Clair Marie, BASE Jumper
RCL adventure correspondent Kinga Philipps chats with the stunt woman, rock climber and model.
If Wonder Woman and Supergirl are superheroes of the fictional variety that fly through the air and fight for justice, then Clair Marie is the real deal. BASE Girl is her moniker, her resume has more descents through the clouds than certain jets and one of her moral cornerstones is to support other women … even dedicating a page on her website to inspirational gals. Don’t let her good looks fool you. This firecracker in a parachute, whose playground is the unattached portion of the troposphere, has done the work to get to where she is, which is probably perched on a cliff somewhere that would scare the bejesus out of the average biped.
At the age of three, when most of us are just learning to navigate stairs, Clair was introduced to rock climbing. By the ripe ole milestone of 16, she became one of the youngest BASE jumpers in the history of the sport. By 19, she was an accelerated free fall (AFF) instructor teaching others about the freedoms of the zephyr. Gravity wasn’t a problem, just an occupational hazard.
As a kid, Clair wanted to be absolutely everything from a nurse to a firefighter. All grown up she not only does what she loves for a living but inspires others to do the same. On her website, among countless videos of the white knuckle variety, I found an eloquently presented TEDx talk on breaking through social and self-perceived limitations, encouraging the rest of us to step outside our comfort zones and fire up that limitless imagination we were born with. This girl might just have the charisma to peel a couch potato or two from the embrace of their cushions.
Clair has a full schedule globetrotting as a professional BASE jumper, mountain bike racer, rock climber, model and stunt woman yet still finds time to bake some banana bread, up her IQ with a good read and answer a few questions for a fellow adventure junkie journalist who thinks she’s cool as hell.
Passion is a powerful driving force for people. How did yours develop and mold who you are and what you do?
Claire Marie: I think passion is a necessity in life. Without passion what is the point of existing? I find that people are either passionate about following their dreams and pushing themselves or passionate about remaining the same. This usually presents itself as fear. I’ve been passionate about pushing myself from a very young age. I always wanted to see how far I could go, how much I could push myself and what I could accomplish. I feel like most people are born passionate, but over the years as they grow up that passion dies as society tries to push what is “normal” on them. It’s so very sad to see, but it was helpful for me because I knew I never wanted society to dictate what I was passionate about and what I accomplished. I feel like I brought this attitude with me through all of my early adult years and it really helped me stay focused. Focused on what I wanted to do and it gave me a deeper understanding of motivation and inspiration!
You are also very open that it takes more than passion to follow dreams. What were the key moments in your journey that you feel most proud of?
CM: I know it may sound silly, but I have been pretty proud of everything I have accomplished. I have worked so hard for so many years and to see that hard work and dedication paying off has been such a beautiful and powerful thing to experience. I get pretty excited thinking about how far I have come, despite all the negativity and road blocks I have faced. One of the things I am really grateful for and pretty proud of is the TEDx talk I gave a few years back. Having the ability to share my story with so many people was fantastic. Having such a large platform and such a receptive audience to inspire gave me so much energy. It was also my first time ever public speaking so getting over those nerves was a challenge for me and to have the ability to experience growth felt so good!
What was your very first jump like?
CM: My first jump was off a 480-foot power tower at 10 o’clock at night with no moon. It was the darkest jump I have ever done. I was 16 years old and so thrilled to finally be out there accomplishing a goal. I had a hyper focused attitude and a huge smile on my face the entire hike up the stair case in the center of the tower. I was with several other jumpers whom I didn’t know, but they were all so accepting of me and supportive. At the top, the person taking me said, “you wanted to be here, you have to prove it, you’re going first.” So as I stood on the outside of the railing, feet on a 3-inch piece of steel, leaning out over the black hole below me, I took a deep breath and started counting down 3…2…1… and my heart leapt into my throat … “Oh my god, I almost just jumped.” Hahaha, everyone was like “Ya Clair, that’s the point!” so I did that a few times, counted down. It was almost as if there were millions of years worth of DNA pumping through my veins telling me if I jumped I would die. After a few more minutes of that, the person teaching me said: “If you don’t go in 30 seconds I’m making you walk down.” I took a deep breath, counted down and as my hand slid off the rail my feet launched me from the object into the darkness. It was so quite, so peaceful and for a moment I felt totally suspended in the air. Nothing else existed except for that moment. It was beautiful, scary, life changing, exciting! So many things. When my parachute opened, I turned around and landed at the base of the object. I looked up and yelled at the top of my lungs “you have to let me do that again.” I went home and told my mom I found my calling. The rest is history!
What are some of the stats on places you have jumped?
CM: Most interesting? Tropical super dome in Germany. I had the opportunity to jump inside a building, from the rafters, during a German winter and land on a tropical beach in a bikini! Pretty unique!
Highest? Fjords in Norway, Some of the most beautiful and inspiring landscapes I’ve ever witnessed
Most dangerous? Every BASE jump is very dangerous, but can be mitigated with proper preparation. One, semi recently, that I was most nervous about was jumping from a glass sky walk in China. It was in a corner of a cliff and very, very dangerous if not properly prepared for! Highly illegal? Hahaha. I have done lots of very illegal jumps… But I can’t talk about them.
How many base jumps do I have to date? I have about 800 BASE jumps.
Skydives? I stopped counting my skydives a few years ago at 5,500, so I don’t know how many I have now.
How do you prep for a base jump? Do you have any lucky things you wear, something you always eat before, etc.?
CM: Honestly, it’s different every time. I am not superstitious, so I don’t have a strict way of doing things or anything special.
I check my pack job, I check wind conditions. I will usually spit off the exit point to check if the winds do something funny (super lady like right hahaha). But aside from that, I let each jump be special in its own right, and I alter my preparation accordingly!
What’s the process of evaluation like for a BASE jump? How to determine it’s safe? How to decide where to jump from? How do you land in the right spot?
CM: BASE jumping is inherently not safe and a risk. So what I aim to do is take very calculated risks. First thing is looking at the object and making sure it is sheer and jumpable without having obstacles that I could hit on the way down or get hung up on if something goes wrong. Then I look at the landing area, making sure there is a safe place to land with minimal obstacles and also establish an alternate landing area just in case something goes wrong and I can’t make it to my main landing area. If it is an illegal jump, then I plan the quick escape either with running or having a getaway driver. Finally, I check weather conditions. Making sure there are no funky winds that could potentially cause my parachute to open in a dangerous direction. Everything I do is in the space of risk management and calculated risk taking.
You’re beautiful, and you’re also completely badass Do you find that that combo throws people for a loop?
CM: I guess it depends on the context, when I am all geared up or ready for my sports, I feel like I fit right in and it’s not that out of the ordinary. However, when I am not in my riding or jumping gear, I feel like people are always really surprised. Like there is no way this girl in 6” heels and a dress could be a BASE jumper or a mountain bike racer. I really love challenging peoples ideas of what is normal and pushing them to think beyond stereotypes!
What’s it like to be a woman in a very male-dominated space? Have you had to work harder to prove yourself?
CM: In the beginning, I felt I had to be one of the boys to participate at their level. I was very young and just wanted to be accepted, so I was very much a tomboy. I wore baggy cargo pants and over sized shirts. I was totally comfortable like that, but then one day I decided I wanted to fully embrace my femininity. I decided I didn’t have to be like the boys to play like the boys. So I accepted that I have a massive high-heel addiction and started really dressing and acting to my feminine power. It was so freeing! I think it was a shock to the system of my core group of jumpers. They were like, “Whoa … what are you wearing?” It was quite a change, but I loved it!
Over the years I have experienced sexism in my sport for sure, but I pay very little attention to it. I know what level I play at and I know what I am capable of so if someone doubts that, that is their problem, not mine. If anything their doubt makes me push harder. I have noticed there is an increase in support of female participants over the last several years which is so nice to see. The more women who participate, the more accepted they are and some of the most badass base jumpers I know are women! It’s a good feeling!
Everyone has a message they put out into the world through their words, actions and lifestyle. What is yours?
CM: That we as humans are capable of so much more than we could ever know. That dreams are never too big and that women can be just as bad-ass as the boys and still maintain their total fierce femininity.
Most people would be terrified to do what you do. So what terrifies you … if anything?
CM: Bugs … creepy crawly things and especially big flying bugs… I just can’t get over it!
Lots of tattoos. Any especially significant ones in there?
CM: My tattoos mean a lot to me, they don’t have a deeper meaning other than beautiful art that I get to bring along with me, but I feel like they really speak to my personality. They are bold yet feminine, dark and beautiful. I was told not to get tattoos by so many people. I was told they would limit me in my work as a model, but I have found quite the opposite. They speak to my personality and they make me stand out on a physical level. I feel like they fit me quite well!
What other hobbies do you have that people might not expect?
CM: I love to bake! My specialties are sweet scones and banana bread. I also really enjoy writing and reading. There is so much knowledge and information out there right at our fingertips, sometimes it’s mind-blowing to think of. I am also a very passionate vegan so educating those who wish to know more about the environmental impact of animal agriculture as well as sustainability is something I am super passionate about.
On your website, you have a section dedicated to other women and you are outspoken about women supporting each other. Why is this such a key element in how you handle yourself?
CM: I think women supporting other women in all walks of life is so important. I have seen first hand how catty and vicious women can be towards other women and how they break each other down verbally and emotionally. It is so depressing to witness because we are so much bigger than that. Women are incredible beings, and I aim to show, that even though we may be competing in a sports sense, we don’t have to compare or break each other down. When women support one another, even in a space of competition as a job, it is so beautiful and uplifting. One of my favorite things is to cheer other women on, even if I am competing against them. I want people to know that with the support of others, what we can accomplish only grows.
What future life goals do you have for the next five years? Any big bucket list items, travels, career goals?
CM: My list of goals and dreams is ever changing. I like it that way. It’s never boring that’s for sure. Right now some of the top things on my list are to race EWS (Enduro World Series) the biggest Enduro Mountain Bike Race series in the world. Walk a high line because it scares the crap out of me. Remain balanced and grounded. This is an ever-lasting goal of mine. And some of the places I want to visit are Greece, New Zealand and Iceland.
Advice for anyone looking to get into something as high octane as BASE jumping?
CM: First step is to spend some time really thinking about the consequences of what you want to do. Some people decided after careful consideration that the risk is far too great. I know it sounds morbid, but there is always a chance of death, so one really needs to know that and accept that risk. If they still want to learn, the next step is to learn how to skydive. Get comfortable under a parachute and get a few hundred jumps. Then if you still feel the need to BASE jump you can find a mentor or take a first jump course.
Never one to sit still, Kinga Philipps has tested herself for the past decade by traveling the globe, rappelling, caving, scuba diving, jumping out of airplanes and diving with the sharks as a writer, producer and on-camera host. In her rare bits of free time, Kinga explores her singular fascination with sharks followed by a love for the beach, surfing, motorcycles, cars, charity work, travel, food and action sports.
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