Winging it! Exweb interview with Joby Ogwyn

Posted: Oct 11, 2012 05:10 am EDT

(Tina Sjogren) We were researching Hungarian David Klein for the upcoming Pakistan winter games when a familiar face showed up: American Joby Ogwyn.

A new line (variant) on Makalu with the Spaniards and Inaki in 2004; one year later with Simone Moro on Batura II (at 7.762m then the highest unclimbed peak); Everest speed climb, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, attempts on K2 and Broad Peak...where was Joby now?

BASE jumping and wing-suit flying has taken over his life the last six years, Joby told us when we found him - headed for the worlds in China.

The sport is blowing up, and many cross adventurers have their eyes on it. Such as ExWeb's Tina, who checked in with Joby for the scoop. Here goes.

ExplorersWeb: I climbed Everest and have 20 hours piloting Cessna to cure my fear of heights. Still I'm not comfortable up there. Lately I've found myself glancing at the wingsuit videos. What would you tell someone like me? (Should I or shouldn't I :)

Joby: I have always had a fear of heights as well. I started to climb in part to get over it and I did. Now I am BASE jumping and flying wing-suits which is amazing. I would say to those interested to take to the sky, make sure you are going in 100%. BASE jumping is not something you try, you only go to do.

ExplorersWeb: Seriously, the videos look terrifying. You are a climber. In comparison, how dangerous is it? Everest no 02? K2 north face?

Joby: Climbing can be much more dangerous that BASE jumping and wing-suit flying. Even though dozens of people (and friends) have died every year in BASE, climbing is in my opinion more dangerous. In BASE you only jump in perfect conditions and once you land you are out of harms way. In mountaineering you must stay in the danger zone for days.

ExplorersWeb: How does it work? How are parachutes and wings used together?

Joby: There is BASE jumping and then there is wing-suit BASE. Unlike climbing, it takes many years to put it all together.

I learned to skydive, then BASE jump. I then learned to skydive with the wing-suit. Then after two years of training, I was jumping from cliffs with the suit.

When I first started jumping the idea was to fly away from the big walls and be safe. Now we are jumping off cliffs, turning into them and proximity flying just inches away from the rock. A very powerful experience.

We still have to land so we have a parachute system (just one canopy) that you pull at the last moment so you can land safely.

ExplorersWeb: How does gear and skill differ wing gliding from a cliff vs a plane?

Joby: BASE jumping is very different from skydiving from a plane. In skydiving you jump from 13,000ft wearing a skydive rig that has two parachutes. If one has a malfunction you can cut it away and use the other one to land. Plus you have a lot of altitude to play with. Many thousands of people around the world enjoy this sport.

For BASE it is very different. Everything goes down much faster. You have only one parachute so you have to make it work no matter what. Also you are jumping from high cliffs and mountains like the Eiger in Switzerland.

You only have a few thousand feet and unlike skydiving you have the ability to fly very close to the mountains and cliff faces. Many people in the last years have died trying to get too close to the rock.

ExplorersWeb: If I recall it right I've seen wing suiters land without a chute. How common is it, and how hard?

Joby: Yes some guys have landed without opening a parachute. One man, Gary Connery from the UK set up a stunt using cardboard boxes, called a box catcher. It is a common stuntman rig used for high falls mostly.

He jumped from a helicopter and flew into the boxes and it worked. He did not even get a scratch. Everyone in the BASE community thought he would die or get hurt bad but in the end he was ok and what a great story.

I had another friend who got too close and simply landed in some trees in France. By a miracle he only broke his leg and arm. I try to land by parachute only :)

ExplorersWeb: How difficult is it, technically? What kind of, and how much/often, practice is needed?

Joby: BASE jumping and wing-suit flying takes a lot of time and practice to improve and stay current. In climbing you have to run and train to stay fit but flying is more technical and takes much more time and resources.

I train at the dropzone in California most weekends to stay current and to test new wing-suit designs. Every year there is a new suit and it takes time to figure out how to fly it.

ExplorersWeb: Can it be made safe( r )? How?

Joby: BASE jumping and wing-suit flying is VERY dangerous and I never recommend it to anyone. Climbing is something for example you can do and enjoy without having to always go for 8000 meter peaks etc. BASE jumping is what it is every time.

Whether you jump from a building or bridge, or a cliff or mountain the danger is always the same. You must be fully committed each jump and be willing to pay the ultimate price.

ExplorersWeb: One British paper claimed more jockeys die than base jumpers. Is it true? Do you have any reliable jumps/fatality numbers for the sport?

Joby: No way jockeys die more than BASE jumpers I think. BASE takes out more and more people every year. Still the equipment and training available today is very very good. For BASE stats a good resource is

ExplorersWeb: If you do a wing glide in California, at 10,000 ft, how will it differ from Himalaya, at 25' or so? (You landed at 17' in 2010, how was that?) Cold, heat, humidity - fall winds? Are they worse or better using a wing suit compared to a kite?

Joby: A wing-suit flight in California during a routine skydive we jump at around 13,000ft. I jumped from about 8000 meters next to Everest in 2010 and it was a very different experience.

For one it was colder, much colder. However, the O2 systems kept me warm. Once I was flying I was able to fly much faster than normal because of the cold air and high altitude. It was a magnificent flight. I flew for two and a half minutes before pulling my parachute. My landing was pretty soft too for landing at over 17,000 ft.

It was the first time anyone had ever used a BASE parachute to land at such high altitude. It was also the first time anyone had ever flown a wing-suit next to the tallest mountain in the world. It was very satisfying and I already have plans to go back for many more flights and projects in the Himalayas.

ExplorersWeb: You and Simone Moro, both rock climbers/speed climbers/high altitude mountaineers and sky jumpers, were practically room mates in Italy when we first started to cover you a decade ago. He went on to heli flying and you to wing gliding. Who inspired who?

Joby: Yes Simone and I have both found flight in different ways which is very interesting. We were always interested in the same things and enjoyed learning new skills.

I started BASE jumping and wing-suits for a TV show I made for National Geographic a few years ago. I introduced Simone to the guy who coached me for the show and he was hooked. About that time he started flying choppers. He did his training very close to my house in California and we sometimes flew around town as he was getting his hours which was great.

I could see he was very focused to make projects with the helicopter and so we started to talk about him dropping me off in the wing-suit for different projects.

Now we are discussing several projects in the Himalayas. This will be the next level of wing-suit flight and I will be making it happen next year.

When it comes to flight I think Simone and I inspired each other. It was a new way to engage nature and explore the mountains. I think we are always looking for new ways to see the world.

ExplorersWeb: Which is coolest, heli or wing :) he, he

Joby: Heli and wing-suits go hand in hand. This summer I jumped more out of helicopters than I did from cliffs. So I guess in my mind they are of equal importance :)

ExplorersWeb: The sport is developing fast. Only some years back it was unthinkable to fly between trees and inside gorges. When wingers grab a beer, what do you discuss will be possible in the future?

Joby: Wing-suiting has come a long way in a short time. Each year we see people pushing the limits and inspiring us all. I never thought I would be able to do what I do now on a regular basis and also make a good living from it. I think as far as wing-suiting is concerned we are only at the beginning of what is possible.

My best friend Jeb Corliss and I have plans to do some things in the Himalayas that will blow people away. We are going to take it to a whole new level where others will not follow at all. We are looking forward to next year very much.

ExplorersWeb: What's your take on Baumgartner's space jump attempt? (And David's winter Nanga attempt?)

Joby: I don’t know Felix personally but I think his space jump is awesome. I had been in discussions about doing the same project many years ago with another company. But in the end Red Bull has the money to do it right and Felix is the guy for the job. It is about technology more than skill but it will be interesting to watch it go down. I wish him great success.

David is a great friend. We had some amazing adventures together. David is a great person, very special. I wish we had more time to spend together and make expeditions. I always admire how he is able to find sponsors and make his expeditions which is very difficult.

I think he will have his hands full in Pakistan. I always get the “winter report” from Simone and from everything he tells me it is just hard core from start to finish. I am wishing David safety and success for his trip to Nanga Parbat.

ExplorersWeb: Personally I plan to go to Mars. Trouble is, the atmosphere there is about one third of ours in altitude, and the air is much thinner. So I'll come in really fast and sharp (from a mothership that will be
stationed in orbit). Parachuting will be difficult. I'll need to stay airborne as long as possible. How would you use a wing suit in this situation (if you had to)? Would you use personal rockets for the final stage, say 20 ft or so, of the landing? Has such a wings/rocket combo been tried on Earth?

Joby: Wow Mars, that sounds incredible. You always go big :) Well I think the wing-suits will have to improve from what they are now to help you in this quest. Right now they are simple and made of nylon. I think a two stage parachute system like the one Felix will use to slow him from such high altitude and speed would be a good option. You might also want to borrow his suit :)

ExplorersWeb: Do you still climb?

Joby: I have not climbed in a few years except for climbing to BASE jump. My last expedition for climbing was 2008. I ran out of O2 on the summit of Everest and had to get down alone. I was in bad shape but made it down unassisted to BASE camp in one day. When I got there I found out my great friend Inaki Ochoa had died on Annapurna. I was very sad and destroyed.

I just lost some on my energy for climbing and had just found BASE and wingsuits so I focused my energy on that. I think I just needed something new in my life. In BASE I found a whole new group of friends. I became a part of the BASE community and spent less time in the Himalayas. Now when I think of going to Himalayas it is only to fly. I do however know that I will climb again. But this time it will end in a jump rather than a long slog down the mountain.

ExplorersWeb: The world-wing in China - what's that about?

Joby: The WWL world wingsuit league is a new competition. It was created by some of my friends and I as a way to turn wing-suiting into a real competitive sport. I am in China right now and we are having the race in the floating mountains of the Tienman. The best 16 wing-suit pilots from around the world are here and we start practice jumps tomorrow.

The event is sponsored by Red Bull China and the cable car company that runs the mountain. It is the longest cable car in the world. We did a demonstration here last year and it was watched live by over half a billion people in Asia. We hope to get close to that number again this year. The race is won by the best time and speed. There is a big cash prize for the top three pilots.

ExplorersWeb Who are the top three names in wing-gliding to watch in your opinion?

Joby: There are some really good pilots out there these days. My buddy Jeb Corliss is the most famous and is one of the best for sure. I am good friends with Jokke Sommer and he is always crushing it. I started jumping in 2007 with a guy named Alexander Polli. He is a crazy dude for sure but he has become a great pilot too.

Joby just produced a 3-D movie for Discovery, and is now working on IMAX. You can see his new 3-D documentary “Wingmen” on 3Net, Discovery’s all 3-D channel next month and on the main Discovery Channel next year in HD. You can also see his stunt work as a wing-suit pilot in the new Will Smith action movie “After Earth” coming out summer 2013. Joby and his cameraman did the wing-suit sequences in Switzerland on the Eiger and some other peaks. The movie is about $200 million and directed by M. Night Shamalan.

Place of residence: Los Angeles California.
Family: Married to an Italian girl "Simone introduced me to."
Work: Producer and stuntman.
Hobbies: Making wing-suit videos and playing ping pong with Jeb.
5 top accomplishments in your life:
1) making the first wing-suit flight next to Everest.
2) first man to fly around all four faces of the Matterhorn in a wing-suit.
3) three jumps from the Eiger north face in one day. And jumping the High Eiger from near the summit.
4) Climbing Cho Oyo in just 8 hours from the base of the route with no O2, no Sherpa and no partner. (2004)
5) Surviving an avalanche on Batura II in Pakistan with Simone. Glad I am still here.
"Impossible dream" you'd like to attempt: I would like to make the biggest BASE jump in the world from a Himalayan peak. I have plans for this next year with Jeb.
1-2 people who inspire you: I am inspired by my good friends, Jeb Corliss and Simone Moro. They are the best pilots I know.
Quote that inspires you: Don’t hesitate, Activate! JOBY OGWYN
Word of wisdom for the next gen: I think the next generation will have to find new ways to explore and get away from the normal crowded places, even Himalayas. I say go away from crowds and find your own action.
Next expedition:My next expedition will probably be spring 2013 in Himalayas. I am looking to make some big flights there for a new project. We’ll see…

Joby's website (with all videos)

More on Joby at


ExWeb record jump current: word from private space suit designer and wing suit glider about Baumgartner attempt

Karakoram 2008 Season's end Chronicle

ExWeb's tribute to Inaki Ochoa: When good men die

ExWeb interview with Iñaki Ochoa, part 2 final: “Everest, the way it is climbed nowadays, is by far the easiest of the 8,000ers”

ExWeb interview with Inaki Ochoa: No fear, no regrets – just stay alive to keep climbing

Baruntse, Batura and Everest: Simone Moro cleans the air

Batura II: Expedition over – Joby avalanched


#Mountaineering #Air #topstory #feature

"I learned to skydive, then BASE jump. I then learned to skydive with the wing-suit..."
"...then after two years of training, I was jumping from cliffs with the suit."
Image by Joby Ogwyn, SOURCE
Joby is in China for a race by the best 16 wing-suit pilots from around the world. A demonstration last year was watched live by over half a billion people in Asia.
About his friend David Klein's (left, Joby right) winter attempt of Nanga Parbat: "I think he will have his hands full in Pakistan."
Image by ActionTeamPlan courtesy ActionTeamPlan
About the space jump: "had the same thought."
courtesy Red Bull Stratos, SOURCE
With Inaki in 2007. "My last expedition for climbing was 2008. I ran out of O2 on the summit of Everest and had to get down alone [...] When I got there I found out my great friend Inaki Ochoa had died on Annapurna. [...] I just lost some on my energy for climbing and had just found BASE and wingsuits so I focused my energy on that."
Joby's climbing buddy, fellow sky diver and heli pilot Simone Moro on Batura II. "We are discussing several projects in the Himalayas," Joby says. "This will be the next level of wing-suit flight and I will be making it happen next year."
"I would like to make the biggest BASE jump in the world from a Himalayan peak. I have plans for this next year with Jeb."
courtesy Joby Ogwyn, SOURCE

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