Naked Bobsledding And Paragliding Into Icy Lakes

11

I thought I’d led a pretty adventurous life, up until asking a bunch of REIZE athletes for their best ‘crazy moments’. To me, getting smashed backwards onto my ass whilst rocking off at my local point-break (and then facing the slippery walk of shame) was quite a funny story. When the same thing happened to one of my mates, I thought it was a legendary story. But it seems we have been outdone. Todays first ‘moment’ comes from Mark Crocker, larrikin photographer, who tells us about that one night in Whistler…



“Me, my brother, and my mate Pringles thought it would be a good idea to check out the Olympic bobsled track at night and one thing led to another... We ended up naked, sliding down the track from the top of the course doing around 80 kilometers an hour, in garbage bin lids. There were meetings following the event (we were lift operators for Whistler Blackcomb) entailing that if anyone was caught in the bobsled area they would be deported… hahaha”

The next ‘moment’, shared by Brooke Whatnall (another athlete keeping the “mad Aussie” image going strong overseas) describes how he almost came a cropper pushing the limits of acro-paragliding, only to be saved by a pretty French Mademoiselle…

“Its funny to look back and have a laugh now, but it was one of my scariest flying moments. I was training over Lake Annecy in April, with my coach Michael Muldoon. I was learning flat spin under his tuition over the lake, as water provides a far softer touchdown. So far flat spin had been going well, I would fly out - get to the correct position above the lake, and bury one brake handle. The wing would fall back on one side and settle into a flat spin, much like how a helicopter blade rotates. My body would get thrown around with the wing and my brain was trying to keep up. After one rotation, I would let up the spun brake, stop the diving glider and fly away.

After one week of this I explained to Michael that I was ready for the next thing, now that I had mastered spin. He gave me his usual speech on how I had to keep training, to keep gaining an understanding of the maneuver, and not to progress too fast. Anyway, on the way up the mountain it snowed rather heavily. Annecy in April - for anyone who has not been there - is remarkably beautiful but horrendously cold. Sitting on launch, it occurred to me for the first time that I had no idea what to do if I were to throw my reserve, and go in the lake. There was no boat in the lake and I was training with no life jacket. There was snow 400m above the lake and the water was around 6 degrees. Michael calmly explained that I simply unclip all but one leg strap of my harness on the way down, and as I touch into the water, unclip the last leg strap and swim to shore. He had a unique way of explaining this in a calming and confidence-inspiring manner. 

So like any other day, I flew out over the lake, and buried one brake. I let the glider rotate like every other spin that week, but on the exit, I felt I stopped the rotation a little too fast. The glider stopped and my body kept rotating. Suddenly I was twisted, glider flying backwards and everything very confusing. I pulled what I thought was the correct brake, and suddenly I was spiraling out of control down towards the lake. I felt true adrenaline for the first time, panicked and reached for my reserve handle. I tugged, felt the weight of the reserve and threw out with everything I had. 

An instant later I felt a strong pull from my shoulders, the reserve had opened, but my malfunctioned glider had wrapped itself around my legs. I was now looking at a sea of icy cold, alpine-lake water below, with no boat in sight. I did as Michael instructed and prepared for the worst - unclipped most of my straps and BAM! Touchdown in the lake was a harsh shock to the system - my body went into instant shock. Skin started going numb and my already racing heart went up another notch. I struggled to tread water and unclip my last remaining leg strap, as the foam back of my harness kept me face down in the icy water. Now, I realized, a life jacket would have been a fantastic idea.

I somehow managed to tread water sideways while holding onto the floating harness, but steadily 200m of floating lines from the glider started wrapping up my feet and legs, restricting my ability to tread water. I knew I would not last long like this. Luckily Michael had landed at the edge of the lake and talked the local French school into launching their small rescue boat, moored at the edge of the lake. 

The longest five minutes of my life were soon up and I had a very cute French girl reaching out to give me a lift onto the boat. I am forever grateful for the swift rescue of the French flying school that day. It definitely gave me a wakeup call; as to thinking you know a maneuver, until it bites you. It also gave that French flying school a good collection of material to make jokes about the crazy Australian pilot, who threw himself into freezing lake water.

Check out the video of that crash below, and stay tuned for some more hair REIZING stories soon.

Written by James Booth