“Dario’s prepared,” says Dario Zanon. “Three, two, one,” says Graham Dickinson. “Vive la France!” they each shout as they leap from the summit of Le Brévent within the French Alps and unfold their wings to start the Rock Star Line, probably the most harmful routes in one of many world’s most harmful sports activities.
Zanon and Dickinson are two of the very best, nonetheless. Utilizing the flaps of fabric that be part of their legs and arms, they skim expertly previous cliff edges and between bushes at greater than 110mph. After lower than a minute they launch their parachutes and drift down, whooping, over Chamonix. A day after Zanon’s footage of the flight was posted final September, it had been watched 1,000,000 occasions. Since then, it has been watched at the least 10 million extra.
On Wednesday eight June this 12 months, Zanon returned to Chamonix and climbed the Aiguille du Midi on the opposite facet of the valley for a solo flight. On the Sunday his physique was discovered on the glaciers 5,000ft beneath. Almost certainly nobody will ever know precisely which small factor went unsuitable. Small issues change into massive shortly at 110mph. He was 33.
It does occur to the very best. Mark Sutton, the person who parachuted into the London Olympics stadium dressed as James Bond, was killed wingsuit flying within the Swiss Alps in 2013, whereas filming for EpicTV. In Might 2015, Dean Potter, a well-known US climber and wingsuit flyer, died together with his buddy Graham Hunt. They’d jumped from Taft Level in Yosemite Park, California. In July final 12 months, the record-holding Colombian wingsuit flyer Jhonathan “the Birdman” Florez died throughout observe in Switzerland. The Briton David Reader died two weekends in the past. Final weekend 5 individuals died in separate incidents within the French Alps: two climbers, a paraglider, a hang-glider and a wingsuit flyer. Wednesday introduced two extra, in separate accidents: an as but unidentified British man and Uli Emanuele, Zanon’s former flying companion. “Be a Hero,” says the video they made for the motion digital camera firm GoPro in March.
“You simply get into it after which progressively construct up, construct up” says Jess Cox, 27, an teacher at her father’s enterprise, Fly Sussex Paragliding, close to Lewes. “Higher flights contain going greater, additional, doing debagging or acrobatic stuff.” Sorry, debagging? She reveals me a video on her cellphone. It was recorded by a buddy shortly after they’d each jumped off a 7,000ft mountain in Turkey. Cox is gliding excessive above a gleaming physique of water when immediately she falls from her harness, certainly to her loss of life, till a brand new paraglider unfurls out of her backpack and she or he swoops away. “Woo-hoo!” she squeals, watching. “I find it irresistible! That was top-of-the-line days of my life. It’s simply probably the most thrilling factor I’ve ever completed. The excessive lasts for days. You’re strolling round on a cloud when you’ve a terrific flight. You actually take pleasure in what you do. You actually find it irresistible”
After all, the downside of discovering one thing you like this a lot is having to do with out it generally. “You’ll be able to’t let the hole be too lengthy otherwise you get itchy ft,” Cox says. “Some individuals change into utterly obsessed, give up their jobs, reside in a van and simply journey around the world with material within the again, leaping off stuff. It does type of eat you. It’s utterly addictive.” When doable, Cox truly flies to work within the morning together with her paramotor. She’s by no means scared, she says, except you rely nerves earlier than competitions. Nor ought to she be. Like most excessive sports activities today, paragliding is way safer than it seems to be, so long as it’s completed correctly.
For others, there’s no denying that hazard is a part of the attraction. On his web site, Dickinson says that “when sudden occasions occur (birds, lifeless tree branches, and so forth) … I really feel like I’m working in pure survival mode. I can really feel my coronary heart price velocity up, my senses heighten, and my focus slim in order that every part appears to nearly decelerate. Throughout these moments I attempt to solely concentrate on the current, the quick right here and now. I feel this purity of thought and thoughts is among the many causes I proceed to do what I do. Having the ability to escape the noise, litter and enterprise of every day life is a uncommon deal with on this world.”
It’s the brilliant starting of a scorching day and Tim Cox gathers the beginner paragliders and explains what they’re going to do. I rely 16 males and 4 ladies. Mark, 28, and Andrew, 39, are each performers at Glyndebourne. “We had this break day and I believed, ‘Let’s go and do one thing silly,’” Andrew says. He’s completed a skydive as soon as earlier than and it terrified him. “I simply keep in mind considering, ‘Maintain it collectively, maintain it collectively, maintain it collectively’. I used to be determined to be on the bottom.” He’s hoping this shall be a bit calmer. Mark, however, is a combat director and effectively up for it. He’s completed a little bit of kite-surfing, diving and caving, however not but something up excessive. I feel it’s only for individuals who don’t do very effectively at a barbecue,” he says. “So lots of our colleagues are pleased to take a seat with a bottle of prosecco within the solar for 4 hours,” he says. “I get fucking bored. Let’s go and leap off a hill!” He’s introduced his GoPro, largely to take clips with which to taunt his companion, who needs she have been right here.
Martin, 25, works in promoting in London. He did a tandem paraglide with an teacher a number of years in the past, and the expertise lingered, so he’s again to have a go on his personal. He admits to being “slightly bit nervous”. Amongst all of the joshing of the others, he appears quiet and attentive. Paul, 59, has been paragliding 4 occasions earlier than, twisting his ankle on the final. He works in insurance coverage and has at all times loved working, swimming and climbing. He as soon as had a pilot’s licence. When he was identified with most cancers six years in the past, he acquired extra critical about his health and at last misplaced sufficient weight to strive paragliding. He calls his most cancers Nigel and takes pleasure in ignoring its calls for. “That is one within the eye for Nigel,” he says, as we climb the hill as much as the launch website. He postponed some chemotherapy to be right here.
Paragliding seems to be simple, at the least to begin with. The tools is just not a parachute however an inflatable wing, which is laid flat on the hilltop, then fills with air, takes form and lifts fliers off the bottom. As soon as the fundamentals of touchdown and equipment-checking are defined, the tandem fliers are strapped into an enormous black seat, hooked as much as an teacher, dragged again by the glider pulling because it rises, then a number of fast steps launch them forwards into the air. The primary flier, Andrew, is up 10 minutes after we arrive. “Bloody hell,” says Martin.
The remainder take off, and it’s clear they’re having a great time. Easily, gracefully, they glide forwards and backwards over the hillside till it seems to be nearly boring, this “boating round”, because the initiated known as it. Drifting down from the tandems come snatches of dialog that you simply would possibly effectively trade over prosecco. When required, the instructors liven issues up with massive swings and spirals, which look very thrilling. Their management is so good that they will come over and hover inside touching distance whereas we discuss.
And these should still be early days. In line with a report from the US leisure firm Delaware North, 100 hours of GoPro video are uploaded on to YouTube each minute, and gross sales of motion cameras are rising at 50% a 12 months. “By 2020, excessive sports activities will problem skilled and collegiate crew sports activities for the title of most-watched class of sports activities content material,” the report says. “Right this moment they’re a blip on the display screen in comparison with the large enterprise sports activities, however participation in motion and journey sports activities has surpassed standard sports activities on the leisure degree.”
And the place their business limits lie, it’s arduous to say. BMX and snowboarding are Olympic occasions now, and climbing, skateboarding and browsing shall be in 2020. However I ponder whether sports activities reminiscent of wingsuit flying have already handed the restrict of security. Maybe the identical goes for freediving, by which individuals compete to swim as deep as doable whereas holding their breath, and the place main proponents, reminiscent of Natalia Molchanova and Nicholas Mevoli have just lately died.
Pushing is a part of sport, in fact, however what’s being pushed right here is security. A superb footballer or tennis participant at all times desires to be examined towards higher opponents, however their opponents are human, so that may solely go up to now. In excessive sports activities, the opponent is hazard. As one of many world’s greatest recognized climbers and wingsuit flyers, Steph Davis, wrote in January, “the restrict comes once you hit the terrain”. As an alternative, she recommended, “Maybe development means one thing very completely different. Maybe it means refining the expertise, changing into safer, extra elegant and extra conscious.” Davis has been married twice, to Dean Potter and Mario Richard. Each males died in wingsuit accidents (Potter after their divorce). Perhaps the way forward for excessive sports activities is studying to be much less excessive.