A chat with Maurizio di Palma: BASE jump is much more than stepping into the void!

Interview

Photo:
Courtesy Maurizio di Palma e Cristian Benedini.

Last May I was asked to take pictures of all the different phases of a BASE jump with Maurizio di Palma for an article published on “Riders” magazine, for the issue of June.

The idea of getting in contact with him and entering in his World, even just to take some pictures, was enough to make me nervous. Things you don’t know can scare you or lead you to hasty conclusions.

Maurizio di Palma, commonly known as Maury, is one of the few BASE jumpers with such a high number of jumps and objects. In fact, BASE is an acronym that stands for Buildings, Antennas, Span and Earth: these are the objects, the fixed bases from which the jump takes place.

Maury jumped from the Milan Cathedral, from the leaning Tower of Pisa, from the Eiffel Tower, from the Colosseum, from The Angel Falls, from the Campanil Basso and from El Capitan. Today he is 37 years old and he has jumped 4000 times from 400 different places.

He opened a school in 2014 to teach parachutists how to become BASE jumpers. Maury and Sean Chuma are the only ones in the World to make tandem BASE jumps.

Your hometown is Pavia, how did you first came to Lake Garda?

I first came to Lake Garda in 2000 to observe some BASE jumps, there were only 2 or 3 jumpers at that time. I have been coming to Lake Garda during the week ends for 8 years and then, 7 years ago, I decided to move here.

How did you start to BASE jump?

I discovered BASE jump thanks to my dad who used to like flying; I decided to practise parachuting in 1996. I joined the army as a parachutist, as I wanted to turn this sport into a proper job for me, but then I realized parachuting in the army was completely different.

One day a friend of mine showed me a video, there were some Norwegian guys jumping with a parachute from a fixed base. I was fascinated: I had to try.

At that time access to information was not so easy, it was difficult to exchange information with experienced people; it was a niche sport and I had to do everything by myself. I don’t know how much I would have paid just for a little help.

I came to Brento because there was a meeting of the few BASE jumpers, I got in contact with them, took some information and after 9 months I did my first jump, by myself, from a bridge. I threw myself into this adventure and I have never stopped.

I discovered an antenna of about 100 meters not far from home and I used to go there to jump, it was perfect for training. During the week ends I used to come to Lake Garda or to travel around Europe, I made my own experiences, I had no injuries and today I can say that this is my job.

How is the scene on Mount Brento?

Mount Brento is situated inside the Sarca Valley, not far from Dro. It is one of the most renowned mountains for BASE jump, anyone who BASE jumps comes here, sooner or later.

You have to walk for 20 minutes to reach the exit point on Brento, you jump from 1200 meters, which is really a lot. There’s a drop of about 400 meters with a part going inward in the maximum point at about 90 meters, this is perfect for beginners. The landing is immense, with many alternatives, in case of problems. In front of the landing point there’s an area where you can fold up the parachute and a bar that offers a support to BASE jumpers. From March to November, every day, there are at least 20, 30 BASE jumpers.

monte-brento

The Half Dome in Yosemite is quite similar to Mount Brento but if you get caught with a parachute you get a ticket, the authority send you to prison, put you on trial, they withdraw your transit visa and then you can’t come back to the States for 10 years. Jumping from Mount Brento is not illegal, buti t is not legal either, let’s say it is tolerated.

How much Lake Garda winds affect the jump?

There are two main winds on Lake Garda: Peler and Ora. In the morning Peler doesn’t influence our activity, so we can jump two or three times. When the wind turns and Ora starts blowing from the South, we still have half an hour to jump , after that, the wind becomes too strong and it overtakes the flight efficiency, that is to say the flying speed of our sail, and we are unable to jump. When the sun goes down the valley becomes cold and the wind decreases, so we can make another jump. On the contrary, we can jump all day round during the winter.

What is your typical day here on Lake Garda?

I am constanty busy with this activity, I jump every day if the weather enables me to do it. If I don’t have to work with other people for teaching them how to jump or to jump with them, I leave very early in the morning, I walk along the paths to get to the point where I can do my training, with or without a wingsuit.

Your life, your everyday routine revolves around BASE jump. Is it a sport or a lifestyle?

For many people this is a hobby, a sport for the week end but for me it has always been much more than that and it has been my job for two years.

This is a lifestyle, this is my life.

maurizio di palma base jump monte brento

Why BASE jump is such a niche sport?

In order to practise BASE jump you need to be an expert parachutist having experienced at least 200 jumps. Parachuting is itself a niche sport, there are no more than 4000 parachuters in Italy. So you need to be an expert of a niche sport as parachuting to be able to practise an even more niche sport as BASE JUMP. You need a huge motivation and dedication, time and money. BASE jump is a sport for few.

Jumping from a building in a town and jumping from a mountain in the midst of nature: what’s the difference in terms of sensations?

This is the reason why you can’t get tired of BASE jumping. Every jump can be a different jump: you can jump from a skyscraper in New York or from a mountain in the jungle, or from an antenna in the middle of the desert.

Every jump is a new project, a new emotion and, as Phil Smith says:

All the World is jumpable.

maurizio di palma base jumper

What’s your favourite jump?

The training or routine jumps are all quite similar and I can’t really remember them all but the places where I jump always have their own story. The most distinctive is from the Bruxelles Cathedral, an indoor jump of about 45 meters, from the central nave, at night. I think that was the strangest place where I have been with a parachute.

What is the best moment?

There are many different nice moments in a jump. There is the planning and the satisfaction of reaching the exit point, there is the climax of when your feet leave the ground, the landing and the fulfillment of a personal challenge. Then there’s the calm and a moment later everything starts again as there is a new purpose to follow in your mind. It’s true there’s the jump, but first you need to reach the exit point.

Every jump has its own story and there is no jump without the route to reach the exit point. When we went to the Angel Falls we have walked in the jungle for 62 km, for four days, for a jump lasting no more than 15 seconds. The route is part of the jump: you do some trekking, you meet new people, you see new places and everything ends with a jump, the final orgasm.

There are places where you need to be able to climb, I can’t define myself a climber and everytime I need help I ask experienced climbers to come with me, as it was the case with the Campanile Basso; this is not a super technical climbing but t is not suitable for everyone either. I went there with a good friend of mine who helped me achieving this objective.

For the “urban” jumps you need to know how to behave, passing through everything that stands between you and your target: closed doors, police officers, bans… then there are also legal aspects to consider.

Is it legal?

Every country has its own laws, written and unwritten. In Italy it is tolerated in the mountains, but you can’t jump in a park or in a private property. BASE jump is not regulated, this means you can jump.

If you jump from things build by men, everything changes, you can’t jump from the Enel Antenna tower. In Italy you don’t break specific laws on BASE jump, but maybe you can break some private property laws while reaching the exit point to jump.

With or without wingsuit, what’s the difference?

The introduction of the Wingsuit was a breakthrough in modern BASE jump.Between 60% and 70% modern BASE jumpers wear a Wingsuit.

maurizio di palma tuta alare

The Wingsuit was created to be employed in parachuting but it has found in BASE jump its maximum expression. The Wingsuit has an average efficiency of 1 on 3, that means that for every meter of elevation loss you move forward horizontally of about 3 meters. That is to say that a 1 kilometer jump allows me to move forward of about 3 kilometers, without an engine and using only the force of gravity. This is really a lot if you consider that you only have two little wings on the legs and on the arms.

Tell us about control and adrenalin.

From the outside everything you see is just adrenalin… but this is wrong. You can find adrenalin in an amusement ride in Gardaland.

BASE jump is research, putting yourself on the line, taking a challenge with yourself and other people. I don’t play Russian roulette.

Once I have tried a jump I am immediately ready for another go, this has nothing to do with raising the bar or seeing where is the limit of human nature, I am not interested in that. I achieve my objectives, my limits, while having fun and taking special care of safety conditions. Maybe this is the reason why I’ve never got injured.

If you respect BASE jumping, than BASE jumping will respect you.

You need a good sense of balance and full control of yourself, as there is a lot at stake.

BASE jump is potentially dangerous but driving is also potentially dangerous. The difference is that everyone of us drives everyday, without problems, with a normal heart beat as this is something commonly accepted.

Of course, you need to have an inclination for it, you need to be able to handle difficult situations at very high speed. You have adrenalin, of course and it is gratifying but you also need sense of control: if your mind only concentrates on emotions then you can be in serious troubles.

You have to control your emotions and do well everything that must be done: you think while doing and you do while thinking. Everything happens in a few seconds and you can’t make mistakes.

So… you are not just an irresponsible madman with no respect for life!

You don’t need to be so brave for BASE jumping, you need to think what you are doing, having some knowledge, there is no improvisation.

A BASE jumper is a versatile person who has to fully understand his inner self and the World around him. I know who I am and I perfectly know my limits.

I know that it may not be so easy to understand, usually this is the first reaction of those who don’t know this sport, I can understand and respect that, even if it is totally wrong.

I celebrate life every day as I fully live my life doing the thing that makes me feel fine.