Big Girls Don’t Cry
“You gain strength courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the things which you think you cannot do.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States
Karen Lewis Dalton
Ana Isabel Dao
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.
In the case of these six women, the decision to jump is all theirs, a goal, a dream, a passion. The first time Anniken Binz went to jump at Kerag, Norway, she was asked at the exit point, “Who is your boyfriend?” She looked around and announced that she was not there with anyone but herself. She doesn’t believe that such questions are still being asked today, at least not in her case as she is now an established jumper.
Ten years ago can seem like a lifetime in the ever changing dynamics of the battle of the sexes in society—it can be an even slower grind in the world of sports. In this interview I have chosen to ask the same exact questions to an array of women from the sport of BASE with each individual equipped with varying experience levels and personal backgrounds.
We have a mother of a newborn who practices and teaches Ashtanga Yoga, has a modeling career, is a guest speaker, hosted travel shows, appeared in numerous magazines ranging from sports, travel and yoga; she also holds a master’s degree in Human development and a bachelor’s degree in Social Anthropology -Anniken Binz
A woman who grew up in Ohio, earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering at University of Pennsylvania and who chose a career as a tandem instructor at Perris Skydive where she is also part of a world class skydiving team. She has a passion for photography both in the air and on the ground. -Karen Lewis Dalton
“The hot Russian from Gravity Workshop team,” and no, although Karr has been known to wear a dress, I am indeed speaking of his teammate, a skilled jumper, talented cameraperson, articulate and creative artist in her own right. In the past six months she’s been devoted to her artwork and graphic arts design, further illustrating that she can do it all. -Lika Borzova
Coming to us from South America is the prodigal daughter. She has traveled the world, planning her time off from work as BASE jumping vacations. She grew up hanging out at the airport while her father skydived and always knew that someday she would be a BASE jumper. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to defying gravity. -Ana Isabel Dao
A 22-year-old born and bred Californian, who made her first BASE jump at 16, moved to Denver, works part-time as an AFF instructor, mentors in BASE jumping and is working towards her degree in nursing. She has made it her mission to bring “sexy to BASE.” -Clair Crawford
An Aussie with a degree in Electrical Engineering who now lives in Norway with her life partner, has plans of starting a family, participates in the World BASE and Pro BASE Races, and is the questionably the most recognized female wing suit BASE pilot in the sport of BASE. The smiling girl with the quick wit and appetite for adventure grew up to be a woman who can fly. -Livia Dickie
Marital Status: Single
Location: Denver, CO
Education: In nursing school
Hometown: Strawberry, CA
Year of first jump: 2005
Number of jumps: 170
Number of skydives: 1500
Your profession: Whatever I choose for the moment.
Nickname: Mini Boss
What is your BASE jumping philosophy? I am not sure if I really even have a BASE jumping philosophy. I would just say to respect the sport but don’t take it too seriously, to always enjoy yourself and to know your limits.
What will your epitaph read? There won’t be one; I think the idea is a bit morbid. I would like to be cremated and left where ever it is the person spreading my ashes would like to set me free.
Do you have a favorite object to jump? I love cliffs. I think my favorite objects are buildings. I don’t get buildings very often and who doesn’t want to feel a bit like James Bond sneaking around landing in a street, Jump in a waiting car and taking off quickly to not get busted? The sneaky aspect is very attractive.
What can I say about Clair that I haven’t already said in the past interviews we have partnered together? The answer to that question is ‘lots’. A testament to Clair is the fact that at the age of 22 years old, one could write a book about her life and have to continually add chapters at a ridiculous pace. She is a ball of energy in motion and much the same as Lika, she can’t or more to the point won’t be labeled.
Clair is so much more as a person then the label she is most often tagged with; that of ‘little girl’ who made her first BASE jump from an antenna at 16 years of age without having ever skydived. She is a sister, daughter, AFF instructor, a Doula, a college student, a professional nanny, an extreme sports maniac, model and a friend.
Despite the criticism she received for her first jump and the personal turmoil she endured over the last couple of years in her romantic relationships; Clair is at peace, remains self-confident in reaching her goals. A big reason for the calm in her life has come from a recent move to Denver, Colorado where she has developed solid connections to fellow jumpers as family.
In speaking with Clair its evident she doesn’t view herself as starting over, but rather continuing on with her journey, a need to travel a path charted by her not only by the cards she is dealt, but her natural instincts.
“There have been people who have been influences in my life; it would be so difficult to just come up with one that has made the greatest influence. All those individuals combined have shown me how constant support and encouragement in life aids me to follow my own dreams, my own path. I am reminded daily to not feed into the bullshit and to just push through it. I have been so lucky to be surrounded by positive people who are in tune with extracting the good in situations when I can’t see it. I am reminded that there is so much more to life than just the daily grind and in fact it is what we must do to pursue our dreams in BASE jumping. I have always been encouraged to be myself, and if people don’t like it then fuck ‘em. I pass that same wisdom on to my new students as well now.”
During this same time of maturing as a woman, I have grown comfortable with exposing my femininity in the sport. It took a while for me to be comfortable in my skin and reveal my feminine side, because it is such a male dominated sport. I always wanted to fit in as one of the guys. Not anymore. Now it’s about being Clair.
I think in some respects I am still classified as one of the guys in the sport. I can hang with the guys in jumping and chilling, but lately I have been letting out my girly qualities a little more. It is fun when I go on BASE trips with the guys and we are jumping and hanging out, then they see me all dressed up, in heels and they are super surprised. As much as I love BASE I don’t think I would ever let go of my gurl-i-ness. I have to admit I have a slight shoe addiction and that is one that I addiction, I am not willing to enroll in rehab to kick.”
The shoe fetish now out in the open and her own teasingly admission that she wants to “bring sexy to BASE”, I question her as to if she has ever used sexuality to gain favor in BASE.
“I have not used my sexuality to get ahead in the sport although I am sure some would disagree. As most people know I had a relationship with my “mentor” following him teaching me and I think some people look at that as using my sexuality to my advantage to get ahead, especially after the relationship failed. However, the fact of the matter is my being taught by him contributed very little to our choice in developing a relationship especially as he was not very excited to further expanding his BASE jumping for the most part.
As a female jumper I would much rather be known for getting ahead based on my abilities and my perseverance, rather than the fact that I am a female. I don’t like being separated in day to day jumping due to my gender and I have worked very hard to blend that line between myself and the guys, to be accepted as a jumper and not a ‘female jumper’.
I believe BASE jumping has lent to who I am today. 100%. It has really opened my eyes to a whole different side to life. It made me realize that focusing on the good in life and not letting the small shit cloud your life or stress you out is the most important. It has helped me to let go of the rat race and just be myself. There is so much more to life than just a normal job, a house and a family. The typical ‘American dream’ for me is an American nightmare.”
With her strong ties with her siblings, being the eldest of 9, I asked her how she reconciles the desire to jump versus personal responsibilities to family, “I am sure that my family back in California would be more than stoked if I chose to stop BASE jumping, however, that will not happen. My answer to this question will change slightly over time, once I decide to have children. I will take it a little easier and lessen the risks I take in the sport, but I don’t think I will ever stop jumping.”
It’s little wonder though that her biggest fear in BASE jumping is not her own demise, but rather the loss of her fellow jumpers whom she considers family.
“My biggest fear in jumping is losing the people I love, I am a Skydiving/BASE instructor and it is a very real possibility that I could lose students/friends to an accident. It is something that has happened in the past and unfortunately it will happen again. It’s the type of news that terrifies me. The alternative of living our lives in a hole, blocking ourselves off from the world out of fear, is no life at all. Death of students/friends makes you realize that you have to live each day to the fullest and enjoy the time you do have because it might be over tomorrow. I would much rather live my life and enjoy every second of it. Having your life cut short filled with adventures is better than a long miserable life without. It is definitely a hard fact to come to terms with, but in a way, accepting it kind of sets you free.”
I question her if “this freedom” comes with roots in religious or spiritual beliefs and how that affects her choices.
“I believe I am a spiritual person, I believe in meditation and life energy. I think coming to your own belief about life and death helps you push harder and not worry as much about dying. It is always in your head and I want to avoid it obviously but when you accept it happens to everyone at some point and there is no telling when it will happen to you it helps to live your life to what you want it to be, not based on anyone else’s standards of what life should be like.”
Clair’s strong will, independent viewpoints, and assertiveness could lead one to believe she is a new age feminist, like her interview counterparts it’s a notion she tosses aside.
“I don’t believe I am a feminist. I do see some prejudices towards female jumpers, but I also know why. There are a plenty of incapable women who can’t pull BASE jumping off safely, but who try anyway. I try very hard not to interfere with anyone else jumping, but I do voice my concern equally to men and women when they look as if they are being unsafe. It is just a bummer that there are lots of women who should not be BASE jumping. There are lots of guys who should not as well but having a percentage of the minority at a higher risk for injury due to incapability’s is a bummer. With that said there are also several very able very down to earth hard core female jumpers, many of whom I believe are better than a large population of the male jumpers.”
Clair’s attraction to BASE jumping started around the age of 8 and when asked what it was about BASE was so intriguing her reply is filled with that youthful energy “Oh, everything!!!!”
“Those first seconds of the jumps that I saw as a kid looked like such a freeing moment, where there was nothing clouding the jumpers mind, no worrying about bills or responsibilities or other people, no thinking about what they are going to eat, do later or people will talk to. Total focus and freedom from the rat race; it also looked pretty hard core and right up my alley!”
Asking Clair if she has a hobby outside of BASE jumping is a kin to asking Tom & Jerry what flavor of ice cream do they sell.
“There are so many things in life that I am passionate about and BASE is only one of them. I believe keeping a balance in my life is the key to my sanity. I love to be on the move and outside, so having a range of different interests always gives me something to do that I enjoy. I love motorcycle riding/racing, designing and sewing clothes, climbing, camping, hiking and any snow sport. Basically, if it’s an activity outdoors, I am into it.
You would think that such an active person has a stringent fitness regime, but Clair finds she is constantly trying to implement a structured workout into her daily life. “Cardio is extremely important for BASE jumping; I try to get cardio exercise in-between BASE trips. Staying in shape helps with so many aspects of BASE jumping, but mainly it aids in hiking to the exit points. I have discovered that my climbing experience has been very valuable in getting to some of the more exposed exit points.”
Clair confided in me that she could compete in the sleeping Olympics if they held one; it’s no wonder than what she considers her biggest weakness. “My biggest weakness is the morning; I am not a morning person in the slightest! I hate getting up. Lucky for me I have been surrounded by very motivated people who are very persistent in the morning with doing whatever it takes to wake me up. They take a lot of verbal abuse from me when I am still half asleep.
I am not sure what my biggest strength is in BASE jumping. I tend to be on the more conservative side when it comes to jumping conditions. I am always pretty confident in my abilities and don’t push myself too far past them. I am a good packer and fairly fast at it so I squeeze in a little nap while I wait for other jumpers to finish packing.”
Of all your jumps to date, is there one that stands out in your mind and what is the most boneheaded thing you have done in BASE?
“All of my jumps have been special to me and I can recall many if not all of them. Recently however there have been several memorable jumps that will always hold a spot in my heart. There was a building in Denver that Jamie Crawford and I opened with a friend of ours, a historical smoke stack which was incredible, as well as a wind turbine. All three of those jumps were incredibly special!!!
Bone headedness is all in the eye of the observer, to some people everything we as BASE jumpers do is boneheaded, to the super conservative, aerials are boneheaded. In my case some (or most) people would argue that BASE jumping at 16 years old with no Skydiving or BASE experience would be considered boneheaded.”
There was only a week between Clair’s first BASE jump from a 480ft power tower in CA and her second jump off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls ID. She describes the experience as “night and day…literally”.
“Being confident in your abilities as well as your pack job is huge for jumping in my opinion, when you don’t feel good about those two things then you start off on the wrong foot. A little nervousness is great and I love that feeling. But if you doubt yourself in the least, you shouldn’t jump. I like to be confident with myself before I even start hiking, as well as being ok with the jumping conditions for whatever object I am jumping.”
Clair pulling double duty as a AFF instructor in Skydiving and a BASE instructor/mentor brought us to the question of what is the most important piece of advice she offers new female jumpers and if that advice differs from that which she gives male counterparts?
“I think the advice that I give to new female jumpers does differ from my male students. Mainly dealing with being a new female in BASE and especially if she is attractive, the male jumpers tend to “give some advice” all the fucking time. In this the student will hear 12 different opinions on pack jobs and how to go hand held, etc. When I teach women I typically tell them to not be afraid to tell someone to fuck off and at the same time consider the advice they are getting. Men are much more protective towards women in the sport generally speaking so in my experience I was told to take it easy not because I was incapable, but because I was a girl.
For example, I was jumping in Norway in 2006; I had a shitty landing on one of my jumps and bruised my heel. A male jumper behind me landed in the talus field and got pretty banged up as well. I got lectured by almost every jumper there, on safety and taking it easy, whereas the guy who pounded in was handed a beer and laughed about it with his buddies. Female jumpers need to have a thick skin if they are going to keep it up and not let male opinions get in the way. Keep in mind to remain humble enough to take some good advice when needed.”
Do you feel that female jumpers face a more difficult challenge of getting into BASE or are there more advantages to being female?
I think it depends on who is the instructor in the First Jump Course or mentorship. I think with different instructors there will be different advantages and disadvantages to being a female and learning to jump. It all depends on the motivating factors of both the instructor and the student. “
As to jumpers who not only influenced her in thinking in the sport, but that she holds in high regard, Clair brings three to mind.
“ I admire, Chris ‘Douggs’ McDougall, obviously because he is one of the nicest guys and bad ass jumpers out there, he is super chill and was willing to jump with me when I was a newbie; but then would go kill it with the best of them on the next jump.
Sean Chuma who is the most down to earth humble guy I have ever met. Sean hucks it so hard and in my opinion is the best aerialist out there right now.
I respect Jamie Crawford because he is super driven and focused on his goals, channeling his passions in life. He somehow managed to get more jumps in one year of BASE then I did in 4!
The jumpers I mention have similar outlooks and just enjoy every jump. They don’t have the “I’m better than you” attitude because of their ability to kill it, but most importantly they always have fun with it.”
Clair keeps a packed schedule between work, work, work and school, it’s a wonder she finds time to jump at all. She explains how her new life in Denver has actually increased her jumping time, while she also elaborates on her unorthodox entry into BASE jumping.
“I have started jumping a lot more recently, in the past I was in a relationship with someone who was burnt out on jumping and it was like pulling teeth to get him to go jump. Now being on my own and close with someone who is super motivated to jump and super stoked I have done more jumps in the past year then I did in the past 4 years combined. At this point I am just trying to keep up with some of my friends and students with regards to jump experiences.
I wouldn’t consider my training a first jump course in the slightest. I got about 10 min of instructions before we headed out to the local antenna to jump. Not having any jumping experience previous to my first BASE jump I think what I was told was sufficient to making that jump safely and he did not just dump a bunch of information on me at once, I got more info as I progressed but gathered most of it from other jumpers and watching people jump. On top of short instruction he told me at the top of the antenna that I was the one who wanted to do this so I have to go first, I didn’t get to watch any one go before me and I went hand held. A PCA is not a base jump in my eyes.
I never had a formal mentor more so just someone who got me my first several jumps. I learned from him but also from many other people by just observing. The person who taught me how to jump didn’t teach me how to pack, hook up a rig, do unpacked jumps, etc. (which many mentors teach)”
As to the burning question of who has the biggest ego, male or female BASE jumpers, “Ego completely depends on the person; I can say I have only met one or two women who possess the ego of a man. As women we have to be a little more bull headed if we are going to get ahead in the base world. I think it is a little different because as females we are looked at more closely than the other guys, and our jumps are criticized a little more. If a girl has a minor injury or has a bad landing, it is typically nit picked by the male jumpers, where as if a guy has a shitty landing it is usually laughed at and blown off. This in of itself somewhat requires a bit of a more “don’t give a fuck” attitude from women, and I believe this can be misinterpreted as a big ego.”
Jean Boenish, BASE number 2, is often referred to as “Carl’s wife”, as opposed to being a BASE jumper in her own right. In many situations male jumpers refer to female jumpers as “girls”. Have you ever felt slighted as a second class citizen in BASE and how did you handle that situation?
“I did feel like I was put down a lot in the early days of my BASE jumping but most of that had to do with my age. I felt as if I did work hard in the beginning to not be one of the girls or the girlfriends (that seem to be classified as the female jumpers that have boyfriends teach them how to jump, but they only do a few each year at the Perrine or similar objects.) if you are motivated to jump and focus on getting good and being a solid jumper the classification of the “girl” falls away and if the men can let go of their bruised ego a bit (because a girl is doing what they can or want to do) then being a solid female jumper makes you fairly even in the male dominated world. There is a fine line between being a solid fun person to jump with or being a girl with an attitude, so it is something that needs to be somewhat from the heart, just enjoy what you are doing and it shines through putting you in your own class of jumper.”
Female voices are absent from the BASE forums, do you have an opinion as to why that is and have you considered writing articles for the archives?
“It seems to me that the girls don’t care as much as men do on the BASE board I know that I don’t. I rarely go on the forums for that matter except to look for gear for myself and my students. I think all that needs to be done in my opinion is, women who are capable of it, out there jumping. That speaks way more than someone who pretends to be a jumper by doing a few whenever they feel like it, or are not scared, then wasting their time like a lot of the base board people who spend more time jerking off to their own screen names then planning or participating in jumping.”
Clair’s view of the media on BASE and what this particular interview will contribute to the noise versus insightful information is aligned with most jumpers I have encountered over the past two years.
“BASE to a large population of the general public is still viewed as ludicrous or insane with that comes a stereotype. Nine times out of ten when the public is subjected to BASE jumping it is either in the movies where it is typically depicted as a reckless sport and is also usually super fake or it is on the news, when it is on the news it is typically looked at as a negative and very reckless as well. I believe that it is very misrepresented by the media for the most part, and of course jumpers are partly responsible for it, like with any misinterpretation there is an initial root for it.
I think there is an attitude that a large group of base jumpers enjoy having and that definitely negatively represents the sport. Because let’s face it who wants to see a nice person make a safe base jump when you can get footage of a douche bag who makes himself look “bad ass” and who has an attitude like a toilet…shitty.
I think that positive representation in the media will only help the sport, thanks to people like Roberta Mancino who is a very pretty face and not the classic “I’m so hard core” and “You’re gonna die doing this” attitude and although she is still very new to the sport of jumping she has a very able mentor and she seems to be extremely able as well. Positive press and coming from a female is great!
In my experience it is always nice to have a little insight into what makes up a group of people. To understand personality types, where people come from, how they got there etc. I am not sure if it will have any impact on jumper’s views of woman in BASE more just stating what I have already said for the most part.”
In conclusion I asked Clair how she wished to be remembered by the people in her life and in typical Clair fashion the reply is infused with her independent attitude.
“I want to be remembered as a person who didn’t let other people tell me that I couldn’t do something, a person who kept moving forward and followed my dreams full heartedly regardless of public opinion, and judgment, but did it with a smile. I want to be remembered as a positive influence in life and in the sport of BASE.”
Authors Note: Since my initial start of this interview with Clair, she has been diagnosed with Lupus. Clair being Clair has taken the illness full on by not allowing it to define who she is as a person or what her limitations will be. If anything she is going harder now than ever and taking action to bring awareness to the illness, as well as raising funds for research. Check out Clair’s website at: http://www.basegirl.com or add her on Facebook at: BASEgirl for updated information.