Pro Record: Tim Howell

Wingsuit pilot Tim Howell explains how he masters the balance between risk and rewards as he pushed the limits of human flight.

Feature type Story

Read time 6 min read

Published Nov 09, 2021

Photographer Francesco Guerra

Juman Al-Sayegh

Tim Howell speaks about BASE jumping as an art of freedom. ‘Where the mind goes’, he says. ‘The body follows, completely absorbed in utmost concentration.’

But how does one find BASE jumping? In Tim’s case, it found him. Originally a climber, he encountered a number of BASE jumpers on his travels, when he was actively pursuing sky-diving. By 23, he had completed over two hundred skydives, honing the necessary technique required for every BASE jumper’s career: the equipment, how the parachute canopy flies, how to land, and how your body will change your flight pattern and trajectory.

Tim explains how there is a large popular misconception that BASE jumping is just a stunt. For the most experienced and accomplished jumpers out there, it’s a process they train for. It can be perceived as reckless, but that’s just not the case according to Tim. ‘It’s a combination of muscle memory, reaction times and symmetry… If you exit and you are slightly lop-sided, you can kick open the wrong way and fly back into the object you just jumped from.’

The wingsuit’s large surface area means that every minor input a BASE jumper makes causes a reaction. As Tim says, ‘If your left arm is just a centimetre lower than your right, that will have an effect.’ He goes on to say that it takes hundreds of skydives and then a hundred more BASE jumps with a small wingsuit to align the body and create the required symmetry before progressing to a full-sized wingsuit, which provides more forward glide but is also much more responsive.

There’s a common perception that BASE jumping is a high risk activity. Renowned solo climber Alex Honnold makes the distinction between risk and consequence in the movie Free Solo: ‘Consequence is what happens if you fail; risk is the probability of failure occurring.’

Exactly the same could be said of BASE jumping. The more you practice, the more your body becomes fine-tuned to the subtle movements required to fly the wingsuit safely. Tim stresses the importance of correcting even minor asymmetry in the body.

Consequence is what happens if you fail; risk is the probability of failure occurring

Tim describes human flight as ‘an incomparable feeling that can’t be tamed, controlled or governed by anyone. Understanding base jumping this way removes the terminology of extreme. It’s just you, your mind deciding whether you should jump or not.’ This is the difference between simply getting an adrenaline rush and being able to maintain complete control. ‘If my heart is racing at an exit point, I will stand back, do some breathing exercises as I want my mind to completely focused,’ he explains. We can all learn from this approach in any form of sport that we pursue.

The Middle East is not widely known for its BASE jumping potential. But in October 2019, Tim Howell set off on an exploratory wingsuit adventure to Jabal Shams in the Arabian Peninsula, as part of his continuous quest for exploring new heights with his fiancée, Ewa Kalisiewicz. Of the expedition, Tim recalls how ‘we had such a good time because there were so many people there who would help us out. That’s what really makes a trip for us, it’s the local experience, authenticity, local food.’ He went further to say that ‘there is still so much more to explore and definitely would head back for some big walls.’

Tim’s experience in Oman reminds us why travelling to unlikely places offer such high rewards, not least through the people that we encounter. Stepping into a parallel universe connects us through stories and the kindness of strangers who oftentimes become friends. Something like BASE jumping is located firmly in travel and exploration, whilst that fine balance of risk and consequence still determines its outcome.

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