BASE jumping: reckless adrenaline junkies or athletes searching for empowerment? It’s well regarded as the world’s most dangerous sport, so what’s the appeal of BASE jumping? Well for professional jumper, Sam Hardy, the appeal is never ending. In Soaring for the Shot, he talks us through what it takes to be a professional BASE jumper and how he’s taken the sport to the next level by becoming a BASE jumping photographer and videographer too.
Growing up, I was always an adventurous kid, always busy and doing something. I guess I was always searching for the next big thing. When I was skate boarding, I’d always be looking for the biggest drop or set of stairs to jump down. I did the same thing when I started climbing, pushing myself and my ability. This led me to do more and more sports, especially when I was studying to be an outdoor education instructor. Eventually, I got into skydiving and from there, BASE jumping seemed like a natural journey.
BASE jumping is known as the most dangerous sport in the world and there are obvious risks associated with it. But I believe that you can have a long and fruitful BASE jumping career if you continually make the correct decisions. My family, parents, girlfriend and friends know that what I do is dangerous but they’ve been around long enough to understand the rewards it gives me. And by becoming a professional jumper and instructor, I hope that I can pass this message onto other people as well.
A normal day BASE jumping for me would consist of waking up around 06.00, drinking a bullet coffee and reading a book. Checking the weather at altitude and outside, and if it looks good I’ll drive off to a location. I would have previously planned and visualised my exit, flight path and landing area to practice while hiking (so it’s like I’ve been there before).
I will typically hike anywhere between 1-4 hours in the mountains and have a small amount of food and water with me. Once I get to the exit, I’ll check the weather, see which way the wind is going and what the thermals are doing – but I always try and jump before the weather activity starts, which is typically around 11am. If everything is looking good, I’ll gear up (and keep visualising), then triple check all my gear using the VPV method (visual, physical, verbal) – even when I am on my own.
I’ll walk up to exit, get my toes right over the edge and talk my way through the flight line. A deep breath out (to encourage more air to come in) and push.
During my flight I have several markers to fly towards (sometimes up to 14 markers). It’s kinda like flying a racecourse but the tracks are in the air. Once I fly past the last marker, I higher the glide of the suit and head towards the landing area, put a big flare in (to slow the airspeed down) and reach back and pull. But once the canopy opens, it’s still not over. I’ll set up a nice approach and swoop the canopy in (usually trying to kick a tree) and land safely on the ground.
I typically jump with friends and will always be the video guy for them because that’s what I love doing. I have hundreds of jumps on my own and it’s really nice but much nicer to share that experience with a good friend. Filming someone when they’re jumping takes my BASE jumping to a whole new level. When I am filming someone, I have to trust what they’re going to do. Typically, I will ask what their flight plan is and then I’ll decide on where I need to be for the shot. Typically, I need to be somewhere where I can have the best angle, with the best light and be in a safe spot close to them. I am 100% focused on them and trying to predict their movement which requires an insane amount of focus while flying.
When I film people, we come up with a plan together and if they want the shot, they have to work with me, not against me. Usually I will be flying and filming with someone who knows what they’re doing so it makes my job a little easier. We build trust between us and it becomes a two-man job. A good subject gets a good shot. For me now, if I don’t get the shot I get pretty down and feel very disappointed.
Building that trust between the myself as the photographer and the jumper is so important. For me, visualisation is key. I visualise everything prior to jumping as much as possible and take myself to that place. Then when it’s time to jump, it’s like I’ve been there before. Preparation is also key – I am always 100% prepared and have an OCD system to make sure it’s always the same! But that’s something I try and instil in my trainees as well.
It’s funny – when people say to me “you’re an adrenaline junkie”, I’ll reply that I’m not at all and don’t like adrenaline. People assume that if you’re a BASE jumper you must be a thrill seeker. But the truth is that adrenaline is a response from your body in a stressful situation – and it makes me feel sick. When I jump I get into a complete flow state. The feeling is euphoric and everything feels perfect. I don’t think it’s being an adrenaline junkie at all – that’s not the feeling I get!
I think (and hope) that I will always continue BASE jumping. It’s given me everything in my life and moulded me into the person I am now. Not to have that anymore would really affect me. I think in the future I probably will BASE jump slightly less (which is more than most!) in order to pursue my pilots license and a new career. But at the moment I am definitely going to be jumping more – I’m currently planning a trip to far eastern Russia in 2020 to fly some amazing lines down volcanoes. My new vision is to fly something that I’ve named “The Magma Line”. I just need to find the lines!
If I were to give any advice to budding BASE jumpers it would be to fall in love with skydiving first. Skydive as much as possible. Train in skydiving for BASE jumping. The two are so interlinked and it was my route into BASE jumping. Learn to track (fly forwards) and use every skydive as an accuracy jump. Spend time with a rigger and understand everything about the gear. Get as fit as possible, mentally and physically. Eat well, look after your body and read as much as you can about the sport of BASE jumping. Talk to well respected BASE jumpers and question everything. Don’t ever stop learning. If you’re interested in starting, I’d love to hear from you!
To read more about Sam’s BASE jumping experiences, click here.