When I started in the sport, the term “whuffo” was pretty commonly used, the skydiver joke being that non-jumpers could often be heard saying something along the lines of, “Whuffo you wanna go jump outta that perfectly good airplane??” The funny thing about those people was that they were the first to admit that what we were doing was just fucking cool as hell. The whole thing doesn’t seem that long ago or far away, yet time does have a way of playing tricks on you; I now find my member of a whuffo-style group wondering what the fuck some of my peers are thinking.
In skydiving there is now very much a subculture—a lunatic fringe group of individuals who are very much jumpers just like you and me, but regularly taking things to a whole different level, just as difficult for some of us “regular” jumpers to come to grips with as those whuffos of old.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, are completely computer illiterate, don’t own a television, have never seen “Tosh.0” or are quite frankly just deaf, dumb and blind, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
With the development of the wingsuit by Patrick de Gayardon (who subsequently perished in Hawaii trying to improve his design) and the dramatic design improvements over recent years by companies like Tony Suits, Birdman, Squirrel, Phoenix-Fly and more, along with a GoPro strapped to each and every fucking helmet, shoe, hand and chest, you simply can’t miss it.
As soon as someone figured out that you could make a BASE jump with a wingsuit on, it was all done. BASE jumpers by my estimation have always been a bit nuts, but the truth is, I would have been one of them if it hadn’t been for the fact that I became a father first. I made the choice to stick to the “safe” life of a professional skydiver, and leave the stuff a bit out of my range to those with less on their plates. But wingsuits and GoPro came into the mix, and then proximity flying. Fuck.
I decided to sit down for a minute with one of the guys who is just about as bat shit crazy as you get and ask him his opinions—not only on what he does, but who he thinks is really riding the razor’s edge these days (I am personally riding a very dull pink Lady Bic razor, thank you very much).
Fuckin’ Pilot: State your name for the record.
Noah Michael Bahnson.
In the sport, what’s your specialty?
Well, I’m a skydiver by trade, but I do fly wingsuits. I fly ’em in the mountains and I BASE jump. Proximity flying quite a bit.
All right. Well you are, to me, one of the people out there riding the razor’s edge of our sport as I’ve been known to say, and out there doing things that I find amazing and awe inspiring to say the least. That being said, I think you’re fucking nuts. I know that you don’t hold that opinion of yourself, but there must be someone out there you think is just as out there as I think you are … Care to fill me in on who that is?
Ahhh … Well I can’t really call the guy necessarily bat-shit crazy … But really pushing the limits, pushing the envelope, the first name that comes to mind is absolutely Alexander Polli. Not only because of the stunts that he chooses to do, but that the skill level he approaches them with is very high, and he’s been constantly thinking outside the box in regard to the things he’s been doing. I think he’s one of the biggest driving forces in the sport.
See, from my side, he’s fucking nuts! I’ve never met the man, so I can’t speak to his mental state, but I’ve seen the things that he’s done, just like everyone else has, and DAMN! So speaking of this driving force, do you think that the stunts that he and people like you are doing—and how visible those stunts are—are pushing people who aren’t nearly qualified enough to go out and do shit that has them slamming into mountains?
Sure, of course! But if it wasn’t him (or us) and his videos it would just be someone else that they’d be following, and pounding themselves into mountains regardless!
How do you think the visibility of this fringe of the sport—via social media and the invention of things like GoPros, as well as the sponsorship from companies like GoPro and RedBull and such—are affecting that side of the sport?
I don’t really think that the sponsorship is doing anything other than helping the sport, as well as driving the best of the best to continue on and improve. What I think is making things more dangerous is the access that people have to these videos and images now. Back in the day, only the best of the very best were doing these things, and thinking outside the box the way we are now. Because of YouTube and Vimeo and social media like this, people are trying things long before they are ready, without having really put thought into their actions, and they sometimes end up paying a high price for it.
So where the fuck is the line? I know, there’s a new one drawn almost every day, but when you have guys like Eli going in, guys like Jeb almost taking off his legs on what to him was a run-of-the-mill jump, guys who are undoubtedly on the forefront of the sport either dying or almost killing themselves, do you ever think we have finally come up against a truly hard line?
That line … <nervous laugh> is a very very blurry, vague line … The thing is, it’s a dangerous sport to begin with. I think the thing that’s hurting and killing people more than anything is that they simply forget that what they are doing is dangerous because they see it so much! It’s just so commonplace now. Ten years ago, the only people doing anything with wingsuits and BASE jumping were the best of the best. It was a very prestigious thing to be a wingsuit BASE jumper; and back then, they weren’t even doing really crazy stuff. They were jumping off the mountain and flying straight away. The thing is, at that point, that was the line. That was the razor’s edge. So yeah … The line just keeps changing. That’s one of the reasons I love BASE so much. It’s kind of a self-regulating big boy’s and girl’s sport.
Do you find, as THE Noah Bahnson, you’re given, well, celebrity status within the sport? Are you a bit of a rock star? I mean you called me old because I competed in skysurfing, so I think you’re a bit of a dick, but …
You are old.
Yeah … I think that I definitely have received a lot more recognition over the last few years, and it is still a pretty small community [wingsuit BASE proximity flying]. It’s no longer the days when just jumping out of an airplane was amazing all on its own, and it’s not the normal jumps that are going viral online. It’s just kind of a product of the times really.
Do you have an end game? Is there an event in your life, an age, anything that you can foresee, that will tell you it’s time to let the next crazy-ass mother step up to the plate?
Honestly, I go back and forth on that one a lot. Sometimes I absolutely think that this is something that I’ll grow out of. I know I’ll always love to skydive, but maybe I’ll back down from wingsuiting as close to a mountain as I can get … But then again, I don’t know. I have close friends, married couples that travel with their families around the BASE circuit with their kids watching mom and dad huck themselves off a mountain. I’m also lucky enough that my significant other does the things that I do, and loves them just as much as I do. I think it’s a pretty commonplace belief that once you have the wife and the kids, these are the things you’re supposed to stop doing, but honestly, I just don’t know …
Have you found a line you just won’t cross?
Talking with Noah and many others involved in the crazy new edge of our sport, I can’t sit here and say I don’t see the allure. It’s impossible not to see the romance of those few minutes carving down the amazing lines most of us will only see on YouTube. The thing is deciding if you’re willing to pay the price that could be levied for that firsthand view of it all. It’s the same type of decision we all make every time we not only decide to board the jump plane, but once again let go. We could all end up paying the ultimate price on any one of the jumps or the flights we do every damn day, so when it comes down to it, who the fuck is The Fuckin’ Pilot to say who’s going too far? I can only say what’s too far for me, and then again, every damn time I say never …
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