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BASE Jumping: Diving in the Most Outrageous Sport

Marc has been skydiving for 10 years. He has over 3,000 skydives and 100 BASE jumps.

As the sport is getting trendy, we must demystify the world of BASE jumping and how humans make it an unforgiving sport.

It's one thing to acknowledge that the sport is dangerous. It's another to ask yourself why.

21st jump at the Perrine Bridge, Twin Falls (ID), original picture

21st jump at the Perrine Bridge, Twin Falls (ID), original picture

What Is BASE Jumping?

The word BASE is an acronym for all static structures that you can jump from:

  • Building
  • Antenna
  • Span
  • Earth

When you are BASE jumping, you are jumping from a static surface, either man-made (Building, Antenna, Span) or in nature (Earth).

The Law Surrounding BASE

Know that BASE jump is legal, although jumpers get arrested. The fact of the matter is that you are not allowed to enter on someone's (ie: government) property, antenna or bridge and jump from it without his consent. You are also not allowed to land on a property without the owner's consent.

BASE jumping is legal, trespassing is not.

There is only one place in North America where it is legal to jump year-round: Twin Falls, ID. In Europe, on the other hand, the sport is largely accepted.

Two Thrills: Low and High Jumps

Some people enjoy the high adrenaline rush of trespassing and jumping low objects like wind turbines or corporate buildings. When doing that there is a lot of planning on how to get in and how to get out without being caught. There's a lot of waiting and hiding. There might even be a lot of running. This practice is usually illegal if you don’t have consent. Avoid it.

BASE jumper doing a low building exit in Russia, ready to open his parachute upon jumping.

BASE jumper doing a low building exit in Russia, ready to open his parachute upon jumping.

Others rather like to hike a mountain, enjoy the 4-hour journey and take their time. In this case, jumping might only be your way of getting back down.

In both cases, jumping is a primary objective, but you need to understand that it is only a small part of a bigger experience. Jumping takes one minute but getting there might take a whole day. And jumpers are willing to pay that price for that one minute.

The Beauty of the Sport

BASE jumping is unregulated. There is no oversight. Everybody does whatever they want. This is a reason why there are so many deaths. It is also a reason why the sport is pure. Serious jumpers do not judge and will let you do whatever you want. Nobody will stop you. Nobody will give you advice without you asking for it, because they don't want you to kill yourself based on their recommendation. You are the master or your own experience. You can jump alone or with friends, day or night, naked or in a costume.

...and if you die, although they might feel sad, people won't be surprised.

Five jumpers exiting Monte Brento, in Italy. This is a famous spot to start high jump BASE.

Five jumpers exiting Monte Brento, in Italy. This is a famous spot to start high jump BASE.

What are the fatality causes in BASE jumping?

BASE jumping creates a lot of fatalities. The BASE Fatality List documents the reported deaths with great details on how it happened (see references). Information is often gathered by friends who were on site when the jumper died. This is a crucial part of information where jumpers can learn about other people's mistakes. Note that not all fatalities are recorded because the sport is unregulated. Information is shared voluntarily.

If you don't want to die jumping, don't start.

If you start BASE jumping, the odds are that after long enough you will die, or you will acquaint with close friends who will die. Every serious BASE jumper still alive has many friends who are departed, performing this sport.

In the past 3 years, I have two friends who died jumping, both being known for being safe and very experienced.

According to The Great Book of BASE (which is a classic book for every first-time jumper), fatalities are caused by two factors:

  1. Complacency, or;
  2. Lack of experience

We can even say that the lack of experience comes from complacency in training. So complacency would be THE reason why people die.

Complacency is a feeling of cool self-confidence that prevents you from being diligent and following the rules.

Wingsuit BASE jumping liberalized with YouTube

There is clear statistical evidence that most deaths occur from wingsuit BASE. For one thing, a wingsuit hinders your range of motion, preventing you to adjust your position after a bad exit. Many BASE jumpers also don't train jumping out of planes before attempting wingsuiting. Today wingsuits can be extremely high-performance, reducing your margin of error during flight.

YouTube probably caused a great deal of pain to athletes. When it came out, it was then easy for a high-performance BASE jumper to share his jump with the world. This became very trendy when manufacturers started producing very high-performance wingsuits. Jumpers living in the Alps had then a tool to show off their skills. With little education, first-time jumpers already had the goal of practicing wingsuit BASE. What we usually don't grasp is the extent of experience, jumps and practice run needed to be able to fly at a distance of 3 meters from the cliff or ground.

These events opened the liberalization of a sport once known to be elite.

Everybody wants to wingsuit BASE... and everybody dies doing it wrong.

In BASE, there are reckless jumpers, but there are no experienced reckless jumpers.

How to survive BASE jumping?

If we learn about other peoples' mistakes, there wouldn't be so many fatalities. However, history repeats itself and we witness many deaths from the same reasons

Complacency

Easiest way down

Here's a fictional but highly probable story surrounding the unpredictability of the sport.

After a 5-hour hike, you find yourself at the exit point. However, the wind might pick up. When it does, you soon realize that it is on the limit of making the jump unpredictable. Then, you and your friends have a choice to make.

  1. Jump now, before the wind picks up more and hope that your parachute will open well and reach the landing area
  2. Wait for the wind to calm down, however long it takes (maybe stay overnight without camping equipment)
  3. Walk back down, knowing that dawn is coming and you probably can't find your path in the dark

This is every BASE jumper's worst nightmare.

In BASE, you must take your own decision, regardless of other people's opinions.

In many cases, jumpers will take the least effort solution: Jump. I will let you imagine what happens then.

Ego

Ego is man's worst enemy. It pushes you to show off (and we know that in BASE there are a lot of showing off) and it pushes you to want to be right.

There is no place for ego in BASE. Gravity will beat it.

It's not "cool" to break your legs.

Complacency is the number 1 enemy in BASE. But what process causes us to be complacent?

Fatal cognitive bias

A cognitive bias is a subjective perception of reality, not based on facts but rather on our appreciation of a handful of events that we chose to accept or reject to form our judgment. The importance we give to these events is also subjective. This shapes our behavior, which can become inadequate in response to what we experience or anticipate.

Cognitive bias can shape our behavior to become efficient or destructive. In this case, complacent

Overconfidence bias

This powerful cognitive process pushes someone to have excessive confidence in their ability without any regard towards failure.

As a BASE jumper, you will begin to ramp up dozens of jumps. Initially, you will likely have an overprotective approach to this new sport. However, after 50 jumps, you start to understand how it works and getting consistent. Therefore, eventually jumping in inadequate conditions might scare you less. Especially if you haven't seen any accidents yet.

To overcome this bias, I recommend you do this simple exercise before jumping: read out your fatality report. Before you jump, imagine you do and you die. What will people say in regards to your jump? "He jumped a new piece equipment, winds were a little strong and he was alone at the exit". This will make you realize what can go wrong and why.

Stay humble, there is no shame in turning around.

Availability heuristic

This cognitive bias implies that a person recalls the most recent information as the most valid.

As a BASE jumper after successfully jumping out of the same exit 20 times, you begin to feel pretty confident in your ability to execute this jump. You may also be biased by the fact that there were no deaths at this particular exit in the past 2 years, therefore it must not be THAT bad.

Conformity

The conformity bias pushes people to do what they would not do naturally. They also take ownership of that decision.

As a jumper, you're likely part of a group of friends. Some of them might even be more experienced than yourself. If they jump, you feel compelled to do the same, even if you would normally evaluate jumping conditions thoroughly and take a more objective decision.

As you get experience, you begin to understand that every experienced jumper makes his own decision with no regard for yours. They don't give a damm if you decide to jump or not. They also respect jumpers who refuse to jump, who are demonstrating ownership, diligence, and care for self-preservation.

Miles Daisher, from the Red Bull team at Perrine Bridge, the only legal spot in the USA where the majority of BASE jumper begin their journey.

Miles Daisher, from the Red Bull team at Perrine Bridge, the only legal spot in the USA where the majority of BASE jumper begin their journey.

Perrine Bridge, ID (USA)

Perrine Bridge, ID (USA)

Steps to take to make your first BASE jump

If you decide to learn how to BASE jump, have the right respectful approach to this unforgivable sport and be part of something greater than yourself, here is how to start thinking about it.

Always do it in full legality and respect your limit. Don’t show off.

Find a mentor

BASE jumpers are skydivers (in North America).

The entry to the sport is through skydiving (paragliding in Europe). However, if you go to your local dropzone shouting that you want to BASE jump, nobody will accept you as a serious student. They will tell you to forget about it. BASE jumpers are discrete, they like to keep their "secret" and they want no part in your recklessness. People have a good sense of first-time jumpers who don't want to take their time to learn appropriately.

Before anything, you will need to enroll in a skydiving class. This will familiarize yourself with the free fall, the equipment, and canopy piloting. Once you start jumping out of planes and take this practice seriously, only then ask around for BASE jumpers.

First jump course (FJC)

Your new BASE jumper friend will likely have learned from someone. Ask him to introduce yourself to this mentor. You will need to enroll in a BASE first jump course with him. He'll likely lend you equipment and bring you to a local exit point for your first jump.

Otherwise, people go to Twin Falls, ID, USA where it is legal to jump from the Perrine Bridge, a 400 foot high. This is believed to be one of the safest objects to jump from since you can't run into a wall or structure in mid-air. This being said, many jumpers die each year in Twin Falls.

References

BASE fatality list

List of Cognitive Bias

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.