The base jumper drops off bridges and cliffs with a parachute. Most people know that.
Wingsuit flyers jump with a parachute wearing artificial wings that enable them to fly, almost literally. Most people get that.
As you move progressively towards the red zone of the insanity continuum, you get the scary combination of a snow skier wearing a wingsuit and a parachute skiing down slopes that end in a cliff.
At high speed, just before he hits the lip, so to speak, he sheds his ski poles and leans forward, legs together and arms at his side.
He blasts off the precipice into the vertiginous vacuum. The more daring will perform tricks, such as backflips and somersaults.
Then he pulls a Velcro strap that ejects the skis. The madcap tumble in space morphs from ski stunt to winged flight. Soaring at speeds of almost 300km/h, he follows the contours of the rock face that whip past metres away from his arm – outstretched like a surfer might when he wants to drag a hand in the wave he is riding.
Except this is one giant, immovable wave and made of less-forgiving granite or stone. Look but don’t touch.
One of the pioneers of this exceedingly dangerous mixture of skiing, wingsuit and base jumping was Canadian Shane McConkey.
I met his widow Sherry last week at the premiere of his film at the Wavescape Film Festival called, simply, McConkey.
Originally from the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, Sherri herself has base jumped, rock climbed and mountain biked around the mountains of Lake Tahoe, where she now lives as a single mom with her eight-year-old daughter Ayla.
Red Bull had flown her out espe- cially to attend the premiere. In front of a full house at the Labia, she quietly introduced the film. It took less than 30 seconds. She just said it was special, and she hoped people would enjoy the movie. Her understatement was in stark contrast to the story that followed.
McConkey’s adrenaline-fuelled life began with ski racing as a youngster. He was a candidate for the US ski team but narrowly missed out on selection. He almost became a ski bum after the rejection, but soon found that his crazy disregard for personal safety and a penchant for inventing new ski tricks and even ski designs was a way to secure a career.
He starred in a bunch of extreme ski movies and soon carved a niche as one of the main “go-to” guys for ski stunts.
On an insatiable quest to find bigger thrills, McConkey discovered base jumping and wingsuit flying. For several years he steadily worked his way through the many terrifying types of jumps that comprise the acronym: Buildings, Antennae, Spans ( bridges) and Earth (cliffs and rockfaces).
COLD SHIVERS: Shane McConkey in launch mode during training in Haines in Alaska.