A Different High – Matt McGillivray and BASE jumping

Gra Murdoch
Talking Heads

Matt’s a ripper Sarth Efrican bloke giving the pro surfing caper a good shake. He came disconcertingly close to taking out the ‘All-Aussie’ Woz comp in Caba dribblers in September last year, while his surfing at hefty Sunset and Haleiwa makes power/rail aficionados groan with pleasure. 

In the previous installment of A Different High, Rod Dahlberg shared the joys of whacking a small projectile through space. In this edition, Matty argues the case for BEING the projectile.

Matt McGillivray, 23, 200+ skydives, 80+ BASE jumps

I loved the whole idea of flying as kid. When I was a grommet I was like, “I wanna be an astronaut”. Then I wanted to become a pilot. I was intrigued by birds – anything that flew, really!

I’d always a little scared of heights. But watching YouTube videos as a grom, watching wingsuit BASE jumping and normal BASE jumping, it looked like it was something that should be impossible – it’s just not natural – but people were doing it, and I was captivated.

(Note: from here on we’ll use lower case for BASE jumping, just so it doesn’t sound like Matty’s shouting. BASE is an acronym for the four categories of fixed objects from which to leap: Building, Antenna, Span and Earth.)

It ain't technically impressive, but this photo of Matt mid-flight awed the Swellnet staff, capturing both the simplicity of stepping off and also the grave no-strings-attached consequences of doing so

I knew that when I got old enough, I wanted to pursue base jumping. And the way to do that is to get your skydiving license first. And so in 2015 I started doing my skydiving license at a drop-zone a two hour drive away from J-Bay, where I lived.

I fell in love with skydiving, found it a lot scarier than I thought it was going to be, and it made the idea of base jumping seem a lot more dangerous. So I thought like, 'You know what, I don't think I'm actually going to base jump any day soon. I think I'm satisfied with skydiving…'

The thing is, I‘ve got two older brothers and they’ve always pushed me. After we all got our skydiving licenses, my second oldest brother Jono was adamant that he wanted to pursue base jumping.

To qualify for base jumping, you have to have a lot of skydives – like 200 jumps – under your belt, just to build up the experience, so you know how to fly the canopy safely. 

And so in 2018, once we’d built up our skydiving numbers, Jono signed up for a base jumping course over in the States, in Twin Falls, Idaho. He was like, “Hey, I'm going to do this with or without you, do you want to come?” 

I HAD to say yes. I couldn't let him go alone and something we’d dreamed of together.

We spent two weeks learning how to base jump, how to pack the parachute correctly, and all the dangers you have to look out for, just to try to minimise the risks, do it as safely as possible. 

We did just under 50 base jumps in a fortnight. 

Dad bought us both our own parachutes when we got home. We've got a couple of nice objects to jump off in South Africa. Capetown's a mecca for base jumping, with Table Mountain and the surrounding mountains, and about an hour drive from Jeffrey's Bay, there's the Bloukrans Bridge, which is the world's highest bungee jump at 216 meters. There’s more cliffs and bridges too. And so whenever I'm home, I try to do a couple of base jumps with my brother.

Lobbing off the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa

The family dynamic’s played a big role. My dad Donald’s always been very adventurous and always encouraged us to face our fears; always took us into the deep end doing stuff. 

I've always been very competitive with both my older brothers, Jono and David. They started surfing and I wanted to be like them, so that’s how I got into surfing. I was always following their lead and trying to reach their level, then try to beat them. Their pushing me has really helped everything I’d achieved so far.

It’s well known how dangerous base jumping is. In my 80 jumps, I’ve never had an incident, but Jono, who’s got well over 100 jumps under his belt, has had one or two moments.  

He was jumping off Table Mountain one time. There was a narrow platform that you had to balance on, and as he jumped, he lost his body position a bit and his parachute opened facing the wrong way, facing towards the mountain. And before he had time to turn it around, as the parachute opened, he just bounced, smack bang into a ledge. 

We've got very good protective gear, like downhill mountain biking, chest pads, back pads, knee guards, BMX helmet. So he was actually unscathed, a little bruised, but nothing serious. He was stuck on the ledge and had to climb back up the cliff and then catch the cable car back down. 

The most dangerous thing about base jumping is...well, you’re always going to open your parachute in time - your instincts are going to make that happen - but if it opens open facing the wrong way, and you hit the mountain, that's where most of the fatalities and injuries occur.

As much as you do everything you can to control the variables, like packing your parachute perfectly, the variables are there. There's wind, jumping in less-than-ideal conditions – a breeze can take your parachute and pull you into the cliff face, or it can open facing the wrong way if your body position’s wrong. So you definitely make sure you’re in control of everything you CAN control. Be rigorous.

You’ve also got to have a strong confidence in your abilities. 

I haven't been back home in over a year, so I haven't base jumped for over a year now!

I'm going to have to take it very slowly to get back into it.

I was missing it a lot at first. Just because you get the taste for the adrenaline, and you kind of crave it, but now I think, over time, my tolerance to adrenaline's dropped now. 

I can't wait to go back home and do it again, but I’ll definitely find it scary to confront. There's no rush, really, I'm focused on my surfing career and don’t want to jeopardise the opportunity I’ve got by getting injured.

Low risk air from Matty

Base jumping is a crazy feeling. You've got ALL THIS adrenaline… Beforehand, you’re questioning yourself, you're like, 'Should I do this?' It’s easy to walk away, but you keep focused on making sure all the cards are stacked in your favour, that your parachute's packed correctly, that you're happy with the conditions, and that you know EXACTLY what you're going to do when you jump off. 

Just before jumping… My palms get sweaty thinking about it! Your hands are shaking, like you're peaking. And then once you jump off, it's surreal because time slows down, and you’re STRAIGHT into the zone. 

You know how athletes talk about being ‘in the zone’ when they’re competing? How they’re not thinking about anything, they’re just completely aware of the surroundings, and have that 100 percent focus and clarity? That's what happens when you jump. And yeah, it’s a good feeling. You’re not thinking at all, you're just reacting, instincts take over. 

Once you land on the ground, you have time for your thoughts to catch up, and then you get that wave of adrenaline when you realise what’s just happened. 

And it's pretty cool, because it's something that shouldn't be possible, like humans aren’t supposed to fly, but they go ahead and do it. 

As far as wingsuit flying goes...geez, that’s a whole other level of risk and reward right there. 

Ironically, the wingsuit was developed to make base jumping safer – with a wingsuit you can fly AWAY from the cliff, so if your parachute opens facing the wrong way, you have a ton of time to correct yourself. 

But then humans love pushing the limits, and now they use them to fly closer and closer to those cliffs they were once avoiding. I heard a stat saying that once you start wingsuit base jumping, on average you have six years left to live.

I don't know if that's true or not, but it’s the ultimate sport and the ultimate risk. It's a dream I have to pursue one day, but if it happens, it’ll be once I'm done with my surfing career.

I think base jumping has taught me how to stay calm under pressure, and handle having a lot of adrenaline. So in that sense it might be helpful to my surfing.

But apart from the rush and the fact you’re out in nature, it’s a completely different sport to surfing. Which is cool. I love them both!

// MATT McGILLIVRAY (as told to GRA MURDOCH)

Comments

garyg1412's picture
garyg1412's picture
garyg1412 Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 2:22pm

You gotta be some kind of special to do that stuff. This clip puts that bridge jump of his all in perspective. No thanks!!

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 2:24pm

Well that's it- I'm going to take up wing suit base jumping when I'm 94.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 2:31pm

So BASE is Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth.

But a span is just a bridge, right?

Reckon the pioneers chose span intead of bridge cos the alternative doesnt quite have the gravitas they were aiming for?

Jono's picture
Jono's picture
Jono Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 2:42pm

Well it was good foresight from the pioneers in pre-Google times, because when you Google 'babe jumping' it definitely doesn't have the gravitas they were aiming for.

Fathom50's picture
Fathom50's picture
Fathom50 Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 7:31am

No. I'm thinking they used Span because BABE jumping was going a bridge too far.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 2:38pm

Anyhoo...makes the jump into the foam pit at the High Performance Centre look a bit tame.

boxright's picture
boxright's picture
boxright Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 2:45pm

Funny how he even speaks about it in cross-training terms. How it helps him with aspects of surfing, handle adrenaline, be diligent etc

shoredump's picture
shoredump's picture
shoredump Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 5:26pm

“I heard a stat saying that once you start wingsuit base jumping, on average you have six years left to live” - haha wow

BASE jumping looks and sounds awesome Matt, good on ya. Definitely ballsy to go through with it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and might find the time one day hopefully. I’ve got a skydiving license and a pilots licence already so it’s something I’ve always been interested in. I really like the idea of climbing the mountain too, before the BASE jump. That whole process would be incredible.

I remember my first skydive, sitting under the “gravity sux” sticker, when the instructor opens the door to spot the dz. I’m thinking “shut the door man someone could fall out” anyway it was terrifying until we climb out on the strut and then you realise your out the side of an aeroplane hanging on, about to jump. Crazy adrenalin rush.
I didn’t go looking for it there but the closest thing I’ve found to riding a barrel is landing an aircraft on a runway. They call it threading the needle, the final approach, but that’s only because they don’t know the surfing feeling hehe. To land a plane it’s all about constant minor adjustments to your forward / rearward momentum and also constantly adjusting the lateral plane. Just like a tube really, if you are locked into your line all stiff you will fail, the correct way is to feel it and flow with it.
Good luck on the tour Matt, I like you even more now

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 7:10pm

Was on that path towards BASE jumping when I was younger but lost a really good mate to it. Did the bounce off the cliff that he talks about. He lived and recovered but dropped dead later on through complications.
I’ll stick to surfing.

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 9:43pm

I’ve skydived and bungee jumped once. I reckon the feeling of BASE jumping or wingsuit flying would be incredible.

That said, I’ve lost a mate in a wingsuit accident. Canadian guy that I worked with in Whistler. He ripped on a snowboard and was always looking to push it. Got into skydiving, then BASE and finally wingsuits. Very experienced but it’s a very high risk sport.

RIP buddy.

Here he is an action. https://vimeo.com/248418492

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Monday, 15 Mar 2021 at 10:06pm

That was Wild !

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 12:19am

Totally.

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 7:01am

I've done 3 x parachute jumps. On the 3rd one I shat myself (not literally) just after the canopy released after the 30 second freefall.

When I landed I thought, right, that'll do me. I just reckon the odds of something bad happening when you do those sort of things are pretty good if you do it often enough.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 7:13am

For sure
That poor fella in W.A. the other day had done over 6000 jumps apparently
then......Shute didnt open.

groundswell's picture
groundswell's picture
groundswell Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 7:27am

I hope it wasn't Corey Vandepolder (cronulla charger sometimes living in Perth )or one of his mates ill check on Facebook.

nextswell's picture
nextswell's picture
nextswell Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 7:56am

Hardcore. Love his idea of protective equipment. Like Seinfeld said ‘ skydiver wearing a helmet, the helmet is using you for protection’. Hats off to them but they can have it. I’ll stick to surfing.

Supafreak's picture
Supafreak's picture
Supafreak Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 8:08am
lucky-al's picture
lucky-al's picture
lucky-al Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 6:53pm
lucky-al's picture
lucky-al's picture
lucky-al Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 7:30pm

Some more recent follow-up research here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00586-016-4381-z

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 10:19am

And a sad reminder of just how dangerous this sport is.

Stay safe Matt and RIP old mate.

https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/incidents/fly-high-tribute...

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 10:52am

Incredible wingsuit footage.

From what I can gather the 'crack' - Schattenbach canyon - is about 1.5km from the peak he jumped off. Impressive distance considering the rate he's falling.

And if you think he goes close to the ground at the 1:40 mark, check his Table Mountain jump where he actually hits a ledge.

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 10:57am

I wonder how the adrenaline rush from wingsuit flying etc compares to surfing?

Same as pulling into a Pipe or Chopes bomb? Or even more intense?

Jono's picture
Jono's picture
Jono Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 11:26am

Niccolo Porcella would be able to answer that one:

Jono's picture
Jono's picture
Jono Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 11:31am

Also there's a chance that Niccolo moonlights by leading a gang of well organised bank robbers, but I can't confirm that.

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 3:46pm

What a hellman! Cheers Jono.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 11:41am

The man can fly in a wingsuit, and surf Chopes and Jaws, but none of that holds a candle to his real talent: doing the splits in tight jeans.

Jono's picture
Jono's picture
Jono Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 11:49am

Yes! Must be a Van Damme fan, his stock just went up even more in my books.

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 12:37pm

Good interview.

Wingsuit flying is fascinating, and I can imagine how bloody incredible it would feel.

I'll stay away from it, though. Nothing must go wrong, and you'd have to be a total perfectionist and very thorough. I'm neither.

I like my risky pursuits to be a little 'looser', so will stick with surfing and skiing too fast.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 2:01pm

I'm gonna stick with binge drinking and skinny dipping.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 2:25pm

...you given up putting dog shit in your pockets?

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 2:32pm

Ahhh., I never said I put them in my pockets, I only warm my hands for a few seconds through the bag.

What do you think I am, weird or something?

Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 4:12pm

In the next Installment of A Different High, we talk with Zenagain about.. oh hang on, I'm gonna vom...

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 4:02pm

Every time I pick up my dog's stinky poo I think about you, Zen, and your handwarmers.

Damaged for life.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 16 Mar 2021 at 6:53pm

Mission accomplished IB.

If we ever cross paths I'll be sure to high-five you.

(just make sure It's not winter)

Island Bay's picture
Island Bay's picture
Island Bay Wednesday, 17 Mar 2021 at 4:42am

Looking forward to it :-)

The MIDdleman.'s picture
The MIDdleman.'s picture
The MIDdleman. Wednesday, 17 Mar 2021 at 8:25am

Hangglide gentleman.

Literally flying on waves.

Cannot recommend it highly enough.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Saturday, 20 Mar 2021 at 7:54am
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups Wednesday, 31 Mar 2021 at 11:25am

I have the utmost respect for base jumpers. I think you can safely use the word extreme in relation to what they do and not feel like you're overstating things in any way. Not for me though, I'll stick to gardening and snorkeling as my non surf activities.
That quip about the wingsuit guys having six years to live reminds me about that old saying...
"There's old pilots and there's bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots."