On Saturday the 12th of November 2016, Jai Campion officially became the first ever wingsuit pilot to do the jump near Uluru, Central Australia, and we were lucky enough to capture it on film!
(From 12,000 ft Jai jumped out of the plane - you can see the reflection of Voyages Ayers Rock Resort in his visor!)
For those of you that have no idea what all this means, let me explain. First of all, wingsuit flying is possibly the most badass extreme sport in existence. Essentially it requires donning a specialized jumpsuit that is reminiscent of a sugar glider, called a wingsuit. Wingsuits are sometimes referred to as 'flying squirrel suits' , 'bird man suits' or ''bat suits". The pilot then climbs to the top or the side of something (perhaps a magnificent cliff face, a soaring skyscraper or even a tall bridge, for example) or gets into an aeroplane - and then jumps, hurling themselves into the air, speeding towards the ground. Wearing the wingsuit allows for the closest human experience to flying like a bird - soaring above tree tops, gliding through clouds and performing impressive stunts. Using the wings of the suit, the pilot is able to control lift, enabling controlled glide manoeuvres. A normal flight ends with the deployment of a parachute for landing as there is not yet a technique for effectively slowing down the pilot enough for a safe landing.
The experienced pilot may be able to reduce their speed to as slow as 48km/h or as fast as 250km/h (if the wind is in their favour) !! There is even a particular wingsuit discipline referred to as 'proximity flying' which has to be one of the most incredible airborne feats in human history. My heart races just hearing about it. These pilots are constantly pushing the boundaries of their own abilities and the capabilities of the suits, regularly traveling at speeds of around 200km/h just meters or even centimeters from jagged cliff faces, rock formations, trees or buildings.
If that doesn't make you sweat, add in the fact that any kind of wingsuit flying is literally over 100 times more dangerous than regular skydiving and you have a recipe for the ultimate adrenaline rush.
So, back to the story...Adelaide born Jai Campion completed his ever first skydive in December 2009 in Nagambie, just north of Melbourne. Only 3 months later he was jumping out a plane wearing a wingsuit for the first time. Always seeking new challenges, he then took an interest in the daredevil sport of BASE (Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth) jumping soon after.
At 34 years of age, Jai has completed almost 6,000 jumps, over 800 of them (and counting) have been while wearing a wingsuit. He is currently working as a tandem master (or "TM") skydive instructor for Skydive Uluru until his next big adventure. Jai has traveled all over the world following his passion and spends most of his time switching between working as a skydive instructor, and working as a wingsuit instructor, sometimes schooling as many as 16 flyers at a time!
When I met with Jai the morning of the jump he was almost shaking he was so nervous. One might have assumed it was because he was about to jump out of an plane at 12,000ft but it didn't take long to realize it was his on camera interview that had him all shook up. However as soon as he began talking about his passion for skydiving his eyes lit up and he totally relaxed. "It's pure, pure freedom," he said "You're not thinking about any problems you might have, you're just totally stuck in the moment of flying."
The plan was for Jai to jump out of the plane at midday from 3.5km above the township of Yulara, which is located just outside the boundary of the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park in the Northern Territory, Central Australia. No-one before had piloted a wingsuit at this location and the team at Skydive Uluru were pumped to see Jai and the suit in action.
What really surprised me, although it shouldn't have, was Jai's total calm the entire time. "I think that [skydiving] teaches you a lot about yourself and the people around you...What's important and what's not." He says.
Watching his GoPro footage just before he jumps, he is seen practicing deep breathing techniques as he moves his mind into a zen-like "reactive" state. He says this helps him to respond in an emergency with the training he has drilled into his mind, without letting other thoughts get in the way, so that nothing can impede on his crucial response time. "[You are] purely at one with yourself and the elements of nature" Jai recalls. There is a moment in the video when he closes his eyes, completely embracing the feeling of free falling, before he rolls on to his stomach and begins gliding through the air using his temporary wings. You can feel the sense of freedom that encompasses him.
Skydiving above this landscape certainly provides a spectacular view, you can see the vast expanse of spinefex grass, red earth and not to mention the unique perspective of the majestic Uluru.
As Jai came in to land, his gleaming smile was obvious and he couldn't stop himself from letting out a few animated "F*** yeahs!" as soon as his feet touched the ground. The change in him was incredible to witness, from a state of total focus and calm before the jump, to a state of total ecstasy! High fives were shared and we loaded ourselves in the van to head back to Yulara. Although the trip home was short, we had time to experience a moment of silence as we all shared in Jai's joy. His gleaming eyes and wide smile reminding us to find and then follow our happiness, just as he has.
Often inspiring others in his travels, when asked about his own inspirations he reveals Australian BASE jumper Nate Jones as one of his idols. Jones, amongst many other pursuits, is the co-founder of Project BASE which aims to "implement support, care and health through charity inspired by the exploration of human flight". In 2015 Project BASE raised $11,000 to benefit local communities in Ethiopia. The money went towards improving and providing many life essentials such as restoring and building water wells that now provide locals with clean, fresh and useable drinking water. (http://watercharity.com/project-base-water-charity-partnership)
Jai also lists Robert Pecnik (founder of Pheonix-Fly and co-founder of BirdMan International, Inc) and Jarno Cordia (test-pilot for Pheonix-fly, BASE jumper and aerial cinematogr
Some of the things that really stood out to me while meeting Jai are his passion for this sport, his love of the present moment and his appreciation for the things he has accomplished in life. He focuses on the positive and urges everyone he meets to follow their happiness. "Don't doubt yourself," He Says "Anybody can do anything. You've just gotta have the guts to get out there and enjoy it."
After meeting Jai and being inspired by his attitude towards life, I knew I had to help share his story.
Scroll down for some behind the scenes photos of Jai's big day!
The landing site: The jump: Uluru to the left, Kata Tjuta to the right, what a view!: Look at that smile!: "Now you know why the birds are all singing" (Quoted from Neil Fergie, apf.asn.au):
To keep up to date with Jai, to sign up for his latest workshop or to simply be inspired by his adventurous lifestyle, head to his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/jai.campion
Stay tuned for the video!
Neither my team nor myself have received any money or any form of sponsorship to publish this story or film this event, it was captured purely in this spirit of sharing our stories as humans in order to inspire each other to live our lives to the fullest.