On the edge of life beyond fear, chasing joy.
The dream of human flight, in its modern expression.
Presenting a photostory of the men and women who challenge themselves to use fear as a guide, to prepare, and to bring them that much closer to a joyful life.
A week atop a glass ledge overlooking Tianmen Shan, China in 2018.
Multimedia photo story by Rodrigo Gaya/Gayaman Visual Studio, LLC/World Wingsuit League
All Rights Reserved
Take a moment & think back to when you've stood near a precipice. That feeling of pure, abject fear cramping your innards.
Now imagine wearing a nylon wing-shaped suit, a parachute stuffed back-pack & jumping.
In the world's most dangerous sport - wingsuit base-jumping, fear is a part of the equipment.
Only overcoming it through preparation, commitment, and perseverance.
No matter how many jumps they had, none spoke of being fearless. That isn't the point, really. They all feel that fear, the one that prevents most people from taking up the sport, the fear of death. These athletes harness that energy and use it to their advantage.
They use it to make sure their gear is prepared & know the flight plan. It's there to keep them focused, remind them of being alive. It's been described as chasing flow, sending it, or pure joy.
We can all understand the rush of emotions when we find ourselves going beyond our capabilities and succeeding in taming the seemingly impossible. But these young men and women have this for breakfast.
It's become their way of life, and the only way they would have ever been invited to join this death-defying showcase. Not only did they need to perform thousands of skydives successfully, then transitioned to many hundred wingsuit jumps, and eventually hundreds more base-jumps, they had to stay current.
There's no time off. It,s what you do.
Fourteen of the best wingsuit base-jumpers gathered from all over the world in the Beijing, China Airport before setting off to Zhangjiajie, in the northwest of China's Hunan province. A city at the foothills of a massive national park, encompassing thousands of jagged quartzite sandstone columns, many of which rise over 200m.
The World Wingsuit League, organized by wingsuit pioneers Jeb Corliss & James Boole, hosted the pilots for the 7th annual WWL China Grand Prix in mid-August 2018. Jeb "opened" the mountain by performing a flight through the gaping wide whole which perforates the mountain. James, his trusted filmer, and master of cool., relaxing on the of the exit point, with a parachute on just-in-case.
I couldn't help but notice that out of their 'flying suits' they're just regular people. At one point before we first got up to the mountain, I saw myself as one of them, part of the same team, having no idea what I was in for. While they share some of our insecurities, doubts, and concerns, when that suit gets tossed over their shoulders, they seemingly cross into another dimension. One where the fine line dividing life and death gets blurred.
It becomes so expansive there are no defining edges, except one, THAT one. Where they take on another form of travel, flight. Where any mistake will be the last. An edge I came to understand separated me and the rest of us, from them.
2018 World Wingsuit League Pilots:
Gabriel Lott, Rob Heron, Brandon Mikesell, Chris Byrnes, Yahor Arlou, James Yaru, Sven Ugau, Vicente Cajiga, Ellen Brennan, Jokke Sommer, Carlos Pedro Briceno, Sebastian Alvarez, Niccolo Porcella, Felix Lorentzen.
The wingsuit pilots. Left to right: Gabriel Lott, Rob Heron, Brandon Mikesell, Chris Byrnes, Yahor Arlou, James Yaru, Sven Ugau, Vicente Cajiga, Ellen Brennan, Jokke Sommer, Carlos Pedro Briceno, Sebastian Alvarez, Niccolo Porcella, Felix Lorentzen pose for a portrait on Tianmen Mountain, just below the Exit Point.
The international group of athletes are as different as their nationalities. Backgrounds range from an ex-motorcycle racer, special forces police sniper, big-wave surfer, helicopter pilot, to professional skydivers and instructors. Their commonality was this exclusively shared experience of taming & harnessing human flight. One I can only come to describe in images, words, & sounds, but not feelings.
Looking back now, I'm reminded of the thrills, highs & lows, but retaining the idea that fear doesn't need to hold us back. But as a door, unopened until we muster the courage to turn the handle and walk though it. I bring this idea with me in my latest adventures life decides to share with me.
Experiencing life with boundless joy, beyond fear.
The statue commemorating the 3 lives lost to the sport on this mountain.
Photo by Rodrigo Gaya. Exit Point, 2018.