Two jumpers in gear at the back of the exit ramps,
The starter will ask…
“Jumper A ready?” – confirm
“Jumper B ready?” – confirm
Jumpers take your starting position at the edge.
The starter begins countdown, “5 – 4”
A single signal is repeated 3 times, bip, bip, bip
Welcome to the World BASE Race
Envision two men standing on wooden platforms at the edge of a mountain cliff. Each man is dressed in what appears to be a flying squirrel suit. At the signal, they jump and race head-on to the finish line, deploying their parachutes and gliding to a safe landing. Mind blowing? Extraordinary? A testament to man’s intestinal fortitude? Innovative genius? A sporting event unlike any other in the world? If you answered yes to all of the above, then let me introduce you to an event that P.T. Barnum would have billed as part of “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
The World Base Race lays claim to being the ultimate B.A.S.E jumping competition in declaring one wingsuit pilot/jumper as “The World Fastest Flying Human Being” and awarding the winner 3000 euro as prize money. The 2009 event consists of 32 athletes, in a 2 jumper 750m full on race, in a 6 round competition. The event takes place August 12-14th, with athletes arriving during the week of August 6-12th for warm-up/preparation jumps. Norway’s picture perfect Innfjorden-Romsdal provides the arena and setting for after hours activities.
Prior to my interview with Brendan Nicholson, a U.S. B.A.S.E jumper/wingsuit pilot, who will be competing in this years race; I had an opportunity for a brief Q & A with Paul Fortun.
Norwegian, Paul Fortun, director of the World Base Race acts as though he is the proud father of a newborn when it comes to discussing the event. He boasts and hawks in a fashion that would make ol’ P.T. proud, “We have the world’s most amazing public sporting event, in an arena located among the beautiful surroundings of nature itself. There is no registration fee for jumpers, or fee for public spectators. We want to make this the greatest public party for athletes and spectators alike. This event demonstrates to the world the type of athletes BASE jumpers truly are in an exciting competition. This is a top skilled athletic sport, where you not only have to compete head to head, but perform in front of the public. All rounds have to be hiked by the athletes, therefore the winner must also be in great physical shape.”
Do you anticipate a larger spectator turn out this year since you’ve had a year to advertise and market the event?
“We have a limit of 2000 to 2500 spectators, but we have a big Fjord and welcome charter boats to come and enjoy the show. I expect that we will see an increase in spectators as we have seen an increase in athletes.”
The World Base Race is an event designed with the spectators in mind. What type of vendors and entertainment do you have planned?
“We will have a young talented rock band, Ronald Nikolaisen with “Black Cat Bones” as The World BASE Race band this year. They will play at the final day of competition and at the WBR party in the evening. There will be a band playing mellow music suited for young children to 90 year olds. This is an arena in a natural setting that we are offering a good time to any age spectator. We are not trying to copy other high profiled extreme sports events with loud music and cool young people in the latest fashions. We wish to remain a public event for everybody. Line Horvli and the local choir, plus a local folkdance group Leikarringen and an uphill running race. The Norwegian national paragliding team with Ove Tillung and Pål Hammar Rognøy performing a program for us. As well as 10 dome jumpers in formation flying with smoke. Ending with three jumpers with red, white and blue smoke representing national colors for the opening of “The World Fastest Human Flying Being” finale.
My goal is to lift the event one cm every year to the next level, take it step by step, as long as the public is fascinated and takes part in the event enjoying watching batman/batwoman flying in the air. I believe this is the correct way to progress, leaving them wanting to return for more the following year.”
In the upcoming 2009 event, the largest contingency of jumpers will be hailing from the United States with 17 athletes. One of those 17, is Brendan Nicholson, age 27, a graduate of the University of Utah with a degree in Graphic Design. He spends his work days as a Medical Illustrator and Animator for the Department of Genetics at the university in which he graduated. Hailing from Salt Lake City, Brendan is a bit more reserved in his chances to reach the podium, “I doubt I will place in this years race. The level of competition will be significantly higher due to the success of last years event. I look forward to the day when I have more wingsuit flights and can be considered a peer of this years veteran competitors like Robert Pecnik and Ronny Risvik.”
Nicholson didn’t compete in last years race, instead he worked as race starter. It was then that as he would jump and fly down following the competitors using tracking gear when both Paul and Johnny Bjørkås seen a natural talent in Brendan. Paul noted how quickly Brendan took to flying such difficult cliffs. I asked Paul Fortun who he was looking forward to watching, he unequivocally announced ” I am particularly excited to see how Brendan Nicholson of Salt Lake City, Utah will fair in this years competition. In asking Brendan about their assessment, he credits his 11 years in Nordic Ski jumping for the early development into the world of wingsuit piloting. Stating, “I enjoy tracking the most because it has the most freedom”.
I asked the young athelete how he would approached “racing” another individual when generally B.A.S.E jumping is not about “winning”? “B.A.S.E has a long history of competition from early accuracy meets to the World BASE Race. The lowest, highest, longest jumps are all know throughout the community of B.A.S.E jumpers due to the competitive nature amongst us. Each one of the World Base Race athletes is so experienced in flight that ‘racing’ in wingsuits is as easy as ‘racing’ to the fridge for the last beer. If you have any reservations about the psychological pressures of ‘racing’ then it is best to wait until you are mentally prepared ahead of competing.”
As for his B.A.S.E jumping philosophy, “Always live to see the next jump. While it may be fun to burn it low or fly very close to the wall, you must weigh that experience against all future jump experiences. Is that extra 10 feet really worthy losing hundreds of awesome experiences over?” The one jump that stands out in his mind, “Clearing the ledge at “Karl’s Big Mountain Cliff” (Imperfect English translation of Norwegian). This wall is where B.A.S.E jumping became mountain flying and it was awesome to relive that experience transitioning form falling to flying. There is a point where you must decide whether to pull or try to clear the ledge and that certainty in your own abilities is rewarding.”
We discussed whether he felt B.A.S.E jumping was a “sport”, “stunt” or “hobby” and what drew him to the World B.A.S.E Race. “I think it is different for every person and even changes over time for that same person. When I started it was an all-consuming lifestyle. Every word out of my mouth was about B.A.S.E and every thought in my head was about where I was going to get my next fix. Now I try to find a balance between B.A.S.E, Skiing, Rock Climbing, work and personal relationships, so it would probably fall under sport for me. Some jumps are stunts, like when I jump for money and sometimes out of my comfort zone. Many jumps do not take much skill and it seems silly to call them sport when true sports are out there. Hobby sounds too much like needlepoint.”
“For me the attraction to the World Base Race is an opportunity to meet and jump with the best mountain fliers in the world. The event itself is very casual with everyone hiking and chatting together. The exchange of ideas and experiences is like nothing else because only Romsdal could draw this caliber of talent from all corners of the globe. The idea of making human flight safer with higher performance is what draws me to come and learn form the best”.
Besides the actually racing, what do you enjoy best about the event?, “The World BASE Race is an opportunity to get together with the best mountain fliers in the world’s best playground. There are fifty other walls to explore in the region and countless ways to fly the terrain. I love meeting new people and learning their approach to the sport. The barbecues are also awesome, because of the organic and fresh nature of the food.”
Brendan’s training technique in preparing for the race in Norway, while he doesn’t have the luxury of taking advantage of jumping there regularly, “I fly wingsuits out of planes as much as I can afford and jump some of the larger legal cliffs in my area. Mountain flying has a lot in common with many other gravity sports such as mountain biking and downhill skiing. Flying a predetermined line is just like carving through the snow, from planning to execution of a perfectly balanced carve.”
His mentally preparation for a jump may seem a bit unusual to an outsider, but remains effective for him. “I have mild OCD so I need a lot of repetition and physical touching to feel ready to jump. I will touch my buckles 20 plus times, check my bridle routing 10 plus times and repack my chute before nearly every jump. Beyond that I try to remember what a perfect exit feels like beforehand so I can repeat it on the upcoming jump. This includes visualization with my eyes closed and mock body movements”. His final thought before jumping, “There is a real void in thinking right before exit. I am trying to focus solely on what my body is telling me so I can exit smoothly and set myself to flying away.”
In responding to my question, “In your opinion would such an event work in the U.S. if it could be done legally, do you think it would help with the perception of B.A.S.E by the general public?”, he offered these thoughts, “Yes, I think it would be a good way to introduce mountain flying to the American public. The popularity of Matchstick Production’s ‘Seven Sunny Days’ clip proves that people are fascinated with mountain flying and I think an American B.A.S.E Race could fit well with something like the X-Games. Bridge Day attracts over 200,000 people and I think interest in mountain flying would be even higher. Paul has formatted the World BASE Race to be very spectator friendly and has also instituted a strict safety protocol that resulted in zero incidents last year.”
I asked him what he felt his contribution to B.A.S.E was during his short career in the sport, his reply again showed his humble nature, “So far I have contributed very little. I enjoyed helping Paul out with the World BASE Race and showing the world that the sport of B.A.S.E can have a safe, spectator-friendly competition. I am always trying to be an ambassador for the sport in the hopes that it will become accepted in America as a valid way to experience the outdoors.”
Brendan’s favorite object to jump, “Big cliffs are at the top of the list. I love hiking and exploring beautiful new places and mountain flying is just a logical extension of that. Building’s come in a close second because of the James Bond factor of sneaking around coupled with the thrill of a technical flight.”
How often does he jump?, “I made 100 jumps in my first year. Now I try to savor them a bit more and only jump about twice a month. During my vacations to Norway I will jump two or three times a day for about a month.”
He earned his B.A.S.E. number around jump 50, but only applied for the B.A.S.E card after about 100 jumps. Brendan had recorded only about 100 skydives when he first started B.A.S.E jumping. He says, “I wish I had 500 skydives. I usually wish this right before I hit something hard that I could have easily avoided with more experience.” He attended Tom Aiello’s “Free Deathcamp” in Twin Falls, Idaho, where he made about 40 jumps in 8 days. Claiming to have “learned just about everything that can be taught to a young and dumb male”. He still jumps with his mentor, Skyler Beck, from time to time and sees him every week. The best advice his mentor Beck, gave him, “He told me, “Don’t be a dummy”. I took it to mean, slow down and check yourself. This has proven to be good advice. As I got into Mountain Flying more I was also mentored by the Norwegian pilots who gave me very similar advice.”
I asked Brendan if he would consider being a mentor, “I think mentoring is one of the best things you can do for progressing the sport of B.A.S.E jumping. It is a very time-intensive activity and requires a lot of ulcer medication. Once your student has left the object you can’t do anything to save them, so you need to teach him well.” He continues on to point out what he feels is the biggest mistake new jumper’s make, “B.A.S.E jumping is ridiculously easy, so a false sense of security usually shows up around jump number 10. The rub is that you have to execute everything perfectly the first time, no second chances. Things only go wrong roughly once in three hundred jumps so it is very easy to let your guard down and call yourself an expert. It is important to always be scared. Once you stop being fearful, you become complacent and that 180 degrees off-heading ends it all. The most important piece of advice he has for new jumpers, “Slow down and be conservative. Build your skills over time. It sounds hypocritical even as I say it, but the time and money spent taking it slow, pale in comparison to the friendships you may lose.”
Brendan willingness to be a student of B.A.S.E and absorb as much information as he can with every connection he makes within the community of jumpers is exemplified in his answer to the infamous “What is the most bonehead thing you have ever done in jumping?” question. His answer, “Getting into B.A.S.E without complete control of my canopy flying. I liked to jump low objects, or pull low off of large objects, because i didn’t know how to fly a pattern or sink my canopy. Luckily, I didn’t hurt myself before I learned these skills though I still have much to learn.”
The Nicholson family’s take on his participation in B.A.S.E can be summed up as “cautiously supportive”. “My parents become concerned when I show them my videos, but they also like to show them off to their friends afterward. My brother wants to know when I am planning on giving it up. My grandfather is the most outspoken, saying “Okay, you have proven you have brass balls, now stop.” They have met friends of mine who later passed away jumping, but they also know how much joy it brings me. My girlfriend, Elizabeth Brand, an Emergency Room doctor in Salt Lake City, Utah, will be this years starter at World BASE Race. She is very supportive of my jumping/wingsuit flying, she herself has 80 skydives and is looking forward to not having to hike down after escorting me to the edge”.
So when does he plan to give it all up, if anytime, “When my ego takes a back seat to my responsibilities. I hope that happens when I have a wife and child. I think the big walls can be jumped with an acceptable amount of risk, but I may reconsider.”
What attracted this articulate, talented, confident, yet humble young man to the sport of B.A.S.E? “Mountain flying is the closest humans have come to personal flight. From day one in learning to jump, I looked forward to when I could fly a wingsuit through the mountains.”
In six short days, Brendan will be atop the mountain, standing on the edge of that wooden plank, heart racing as he listens to the starter’s voice for the signal, within seconds racing towards a finish line in the air below, before safely deploying his chute and gliding towards the ground in hopes that he has won his race, only to climb the mountain again to face the next challenger until finally there is only one, that can claim the title, “The World’s Fastest Flying Human Being”.
Word to the all other World BASE Race competitors, “It’s always the quiet, polite ones you have to watch out for; in other words, keep your eye on the unpretentious American kid”.
Marital Status: In a Relationship
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Education: BFA in Graphic Arts, University of Utah
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
Year of 1st Jump: 2007
Wingsuit: Phoenix-Fly Shadow (prototype) and a Phoenix-Fly Tracking Suit
Container: Gargoyle and Hybrid L/D+
Canopy: Blackjack and Trango
Profession: Medical Illustrator
B.A.S.E Number: 1295
Nickname: Curls McSquirrel
Five Random Facts About Brendan That Could Be Classified As Weird, Strange, or Different
I could ski (snow) before I could walk.
I have found spandex to be the perfect rock climbing apparel.
I can’t pack without my lucky 13 clamps.
I am not a Mormon, but I live in Utah.
I didn’t learn to drive until my twenties.
B.A.S.E jumping, is a sport that employs a parachute to jump from fixed objects. Wingsuit pilots employ both a wingsuit and parachute in jumping from fixed objects.
“BASE” is an acronym that stands for the four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump:
B.A.S.E jumping is an extreme sport that can result in injury or death of it’s participants. Interested parties are advised to undergo proper training and mentoring prior to attempting B.A.S.E jumping.
B.A.S.E Numbers are applied for from the United States BASE Association.