Clair Marie (BASE Girl) was born and raised in a small mountain town outside of South Lake Tahoe, California, and knows all about “getting your piece of the pie” as second eldest in a family of nine siblings. At the ripe old age of 3, the then toddler was first exposed to rock climbing with her father who had taken her on climbing trips throughout California. Indoctrinated into skiing at age 4 and snowboarding by the age of 13, Clair’s love of the outdoors and athleticism led to her becoming one of the youngest BASE jumpers on record. Convincing her mother that she had an opportunity she couldn’t pass up and then locating a jumper to assist her in making her first jump, at 16 years of age she got a taste of life on the edge.
Clair’s BASE jumping has taken her throughout the US and overseas to the big walls of Norway, Switzerland and an Indoor BASE jump which few have experienced just outside of Berlin in Germany. After 9 BASE jumps, she decided to take to the sky and completed her first skydiving tandems, which in the normal scheme of things should have predated the BASE jumping. It wasn’t long before she became a full-time staff member at a California Dropzone packing parachutes for the tandem instructors. Acquiring the jump numbers and experience level she began filming tandem videos and loving each jump more than the last. At 19 years old, she decided to study to become an AFF instructor and earned her certification a few months later, adding the ability to teach students to her list of skills.
Hunter S Thompson said “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’” This is something that I live by! Not fearing death has allowed me to live my life so fully and for that I am eternally grateful.
Sasha Frate: How has your experience as an athlete in BASE jumping guided you to become more present and to live in the moment?
Clair Marie: Every moment in BASE jumping is important. Planning the jump and picking the location, checking weather and landing areas, getting to the exit point, gearing up, jumping and landing are all critical components to making successful jumps over and over again. Having this hyper focus has really taught me to focus on what is going on right now. To plan for the future but not depend on it. Knowing that what I do right now is what will ensure getting to the next moment really changes perspective and highlights what is truly important. Having goals and planning for the future is important but becoming so attached to it that you don’t deviate from the plan is a sure fire way to miss out on so many amazing things in life. Being in the moment is fully experiencing life!
SF: The world record for highest base jump is held by Valery Rozov of Russia, with a jump off Changtse’s north face from a height of 7,220 metres (23,690 ft). Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet of France broke the Guinness World Record for the highest BASE jump from a building with a jump of 828 m (2,716 ft 6 in) off Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower. What are some of your biggest jumps, and what is your dream jump?
CM: I have jumped all over the world. Heights ranging from 160ft tall all the way to the 3-4,000 foot cliffs in Norway and every height in between! Some of the tallest objects I have jumped in the past aside from the cliffs in Norway are a 2,000 foot antenna in the US, 900 foot bridge in the US and a 1,000 foot building in KL Malaysia. Higher jumps aren’t necessarily more exciting than lower jumps. Most of the time it is the other way around. Lower jumps have a higher chance of something going wrong so I am always a little more nervous. Higher jumps yield longer free fall which is always fun! The longer I get to fall the bigger the smile is typically!! Ever since I saw my first strictly BASE video I have wanted to jump in Baffin Island. Huge cliffs deep down frozen Fjords, snow camping, and a month-long excursion all adds to the experience. That is truly the trip I still want to take that I haven’t had the ability to yet!
SF: Red Bull recently ran an article on BASE jumping “play,” that demonstrated the all-out fun and creativity you can really have with your jumps and in-flight. These guys were doing everything from Gainer exits, to hanging drops, wingsuit flights, head-first exits, all kinds of flips and the helicopter exit- explaining that having an extended platform really let them be more creative. Can you explain Gainer and helicopter exists, and what is really gained or lost by using an extended platform?
CM: Each jump will have different components to it. If an exit point is sheer- meaning straight down, or under hung- meaning there is a bulge you have to clear, will dictate the range of exits or flips you can or cannot do. With an extended platform it helps you get further from the object you are jumping from therefore opening up more possibilities for doing aerials as well as hanging exits (which is very rare to see in BASE). It also creates a long runway type path that allows for longer running exits which yield a better push and launch and can help with doing more advanced flips and tricks.
In order to do any aerials, such as front flips and gainers, the object has to be sheer. If it is not, you are greatly increasing your chances of hitting the object rather than clearing it. A gainer can either be done poised (just standing at the exit point), or running from the object, and it entails forward movement combined with a back flip. So it essentially is just a back flip but moving slightly forward away from the object, rather than being stationary or traveling backward. As far as a helicopter jump, I think they are referring to having two people holding both hands in front of them gripping each other, and one person kind of flings himself or herself off the object in a fanning motion, which pulls the other person off, creating a spin that resembles the blades of a helicopter.
There is something addictive to what I do. The ultimate feeling of freedom, being 110% in the moment, not thinking about anything else, and being the one and only thing that gets to decide if I’m going to pull my parachute or not is incredibly freeing and sometimes scary. The most addictive part is after pushing myself close to my limits and I land, my face almost always erupts into a huge smile and it is as if there is not a negative thing in the world.
SF: BASE jumping is considered an extreme adventure sport. Do you feel it is really something anyone can experience, or is it not so much for the faint of heart? What do you believe it takes to be a BASE jumper?
CM: BASE jumping is not for everyone and it is definitely not an easy sport to get into. With that said over the last 10 years it has gotten exponentially easier to become a BASE jumper. Now there are tandem BASE jumps which allow the inexperienced to make one jump which is a huge advance for our sport but at the same time to become a full time jumper there are many steps that need to be taken first. Most BASE courses require 200 skydives to be considered. At which point a person can take a weekend course and make several BASE jumps. I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing as it usually rushes people through and gives them very little hands on experience before just letting them go and jump on their own. Back in 2005 when I learned how to jump it was much harder to get into the sport. If you wanted to learn how to BASE jump you would have to find a mentor who would teach you EVERYTHING. You would stay on the ground for many jumps and just watch, you were taken to many different objects, taught how to pack, how to judge weather and you stayed jumping with that person for months! That type of learning is so much more in-depth, and in my opinion a much better style of learning than a quick crash course. Anyone who is considering getting into BASE jumping should first be very aware of the danger and fully accept the risk, and after that they need to understand that this is a long term learning commitment and not something that is going to happen over night. And finally it is not cheap. Skydiving and BASE jumping can be very expensive and most people will really have to prioritize their lives and finances to make it a reality!
SF: I love your Alice in Wonderland quote “No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.” How do you see this translating into your lifestyle and career as a professional athlete?
CM: Although there is tons of preparation that goes into BASE jumping and most of my adventures it is important not to talk things into the ground. So many people get so caught up in talking about doing things that they forget or no longer have time to do the things they want to. Acting now and going for what you want rather than just talking about what you want is a sure fire way to actually accomplish your dreams or at least make some steps towards it. Talking about things makes people go stagnant. Movement and action prevents that and inspires more adventures, and that is the key. 😉
SF: Clair, you once said “…because we will all be dead soon enough,” noting the importance of living NOW and in response to a wonderful Hemingway quote: “Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with al your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.” What is your take on fear of death and the importance of living now?
CM: Death is something that happens to everyone. It is inevitable so what is the point of dwelling on it. Most of us don’t know how we are going to die, or when and so it is a horrible waste of time to sit around and think about it or be scared of it. The thought of fearing death so much that it dictates what I do in this life scares me more than anything else. So therefore I don’t focus on it. Because we all have a limited time on this earth, why would anyone want to waste it. Hunter S Thompson said “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’” This is something that I live by! Not fearing death has allowed me to live my life so fully and for that I am eternally grateful. I have experienced, in my 26 years on this planet I have had enough experiences, both good and bad, to fill 10 life times! The only thing we truly have for sure is this moment right now, and if we lead our lives with this in mind then not a minute will be wasted.
SF: Do you consider yourself an “adrenaline junky”? Compared to the greater population that tends to stay in the confines of their comfort zones, you’re a rare breed. Once you’ve pushed yourself to these levels, do you feel it becomes an addiction in some way?
CM: I really dislike the term adrenaline junky, because in my mind to be a junky means that something has negatively effected you in some way, and although I have experienced massive emotional pain through the loss of very close friends and people that I love I don’t believe that I have been negatively effected. However, there is something addictive to what I do. The ultimate feeling of freedom, being 110% in the moment, not thinking about anything else, and being the one and only thing that gets to decide if I’m going to pull my parachute or not is incredibly freeing and sometimes scary. The most addictive part is after pushing myself close to my limits and I land, my face almost always erupts into a huge smile and it is as if there is not a negative thing in the world. Everything in that moment is fantastic!
SF: What are some of your favorite ways you balance the extreme outdoors adventure of your sport with downtime?
CM: Contrary to popular belief, I don’t run around doing crazy things all the time. I have a very normal life apart from my sports. I think this is something that people fail to realize about me and many other adventure sports athletes. I cook and clean, but really only enjoy one of those, haha. When I am not doing something active like slack lining or climbing, I really enjoy reading and watching movies. I am hopelessly addicted to movies and have seen far too many! I enjoy working out and doing yoga (at home! I don’t like doing that stuff with lots of other people around), and I have also recently found a passion in drawing. My boyfriend Alex is an incredibly talented artist and really helped me on my way to being able to draw things other than mediocre stick figures! Spending time with friends and going out to eat is also a large part of my life. I am a vegan so food is a pretty big deal, any time one of us finds a new restaurant that has a new vegan option it becomes a thing, and we all like to go and try it out. My down time is spent really normally and I enjoy that!
SF: Many people have at one time or another wished they could experience what it would be like to fly. While this concept may differ a bit from “falling,” how would you describe the experience with your sport in relation to flying?
CM: BASE jumping and wing suiting is as close to human powered flight we can get. The sensation when you feel yourself making the transition from falling straight down to moving forward gives you a momentary glance at what it is like to be a bird. The pressure of the wind across your body makes you feel suspended in the air and as you make distance and create separation from your body and the object you just jumped off you truly feel free, for a brief moment. You get to decide where you want to go in those precious seconds between when you jump and when you have to open your parachute and that is the greatest feeling. Exploring space in the air that you would have never been able to, had you not jumped. It’s exhilarating!
Intuition is a very strong and powerful tool that I believe everyone has, but it has to be nurtured and respected for you to truly be aware of it.
SF: Scientists argue that there is more to our perceptions than our 5 senses alone. What is your take on five-sensory perception versus multisensory perception where the former is focused on what is outside of you and the latter incorporates what is happening within- in other words, intuition or sixth sense? And how do you feel that your experience with your sport forces you or enables you to become more aware of your intuition?
CM: I fully believe in a sixth sense. Intuition is a very strong and powerful tool that I believe everyone has, but it has to be nurtured and respected for you to truly be aware of it. For me, even if everything is lining up for an amazing jump, I always ask myself internally how I feel about it and if at any point I have a bad gut feeling I address it right away by asking myself if everything is going to be fine. If the feeling doesn’t go away when I ask myself that, then I don’t jump. But most importantly I don’t judge myself for not jumping. I trust my intuition. It has never misled me, and I would rather be safe than sorry. I know that there are some people that haven’t developed that side of them, and I think it is unfortunate because it can be very helpful in many different situations. There have been many times where I couldn’t shake the bad feeling and when I chose not to go on a trip or jump a specific object something went wrong with the other jumpers. I believe intuition is a massive tool that we should all utilize, nurture, and help grow.
SF: Clair, one of your fans, Lee from Colorado has asked the following:
I’d like to know, being a parent, do you think your early exposure to rock climbing, skiing, and travel adventures ignited and paved the way to your fearlessness and drive to do the uncommon? Or do you believe it’s in the person? Do you feel you would have turned out the same had you been raised in Omaha, Nebraska and your father had not exposed you to risky activity? What advice would you give fathers out there wanting to bring out the “adventure” in their daughters?
CM: It is really hard for me to say if my early exposure to the outdoors is what led me to do the things I do now. I am one of 9 kids. I have 5 brothers and 3 sisters and out of everyone, who all had the same exposure that I did growing up, I am the only one participates in sports like these. I have 2 brothers age 18 and 20 who are in the military now, and they are the closest to being adventurous. But out of all of us, I definitely am the black sheep of the family.
I do believe that early exposure helps to open a kid’s eyes to the possibilities of the world. To potentially instill a sense of adventure within them, but ultimately I believe it is something that is in us from birth. If that desire is there then we will find a way to explore it regardless of the way we were brought up. Exposure is necessary to expand the possibilities, but I don’t think that early exposure is necessary to leading a life of adventure. It is a burning desire within us that fuels our actions. Show them what is possible, but ultimately let them decide on their own if it is something that they are passionate about. As a parent the only thing you can do is show them what is out there and then support them in what they choose to pursue!