Big Girls Don’t Cry: Ana Isabel Dao

Featuring:

Anniken Binz

Karen Lewis Dalton

Clair Crawford

Lika Borzova

Ana Isabel Dao

Livia Dickie

and

Anne Helliwell

Don’t ask these women who brought them to the party. Not only did they come alone, but the party is all theirs. Not every female BASE jumper shows up at an exit point accompanying her BASE man.

Ana Isabel Dao

Ana Isabel Dao
Age:
29
Marital Status:
Single
Location:
Bordeaux, France
Children:
None
Education:
Law with a Master degree in management and international commerce. Amateur Video Producer and Filmmaker.
Hometown:
Caracas, Venezuela
Year of first Skydive:
1997
BASE jump:
May 2004
BASE jumps:
160
Number of skydives:
500
Your profession:
International Commerce
Nickname:
Ana
List 5 Random Facts or Habits about yourself that would be classified as weird, strange, or different.

  • Very Organized
  • Methodic
  • I like to eat a lot
  • I like to drink a lot
  • Always take a bathing suit with me, no matter where I go.

The Gear:
BASE Canopy:
Black jack 240
BASE Container:
Perigee Pro
Ana accepted the invite to be interviewed blindly and with me knowing absolutely nothing about Ana, other than she went on the Baffin Expedition with Livia Dickie in 2010. What a treat for me to have the opportunity to interview such an amazing woman with an overflowing enthusiasm for the sport. Ana is well educated, successful in business and has a creative side to her nature as well in producing videos and films.

It should have been no surprise to me that when asked if she had a hobby outside BASE jumping, her response was peppered with ―and‖, ―and‖, ―and‘s‖.
―Yes, I like climbing, skydiving and mountain biking too. I love the mountains. I also like the beach and beach sports. I enjoy photography and videos. I like to read… I love travelling even if it‘s not for BASE jumping and mostly no matter where the destination is, just to experience new places and people. I like party with friends and family!‖

As to how she keeps fit, ―bicycling everywhere I go in the city I live and also I try to go 3 to 4 times per week to a climbing gym‖.
Ana isn‘t waiting around for life to happen she is out there stirring the pot and making opportunities. When I questioned her about her life‘s greatest achievement thus far, her response set the pace for the entire interview.

―I have had reached many of my goals! I‘m very happy with my whole life, with my studies and my career. Of course with Base Jumping as it has been incredible and each jump is exciting on its own.

Ana seems taken back by the next question regarding her epitaph, having not given much thought to her death. As she later states, ‗death scares me‘ and responds, ―Wow, I don‘t really know. I hope it‘s something nice.‖
As to her biggest fear, ―My biggest fear is that something happens to my family or friends in Venezuela. In Venezuela, death is an everyday concern with the amazingly high levels of security lacking and delinquency all throughout the country.

Death scares me, scares me for the people that live there and how their deaths come about. I try not to dwell on it very often and always try to think positive for the present and the future.

The question of what she would like her friends and family to remember about her is much easier to answer. ―I want to be remembered as a good and hard worker; as a person who loved her family, friends and enjoyed life getting the most out of it.

With Ana‘s extensive achievements in education, business, and sport, I ask her if there is anything she wouldn‘t try. ―I guess I wouldn‘t try to do things I know I can‘t do the way they should be done. I wouldn‘t try to surf a super big wave because I don‘t know how to surf, but I would love to learn!

Ana was raised in a Catholic family and attended Catholic run schools and universities. Although she considers herself a religious and spiritual person, she does not practice the rites of the faith very often.

―I believe there‘s a God and in human beings needing to believe in something and having faith in their lives. I respect all other religions. I believe the core message based on love and respect is part of all faiths and for me that‘s essential in life.-

When it comes to making decisions I try to be rational and of course my beliefs and thoughts may influence one way or another, the choices I make. I don‘t expect God to make things happen for me, I believe that each person creates their own journey in life.

I ask Ana to share her Base jumping philosophy, the steps she takes to mentally prepare for a jump and what Base jumping has contributed if anything, to her own personal growth.
―I know that accidents happen and always in the more unexpected moments and situations, but my philosophy is, if I can call it that, is to minimize the danger. Always double, triple, multiple times check my gear and try to anticipate dangerous situations. Then of course once you‘re at the edge of the object admire the view and enjoy the flight!

Usually, if it‘s a well-known place, I try to watch some videos before going on the jump. I do a research about the place, the hike or climb needed to reach the exit point. I research the gear I‘ll need and of course the height and type of flight that is possible from the object is usually involved in the trip plan. I also call friends who have been there already and get their advice. I view places on Google Earth, imagining the jumps in my head.

I believe BASE has taught me to think and reflect more before my actions and more importantly to appreciate the small and huge things in life, because we just don‘t know when we are leaving this world.

She treasures every jump, keeping a detailed logbook; however she does hold one jump above the others, a crown jewel in the world of BASE jumping.
―In Base jumping each and every jump is a story, because it always involves a great adventure in getting to the place, climb the object and fly your pattern or line or do whatever you need to do to get it and also to get out once you land.
I remember each one of them and have them written in my logbook with every detail, but of course there is one that stands out in my mind as very special for several reasons. It was my 4th jump back in March 2006.

First of all it was my first cliff and terminal jump, which means the jump included free fall. It was from Angel Falls in my country, Venezuela, which is the highest waterfall on earth with 970 meters over the landing. It is the place that made me want to jump since I was a little girl. Last, but not least at all, it was a 2-way with my dad, Anibal, so sharing that with him is one of the most beautiful things that has occurred in my life. From that jump alone, I have the most beautiful memory and he does too.

It‘s no wonder that the next question is a slam dunk for Ana when I ask what attracted her to Base jumping.
―For me BASE jumping was always a normal part of life, since I grew up viewing it as what my family did. My father and uncles did their first jump from Angel Falls, Venezuela, in 1983, when I was only 2 years old. Being one of the reasons why I really felt as a young girl that I was going to jump someday, following in my father‘s footsteps.

I spent my childhood playing at an airport while my father was skydiving, as soon as I turned 16 years old, I did my first tandem skydive. Then another tandem at the age of 17 years old and finally at 18 years of age, I completed my AFF Skydiving course.

Even though I always knew I wanted to BASE jump I never searched it out. One day in 2004 when I had already been skydiving 6 years, a friend of mine casually invited me to BASE jump from a 70 meters bridge near Caracas, my hometown. At first it scared the hell out of me and I said no. He was hosting a television show and kept insisting we do the jump. We did a short training course of jumping BASE canopies from a plane and then we jumped the bridge. It was awesome.

My parents were my greatest influence. We are a very close family and we share a lot together each time we can. I thank them for educated me and for giving me all that they were able to and for giving me the values and principles that make me who I am nowadays.‖

It‘s little wonder that Ana has achieved her childhood dreams of:

1) to be a skydiver and now I‘m one,

2) I wanted to jump Angel Falls with my dad and I did it,

3) I wanted to live by myself and work and I do.

Perhaps it is the closeness to her family and the bond of jumping she shares with her father, which leaves Ana with no questions as to her desire to jump versus family commitments.
―For now I don‘t have a family of my own and I love and enjoy jumping so much, but I think that the moment will come when I have kids (I really want kids but I still don‘t even know the father, hehehe) and I won‘t enjoy jumping as much as I do now because there won‘t be only me, but children that depends on me. BASE jumping is still the most dangerous and extreme sport in the world and if I have kids I don‘t want to leave them alone and orphans and I don‘t think I‘ll feel comfortable doing it. For now I‘m trying to take the most of it and enjoy the most of it and after I ever quit I know I‘ll be happy jumping from planes, which is a lot safer and still heaps of fun.

I prompt Ana to breakdown her strengths and weaknesses in herself pertaining to the sport and the things in BASE that she enjoys most and least.
―I guess my biggest weakness has been the scared I get some times in some of the hikes I‘ve done to get to some really dangerous exit points. Sometimes we need to climb or to pass through really steep places that if you fall you die, but happily as in everything I have learned to control that fear and just relax, breathe, concentrate in what you‘re doing and enjoy it.

My biggest strength is maybe my love for the adventure and my love for meeting people, sharing and travelling with friends all over the world to get a jump. I think that being picky and very organized is a great strength when we talk about BASE jumping. I like to plan, anticipate and visualize the future; trying my best to make things happen in the best possible safest way.

I enjoy everything!!! I love the hikes and wahoo flights, those seconds are like an eternity! I‘ve seen the world like a bird and I love that, when I‘m bored I just close my eyes and I go to those places again and again. I even love to pack my parachute, people don‘t usually like it and sometimes it‘s true, I‘m very tired to do it, but I don‘t complain because at the end I enjoy doing that too. What I enjoy the least is the knowing that someone has gone in‘ BASE jumping.

Ana easily recounts the most boneheaded move she made to date in her BASE career. ―Once I tried to jump an antenna inside a military property in Venezuela and that almost cost me and the friend I went with our lives. A guard came out in his underwear yelling, pointing at us with a shot gun and shooting bullets into the air. Thank God he finally listened to our story that we didn‘t want to do anything bad and let us go.

What uniqueness does she feel she brings to Base jumping, ―I guess that I have that sense of adventure needed for BASE jumping. I think a person who BASE jumps need to know how to control their fears, to anticipate as much as possible and to be an organized person that takes good care of their gear and of themselves.

Her most important piece of advice for a new female jumper: ―I think the best advice I could give to someone, no matter a she or a he, who wants to start BASE jumping, would be to take things easy and start learning things gradually, taking enough time to do it right.

Starting from the beginning in skydiving and then taking the time to internalize what you are doing. I feel that we are being bombarded with videos on the internet from people who are very strong flyers and jumpers and I love that; but at the same time I feel that the sport is being minimalized. People who are used to see amazing images on the television/computer screen think that jumps are normal or easy to do. Personally I think that it is not easy or normal.
To explain better, I feel that people are used to seeing these amazing flights and believe they can just go and do it. I have experienced it with people that start to skydive and they just want to do 30 skydives and then wing suit from the Eiger. Basically my recommendation is to take it easy and go step-by-step, to me it is even more enjoyable and of course SAFER.

The period between her first jump and second jump was extensive in a sport where participants often experience withdrawals when not jumping. ―Actually we did that first jump in 2004 and I didn‘t jump anymore for a whole year. In 2005, a friend that was living in California moved back to Venezuela with 200 BASE jumps in his logbook and he took me to the bridge twice more. In 2006, I finally got my own gear and soon after I did my 4th jump from Angel Falls. So yes it was a slow start, but I can‘t think of a better one.

As to how often she jumps today, she is handicapped by living in a flat landscape‘ and left longing for the cliffs she loves to jump.
―I jump normally every two months or so. I wish I could do it more often but each time I have to travel and take days off from work to make it worth it. Where I live in France is completely flat. I plan trips to the Alps or to Spain or things like it, but I‘m really glad of being able to do it like I do it even if it‘s not as often as I wish to. I dream of moving to the mountains anytime in the near future but I have to get some stuff done beforehand. For the moment I‘m very happy the way it‘s been.

My favorite objects are the cliffs, I believe that‘s the essence of the sport and it is really what I enjoy the most. Nothing compares to a day of hiking in the mountains to flying down through their galleries and notches. It is amazing!
I still skydive and I love it. I find it very important to be current on BASE too because for me is easier to go skydiving than to go BASE jumping for the moment. I know many friends don‘t do it anymore, but maybe for them is easier to go and do some BASE jumps than for me. Anyways I enjoy it so much I don‘t think I‘ll stop and personally I think that never hurts to practice and does good to BASE, it is also important to try things skydiving before trying them in BASE, that‘s my opinion but of course I‘m aware on how extremely different is one from each other at the same time.

Ana didn‘t attend a First Jump Course and much the same as Lika she had more than one teacher at different stages of her learning. She emphasizes, ―the thing I appreciated most was learning how to pack and understand why each step is done the way it is. Also being taught to study and analyze the risk factors before doing anything.‖

The conversation turns to the jumper that Ana admires most and her thoughts on female jumpers competing in the World Base Race and Pro Base Events. It‘s no surprise that holds admiration for her good friend, Livia Dickie as they share some of the same ideals regarding Base and life itself.
―I admire Livia Dickie because she is so professional and been around for years travelling all around the world doing what she likes with lots of responsibility and always having fun and being nice with everybody.

Yes of course!!! Why not?? My admired friend Livia Dickie ranks among the top BASE wing suit pilots, I trust she will win that race soon! I want to train hard too!!! Since I did it for the first time there is nothing else I want to do in BASE jumping more than that. Wing suiting for me is the ultimate human flight.
Maybe contradicting my answer on the question before because Livia is a very strong and experienced pilot, I believe that the more women enters in the sport the more we will need to separate the categories as in every other sports competitions in the world.

All this success can surely make any woman‘s head swell, but in Ana‘s case she is cognisant of it and works at remaining level headed and true to her principals. I asked her who would be associated with having bigger egos, male or female jumpers.
―Well depends on who you are asking about. I feel I take it very lightly even if people come to me and admire me and tell me adorable things. I feel I have always been very modest and I will try always to stay like that. I really don‘t like persons who never stop talking about themselves and let me tell you that in this sport there are a lot. I always try to avoid those persons and to avoid being like that.

Of course I enjoy very much to share my experiences with people that wants to hear them and ask me about them because I really feel I‘ve been in places not many can go and the stories are very exciting, but there is always a time to be quiet and stop for a bit, I take care because sometimes one can get very excited and talk too much. I also don‘t like when my friend s introduce me to other people telling them about base jumping and all that, I like to know people just being who I am and then its sure that will come up naturally.

No surprise that she shares a similar opinion to her counterparts when it comes to using ones sexuality and being one of the boys.
―Not really, sometimes it‘s lucky to be female when it allows you a spot on an expedition or participate in a competition as there aren‘t many women in the sport yet; but not a real big deal. I wouldn‘t use my sexuality on purpose to gain advantages. No shame if an opportunity comes to have a place in an expedition or competition as there are so many male jumpers. It‘s just the way it is and not only in BASE jumping.

I don‘t try to blend in with the male jumpers on purpose. I feel I‘m not the most feminine girl in the world, but I do think femininity comes naturally.‖
Ana acknowledges she hasn‘t shared much of her knowledge on the public BASE forums and that media coverage of the sport is a split decision between good and bad.
―I think we, females, should participate more. Personally I have little free time and when I go to the forums it is usually to read and search for answers on topics others have written. A bit selfish, but it‘s the true. I would like to participate more in the future, of course only if I have something good to share.
Sometimes I feel the media is obsessed with the carnage of extreme sports. I have also seen super great documentaries about Base jumping and other sports such as climbing. What I have witnessed and nobody is directly responsible, is the sport being trivialized, made common place due to the huge amount of videos being published via the internet. I have met people that truly think it‘s easy to fly a wing suit or jump off cliffs, because they have seen a lot of videos. They believe this even though they have never jumped from a plane. I find that funny and dangerous. I‘m not saying BASE is a superheroes affair, but I believe it‘s a progressive development which takes time and money.

Jean Boenish is often referred to as ―Carl‘s wife, as opposed to being a BASE jumper in her own right. In some circles male jumpers refer to female jumpers as ―girls‖. Have you ever felt slighted as a second class citizen in BASE and how do you handle that situation?
―Well maybe Jean is often referred as Carl‘s wife and we are referred to as girls, but I think that sometimes women give such words too much importance and let it bother us when it was not intended as a slight.
I attempt to not care about such things, for me BASE jumping is not what others think of the sport or of me. I love it because I enjoy jumping for my own satisfaction and share it with my closest friends in the sport. Jane Davies was the first woman to jumped Angel Falls, Venezuela, in 1983 and I she accolades for it, perhaps more than a whole bunch of guys that were with her on that trip. Not many women were interested in those types of adventures 30 years ago.

In Venezuela, there were only a few male jumpers and myself when I began BASE jumping. I would go with them to jump when they let me go, yes when they let me go, because sadly many times they organized expeditions and jumps without inviting me to participate.

Time has passed, I have organized my own BASE trips and made my way to places that no other Venezuelan jumper has been previously. I did these trips without those who didn‘t invite me, I did so not as retribution, because I would have loved to share those beautiful trips with some of them; but I just find it funny how things turned out. I‘m still the only Venezuelan woman BASE jumping at the moment, but I‘m insisting some of my skydiving girlfriends start jumping. I have made myself available to teach them and waiting anxiously to share the joys of the sport with them soon!

I must share that I have taken a few close friends (guys) to jump and am very happy that I taught them to pack and offered advice, when they have asked for it. Now those are my closest friends and we go jumping together whenever we can make arrangements. I would like to express my gratitude to all those great friends that never cared I was a woman and who taught me and shared with me amazing places and flights.

What if any impact do you think sharing your perspectives in this interview will make in fellow jumpers views of woman in BASE?
I hope people enjoy it and find it interesting. Maybe I have answered at least some of their questions regarding myself and women in general in BASE jumping. I say, thank you for letting me share my perspectives with you all! Cheers!!!

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