Ten years ago most people would have drawn a blank at the mention of BASE jumping, a fringe extreme sport that involves throwing one’s self from cliffs and buildings with a parachute. Today, even those in their Golden Years are familiar with the sport, and might even be familiar with some of the technical terminology. But BASE jumping will forever remain primarily a novelty activity due to its high risk and limited accessibility. For those individuals with the desire to participate in such an intense activity more than vicariously through the rare few willing to risk their lives, there is a new sport on the verge of exploding. It’s called Speed Flying and although far safer than BASE jumping, the adrenaline factor is only one notch less.
Speed Flying is in its infancy now, but like many adventure sports before it, is quickly gaining traction as a familiar sport to the masses. This traction is building in a form beyond the typical flood of online videos however; mainstream individuals are actually participating in it. Most likely you are wondering what exactly this hot new sport is, and maybe even how you might get involved. Read on to be enlightened.
The sport is simple: a participant hikes up a mountain with a small and light fabric wing packed on their back, inflates and launches from a suitable patch of clear ground, then screams down the mountain at breakneck speeds, slaloming through natural terrain features on the way down. The thought of this either excites you or scares you, or both. For those that find themselves immediately drifting toward the scared side of the spectrum, it should be noted that the thought of this activity is more frightening than actually doing it. Like with anything else, knowledge replaces mystery, which is the root of most fear. Let’s dispel some of the mystery of Speed Flying.
A combination of skydiving, paragliding and BASE jumping, it would seem Speed Flying should be more dangerous than any one of these other sports. But the beauty is that it shares the most exciting aspects of each activity, but not the high risk elements. For example, it shares with BASE jumping the intense anticipation of standing at the edge of a cliff or mountain preparing to jump, but does not share the high risk aspect of depending upon a perfect parachute opening to survive. In common with paragliding is a high performance wing that creates a true pilot out of its operator, but with a much more rigid airfoil that nearly eliminates the risk of collapse associated with a paragliding wing. Like skydiving, it is possible to make multiple flights in a day, but at one-fifth the cost (thus reducing the risk to one’s financial well-being).
It might seem like a sport of this nature would take weeks or months to learn, but in reality an individual can go from zero experience to proficient in a few days time, without needing to take any “leaps of faith”. First flights are on a large wing from a bunny hill, gaining only a few feet of altitude for less than 10 seconds. Within an hour, a student can be flying from 200 feet, and by the end of the day, flights from over 500 feet are possible. All the while, wing size will be gradually stepped down from Sedan to Coupe. Over the following days, the safe transition to sports car will be the goal. At this point in the training, a student will have a good feel for what type of flying they enjoy, and can focus their learning objectives toward that end. Some individuals will want to rip down the mountain as fast as possible, while others will prefer “boozy cruisy” flights at speeds much faster than a paraglider, but not so fast that the scenery cannot be enjoyed. There is something for everybody.
As is always the case with any new endeavor, taking the first step is the hardest. In this instance, that step is making a quick phone call or sending a short email to a local Speed Flying school. Be prepared though, taking this initiative will very likely result in adding an element of excitement to your life that will have you quickly shifting your priorities. Get ready for the ride of your life.
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Tim Miller is an aerial sports enthusiast and pilot. His background includes Hollywood stunt work, hosting television shows, and earning an X-Games gold medal. Perhaps his most memorable performance was skysurfing with a goose in Pepsi's 1998 award winning Superbowl commercial. Troy is a California native and splits his time between Mammoth Mountain and San Diego. Be sure to check out his Speed Flying site.
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