Moving at high speed close to a stationary object is an incredibly intense experience. When you’re doing that while flying your body it’s an almost insane experience. But is it worth the risks?
I’ve only got a few hundred wingsuit jumps in the mountains. My tracking experience is much more limited. Before I flew a wingsuit, most of my tracking was done slick (in street gear). I remember turning up to a heli-boogie one year and looked around the mountain top at about 60 other BASE jumpers. I was the only person up there to not be wearing either a tracking suit or wingsuit.
I figured that I was behind the curve and promptly invested in one. However, before I got one, I would still often out track people in tracking suits. It wasn’t because I’m a ninja tracker (I’m not) but because people thought that tracking suits made them into good trackers (they don’t). Used improperly they can actually hinder your performance and are certainly no substitute for experience and competence.
My tracking suit didn’t last long. I experienced the pure joy of wingsuit human flight in the BASE environment and never went back. The tracking suit was sold and wingsuit flights became my absolute priority.
But, in more recent years, the technology in tracking suits has improved considerably. People are able to track jumps that they never, ever, ever would have previously considered. And I get it. I get why people like tracking.
At this level tracking gives that very true reality of human flight. It provides incredible speeds and ground rush sensations. It’s also hard to perform at this level and getting close to such a level of mastery provides its own level of satisfaction as well.
In wingsuit proximity flying we’ve seen levels of BASE jumpers flying incredible lines. We’ve seen some highly experienced pilots execute minor mistakes that have resulted in fatalities. We’ve seen some of the top pilots back off and now flying less aggressive lines.
Of course, there are still those hitting it hard and pushing the envelope with the lines they fly and the techniques they adopt. But there are many that now understand the risks better than they did before and are flying just a little more reserved.
So, why am I singling out tracking?
With wingsuits, particularly as the trend has seen an increase in wing size, the good pilots (well, most of them) are flying their proximity lines with a lot of reserve.
Really (I hear some of you ask)? It’s true. You might not see it on the YouTube video , especially from their POV angle, but those that are in it for the long term are saving a huge amount of their lift in reserve. They’re diving down hard with so much reserve in case they’ve made a mistake, enabling them to just pop up (in relative terms).
But with proximity tracking, flying the newer lines, the reserve is limited. In fact, in order to fly many of these lines the tracker needs to be flying at almost their maximum glide. This gives them practically no reserve. Nothing. So, if they make a mistake, it isn’t going to be pretty.
As we compete for better YouTube rankings or to just impress our peers or to flirt with the random girl at the bar watching yet another BASE jump on your iPhone (and she probably doesn’t understand what tracking is let alone how ‘cool’ that jump was) perhaps it’s time to question.
Perhaps it’s time to question if we really understand the risks of what we’re doing? Perhaps it’s time to question how much reserve we have on our tracking jumps? Perhaps it’s time to question if we understand the wind vectors at the differing altitudes we’ll be flying through? Perhaps it’s time to question if we know how a slight head wind or tail wind or katabatic wind or turbulence will affect our intended flight? Perhaps it’s time to question if we’ve successfully mitigated the risks and minimized them down to an acceptable level?
Please, proximity trackers, prove me wrong. There are so many other cool and crazy ways to track in far more relative safety. Harness your energy on more creativity rather than hardcore risk taking. Don’t be in a rush to feature on the BASE fatality list. Reel it in just a notch – please.
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