One of the world’s most dangerous sports, wingsuiting brings new meaning to the term “extreme”. Strapped into an inflatable suit, divers launch themselves from incredible heights, inflating their life jackets at the last possible moment. Award winning wingsuiter, skydiver and BASE jumper, James Boole is at the forefront of this daredevil movement, a group that goes by the name of the World Wingsuit League. We caught up with James to learn more about his love of the sport, the WWL and the best places in the world to don a wingsuit and take to the skies.
How did you get into wingsuiting to start with?
“I was inspired by French wingsuit pioneer, Patrick De Gayardon. As soon as I had enough experience I got my own suit, and after reading the rather short manual, I jumped it out of a plane. The jump seemed to last an eternity, it was surprisingly intuitive and I immediately started flying with others.”
How does wingsuit technology work? How much more horizontal distance can you cover as opposed to traditional skydiving?
“A wingsuit turns the human body into a glider, ram-air wings between your arms and legs inflate to create lift. A normal skydiver can move (or track) forwards around 1.5 miles during a skydive, falling for close to a minute. A wingsuit can glide forwards four times further, around six miles flying for around four minutes.”
Where are your favourite jumps to date? And where would you really love to jump?
“One of my favourite jumps was a New Year night jump with my wife over the desert in Arizona. We exited the plane as the clock chimed and wore lights to see each other in the air. My favourite BASE jumping location is the Italian Dolomites and I dream of flying a wingsuit off the world’s tallest building in Dubai.”
Is a certain fitness level required? How do you train for the jumps?
“You don’t need to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, but to fly well numerous times a day requires good all round fitness – the main areas to strengthen are the shoulders, chest and core muscles. Flying regularly keeps you in shape, otherwise I work out at home.”
What is the purpose of the World Wingsuit League? How is a race judged?
“The World Wingsuit League allows wingsuit pilots from around the world to compete to find the fastest flying human. Wingsuit racing works the same as ski racing; the fastest person to fly down the course is the winner. We use the same technology as skiing and athletics to time our runs (a laser gate at the start and a high speed camera on the finish line).
Some of the courses we fly solo but most are head-to-head against another pilot, which makes things more interesting as its adds to the emotions of each race and usually makes us fly faster.
In the future there is the plan to have slalom courses where we fly around turn markers, making the flights more interesting for pilots and spectators.”
Where does the World Wingsuit League take you around the world?
“The WWL is now in its 4th season and so far has featured qualification events in Norway and Switzerland, whilst the final has always been in China. In 2016 the plan is to add more competitions, perhaps in Brazil and Italy.”
Wingsuiting videos have garnered a large online following and filming seems to be a large part of the sport. What camera equipment do you use and how do you manage to get good shots while travelling at such speed?
“Most of the time we use action cameras like the GoPro as they are small and easy to use. Sometimes I shoot for commercials and films and have mounted a RED cinema camera on my helmet, the extra 4kg weight requires preparation but the resulting footage is breath taking.
To shoot good footage requires lots of practice so that the flying is performed automatically, allowing you to think about your framing.”
Have you had any bad experiences while wingsuiting?
“Whilst filming a jump over a snow covered volcano in Russia in 2009, I misjudged my altitude and opened my parachute very late and too close to the ground. The parachute didn’t have time to inflate properly and I hit the snow at high speed, breaking my back.”
During your jump in Russia, what was going through your mind once you realised that your parachute had not opened properly?
“I thought about my wife and daughter and that the impact was going to hurt a lot or not at all.”
Describe your first jump after coming back from your injury.
“About a year after the accident I felt the call to fly again. I went to my ‘local’ cliff which is 4000′ tall, it’s a straight forward jump that I have performed several hundred times but my knees were still wobbling like Elvis at the exit point. Once my feet left the cliff edge I instantly relaxed and started flying towards the landing area. I felt at home.”
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Would you ever try wingsuiting? What do you make of James Boole’s experiences? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Tremayne Carew Pole