Hi! I’m Andrew Bisharat, a writer covering adventure for National Geographic. I’m an experienced rock climber (20 years) and have been writing about risk and adventure for 15 years. I just wrote a piece about wingsuit BASE jumping, arguably the deadliest sport in the world. I’m not a BASE jumper myself, but I am interested in understanding the psychological calculations of risk because being better at taking risks means leading a more meaningful life. AMA

Proof: https://i.redd.it/kujpbcy9hhf31.jpg

EDIT: Thanks, everyone for all the great questions! I'm off to go climbing, but you can find me on reddit at u/eveningsends or Twitter @eveningsends. --Andrew.

Comments: 133 • Responses: 18  • Date: 

874124125145285245633 karma

Do you think allowing BASE in places like Yosemite would lead to more or fewer deaths? Also, I'm loving the Runout podcast. Nice work.

nationalgeographic51 karma

I think BASE should be allowed in National Parks and I do think it would help lead to fewer deaths. Guys like Dean Potter, Graham Hunt, and Sean Leary (who died in Zion) were all flying at dusk, in bad light, for no other reason than to avoid getting caught by rangers. That low/bad light could have potentially caused them to crash, or at least contributed to their deaths. The fact is, people are jumping in these parks all the time; they're just doing it illegally, at night, and other times so as not to get arrested. Let's make it legal, let's set some guidelines for experience levels, and let's regulate areas where it can and can't be done. Thanks for listening to the podcast, too!

IDKmaybs13 karma

Do you think that the existence of social media/go pro's and such has made adventure sports more dangerous? why or why not?

nationalgeographic24 karma

It's important to understand that "danger" is somewhat of a constant; it doesn't change. What does change is the skillset of the person doing the sport. A sport can be dangerous but the risk can be low if the athlete's skillset is high enough.

Go Pros et al. seem to have had the effect of putting ideas in the heads of people whose skills aren't high enough that they, too, can "be a hero." That's the real danger

H4WKEN11 karma

What's on your bucket list?

nationalgeographic25 karma

Right now it's getting back into climbing shape, raising two girls to be strong young women, and maybe writing a book or two. :)

edgar__allan__bro7 karma

My dad is a seasoned (30+ years) skydiver and hold the opinion that BASE jumpers and wingsuiters in general are completely insane. Do you find that, even in a sport as dangerous as BASE jumping, there are some people/groups who consider themselves to be more "safe" or take fewer risks than other groups/individuals?

nationalgeographic17 karma

Absolutely. Everyone thinks that they are doing it right, even the people who aren't. But the people who seem to be doing it right are the ones who are most willing to walk away on any given day.

I've also always been fascinated by the differences in risk-taking behavior between the two genders. There aren't many female wingsuit BASE jumpers, but the ones who are doing it, like Steph Davis, seem to be doing it really well. She's extremely calculated and honest with herself and her current level of abilities. She seems to understand really well how much skill is required to execute something safely, and honestly assess where her skills are. I think that kind of dispassionate calculus is needed to make such a risky endeavor sustainable.

boredbaseboard7 karma

1 being no risk and 10 being most, where do you sit?

nationalgeographic21 karma

Risk taking is something that changes over time, and now that I am 38 (birthday yesterday!) and have two young daughters, I'm sure that my tolerance for risk is much further down the scale than it was in my 20s.

But I prefer not to think in terms of "risk" when doing any kind of outdoor adventure. I prefer to think in terms of "consequences," since that is a much more rational, easy-to-gauge concept. Risk is abstract, but consequences are tangible.

To bring it back to the topic du jour, the BASE jumping community, there is a big range of personalities who seem to approach risk/consequence from very different perspectives. It can be jarring to see how many of these folks speak about doing these incredibly dangerous things, like throwing themselves off a cliff, with an almost robotic, dispassionate degree of rationality as if they're solving a math problem. Others tend to fit the "adrenaline junkie" mode and for them it's more about getting hyped up and throwing themselves off into the abyss ...

N8teface6 karma

Hi Andrew! Thanks so much for answering questions. You mention in your story how a lot of the wingsuit BASE jumping craze in 2016 was fueled by viral video, which is now harder to generate.

Is there another adventure trend you anticipate being fueled similarly by social media?

nationalgeographic8 karma

Good question. I have some concerns after reading some stories about Instagram influencers trying to get photographs of themselves in sketchy/dangerous/forbidden places. I have concerns about people trying to push the limits just to get a picture or video that's more viral, more extreme, more insane ... The fact that it's getting harder and harder to do this, to "Wow" us with something new, only means that people will need to take bigger risks, to generate that kind of viral content. What so many young athletes in these genres don't do is ask themselves, "Why am I really doing this?" If the answer is, "for the likes," then I think that is a bad reason.

carltheawesome5 karma

What would you most like to tell us that no one ever asks about?

nationalgeographic30 karma

I have many random, unprompted opinions that I would be happy to share: parsley is underrated; I worry about climate change; I worry about our inability to communicate deeply about the big issues of our day; I wish more Americans would travel to "scary" countries and find how many warm and open and wonderful people there are; I don't like eggplant ... to name a few. :)

Leenzlions4 karma

Hi there! Why do you think people take up wingsuit BASE jumping especially when it's considered to be such a deadly sport? And what's something you think people misunderstand the most about the sport or the athletes?

nationalgeographic18 karma

First, you don't just take up wingsuit BASE jumping--you start skydiving, then get into BASE jumping, then fly wingsuits in a skydiving context, then ultimately try wingsuit BASE.

The reasons people want to get into this sport are reasons that go back as far as humans have walked the earth and looked up and seen birds in the sky: it's that primal desire to fly. This sport is the closest humanity has come to achieving that dream of flight. Those rewards, that rush, that sense of freedom and autonomy, for many outweigh the sense that life could be cut short.

I think the most misunderstood thing about this sport is the perception that people are being somehow reckless with their own lives. It's interesting to see how judgmental people can be toward those who do risky things that might potentially kill them. All our lives are finite, and for many risk takers, it's a quality over quantity calculation. But obviously, quantity counts too ... we want to lead long, fulfilling lives. Some of us get lucky, and some don't

ClimbeRocker3 karma

Not basejumping specfic but more about the Outdoor Recreation community. With the rapid growth of climbing, hiking, backpacking, basejumping etc no one is surprised at the large number of crowds now heading outside to the crags, trails etc.The overall popularity of outdoor recreation has exploded. This has caused a mass increase in costs in resources from, clean-up, rescue and management. What are your thoughts on the outdoor recreation community and the need to fill this gap in costs & resources? The hunting & fishing community has been fairly successful in answering this, is it time that Outdoor rec start following their lead?

nationalgeographic2 karma

I think it's important for every community to have an organization that can help on a local, state, or national level. Climbers have the Access Fund, and there are dozens of local climbing groups that arrange clean-ups and can provide guidance for proper etiquette. I think the BASE jumping community more or less lacks this kind of representation and organization. There's a certain romance with sports maintaining their "fringe" / "outsider" status but you're right. These sports are growing, getting bigger, and they require self-supported organizational efforts to make sure that we're using this limited natural resource appropriately

PetterOfCats3 karma

Do you think there would be less participation if more focus was on the aftermath of BASE accidents? I don't think anyone ever jumps without 5 GoPros rolling. Not that Im advocating a Faces of Death montage to discourage others. I personally would like to see more attention paid to the family/friend devastation. Just seems so risky. Especially considering attitude echoed post incident is always something like "he was had every variable planned out/freak accident/he was so careful/I can't believe it happened". It really takes some mental gymnastics to see the best around you die and think that you're somehow different. Seems akin to being a professional russian-roulette player. Also, would you consider BASE jumping a sport(just what the hell is a sport?)?

nationalgeographic5 karma

I think there has been a lot of focus on the death and aftermath. Our 2016 article was all about this, and the new article seems to track how people, perhaps, have been discouraged by the death to keep jumping. I spoke to a few people who admitted as such that their excitement for BASE jumping plummeted (excuse the pun) after 2016's carnage.

Yes, I consider BASE jumping a sport, and I'd imagine that if it had existed 100 years ago Hemingway might have included it in his famous dictum of the only three sports: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

decantre3 karma

I’m interested to know what you think of free soloing— like wingsuit base jumping it is an extreme sport that is thought to be highly dangerous and also unregulated. Have you done any interviews with free soloers; what’s your opinion on the inherent risk level of this sport, etc?

nationalgeographic7 karma

I'm glad someone asked about the parallels between these two sports because I find them fascinating. One of the biggest differences in psychology between free soloists and BASE jumpers is the speed with which the sports unfold. Free soloing is slow. Each second passes as you climb a foot up the wall. There's a lot of time to contemplate what you're doing, how dangerous it is. Fear sets in. BASE jumping is often just a matter of counting down from 3 and throwing yourself off the cliff--that's the hardest part. Then it all happens so fast and it's over before you know it (one way or another). Free soloing has a way of self-regulating, self-selecting. Just try climbing up anything without a rope and you'll quickly realize whether or not you want to be there--or should be there. The fact is, almost no free soloist has ever died pushing their limits; free soloists do die, but they often die on "easy" routes where some unforeseen circumstances causes them to fall (rocks break, etc.). It's very interesting to look at these two sports because I think you can learn so much about how risk-taking manifests. The consequences can be the same, but the mentalities are almost entirely different.

heids_251 karma

Thanks for the AMA!

How do you start off BASE jumping? From an outside perspective, is feels like there is no Level 1, just a do or fail.

nationalgeographic4 karma

Go skydiving for the next 1.5 years and do about 200 jumps. Once your parachute and canopy skills are competent, find BASE jumpers who can mentor you in relatively safe places like tall bridges, where you won't hit a cliff on your way down.

usernamesarethebane1 karma

What's the single best pitch of climbing you've ever done?

nationalgeographic3 karma

I haven't sent this pitch, and I want to go back for it, but Serpentine, on the Taipan Wall, in Australia, is up there for sure.

whaldener1 karma

Do people spend most part of their time in a relaxed and contemplative state while wingsuit BASE jumping , or do their minds need to be exclusively (or quasi-exclusively) focused on maneuvering their bodies properly in order to avoid accidents? Thanks in advance!

nationalgeographic4 karma


pixelnarwhal1 karma

Thanks for the AMA!

I'm curious what has been the biggest risk you've ever taken has been?

Also what are your favorite places to travel and why?

nationalgeographic3 karma

I think the biggest risks I've taken are just following a non-traditional path in life of figuring out how to be a climber and a writer more or less on my own. I didn't have role models and didn't know what I was doing. These non-traditional paths are more common nowadays, and I think that's a great thing for the next generation.

I love the climbing in France, the food and the culture. It's a place I'll return to again and again. Same with New Zealand. But maybe Lebanon and Venezuela are two of my favorite places that I've been. I'd love to go back to Lebanon soon ..

WackTheHorld1 karma

Do wingsuit BASE jumpers have ethics that govern when/how/where they jump, similar in the way that climbers have developing and climbing ethics?

nationalgeographic8 karma

no, I don't believe there is any such "code" of conduct. Unlike with climbing, where you have to climb up to your level, in BASE jumping you jump into your level. You don't know what you're capable of pulling off until you're in the air ... Obviously, values like respect and humility are important to the jumping community, because that's how you make this sport sustainable.

Iowai1 karma

Pizza or french fries?

nationalgeographic3 karma

why not both?

kibblznbitz1 karma

Thanks for the AMA :)

What’s something you’re (still) trying to psych yourself up for, and what’s making you hesitate?

nationalgeographic2 karma

I have a number of big writing and creative projects that have been on my list for years. I hesitate diving into them because I know just how much energy they're going to take. I also know that my personality is such that once I start something, I can't stop until it's finished. ... Because there are so many projects I want to do, it's also hard to know which is the right one to focus on. I'm afraid of choosing the wrong one. This is the constant and common struggle of any freelance writer, I think ... Any other freelance writers have advice for me?? :)