But we made the rules and broke them. A group invitational to a foreign country to jump a building legally, where some stepped off another site illegally. See the science working?
A friend of mine took a one-year BASE course—not by choice. A respected quality skydiver and rigger, he ended up breaking his leg on his second jump. This bridge has probably injured more people than any other site. A hairy training ground for sub-10 second canopy rides, thermals and boulders. Twenty-two years into my career, I got my first injury there. Some people had multiple injuries there, from multiple trips. Anyway, my friend spent the next year packing, ground crewing, watching videos and doing everything and anything BASE except for jumping. Today, he’s one of the sport’s top-notch jumpers. He went to school for a year.
I’m not picking on any of these people. I’m trying to use their experiences as lessons to be learned.
More skydivers started BASE jumping. A know-it-all attitude accompanied some of them and they got injured or died. Attention to wind conditions and packing procedures were different in BASE, but often neglected. As we go full circle, now the skydivers were giving BASE a bad name. So this forced our training up a notch. Progress—slow, but progress.
Equipment advances like ram-airs, large pilot chutes, ZP, shrivel-flap rigs, the line mod, and tail pockets made us much safer. Now, we are at the same point in our skydiving model. We pretty much have the gear figured out, but we lack complete follow-up instruction or we don’t do or not do what we’re taught. Along with proper gear, Carl taught us to hand hold our pilot chutes. But as delays got longer and acrobatics came to life, stowing went through its evolution, and still is. Pilot chutes DO malfunction and WE can malfunction them.
In the late 1970s, balloon suits slowed us to 70-80 mph. Stuntmen were hitting airbags at those speeds. Was landing in the future? With today’s winged technology, landing will become a reality. We are at a time where horizontal speeds have overtaken vertical speeds. We’ve gone from swooping mountains under canopy to swooping canyons with wingsuits. Downhill skiers have reached speeds of 160 mph. They touch the snow every 100 yards or so. They are landing all the time. Lugers, and my favorite, skeleton, which is like luge only head first and belly down on high-tech Flexi Flyers. These guys crash at more than 100 mph. As long as they stay in the track and don’t tumble, they more often than not walk away unscathed. Will a groomed slope be our first runway? Will a stabilizing drogue deploy on touch down, space-shuttle style?
Helicopters splinter our sport in another direction. Launching from an aircraft allows us to wing down canyons and through waterfalls. Single-parachute jumps have become the norm, aircraft or not. Wingsuit popularity will bring on wingsuit-related fatalities.
With the increased safety to and from the site, the workhorse ability and the comforts of the para pack will come to light. Hardcore jumpers need a quiver of equipment. Velcro and pin-closed rigs, higher performing canopies where the object is of no safety concern, but penetrating mountain wind is. More two-parachute systems will come of age.
What will be the next big boom? Hopefully none of us! I believe it will be a privately owned operation. Like our model of skydiving. The wind tunnels on drop zones are evolving into training on all levels. The privately owned tower, the valley with a footbridge, the private cliff is the wind tunnel of BASE. There would be rules. Don’t follow the rules you can’t play. Just like drop zones. A more structured learning environment would exist and gear could be tested in a controlled environment.
What will happen to BASE jumping if 9/11 happens again? General aviation shuts down, aircraft costs more, insurance goes up and more federal regulations will ensue. Skydiving continues to become a rich man’s sport.
So these are just my opinions. That’s all they are. I’d like to leave you all with some advice, though: “Even when we think we’ve found the best answer, we need to keep questioning and searching, because that ‘best answer’ was only the best in its time.”
Know when to say no. Know fear. Jump for yourself and don’t try to land (a wingsuit) on Bridge Day. We ain’t there yet …
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