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Wingsuit flying in China

2014-10-30 09:19 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha
Xu Kai, one of the few Chinese wingsuit enthusiasts, flies among the mountains. Photo: Courtesy of Xu Kai

Xu Kai, one of the few Chinese wingsuit enthusiasts, flies among the mountains. Photo: Courtesy of Xu Kai

Just as Zhang Shupeng was enjoying the sensation of flying like a bird among the jagged peaks of the Swiss Alps, he pulled on his parachute cord, but nothing happened. Around 70 meters from the ground and in a rapid free-fall, he discovered he had pulled the wrong cord.

"In less than a second, my mind went blank. But I had to force myself to calm down. I couldn't make a second mistake," recalled Zhang.

Quickly adjusting his mood, Zhang luckily pulled the right cord and made a safe landing. "I'm still a bit scared, but it was very exciting," said Zhang.

The 29-year-old Zhang is one of around five enthusiasts of wingsuit flying in China. Wingsuit flying, also known as wingsuiting, is a sport that enables people to fly through the air via a wingsuit. The wingsuit adds a surface to the human body which increases the lift. As wingsuit flying ends with a parachute opening, parachutes need to be carried as an addition to the wingsuit.

"Unlike regular parachutes that have straps attached to the body, wingsuits are worn as part of your body so that you can fly more freely and can be closer to nature," said Zhang.

Wingsuit flying did not come to public attention until the late 1990s, and has grown into an extreme sport that is practiced worldwide. In China, however, the sport has only started to gain popularity in the past few years.

Xu Kai, 43, is the first Chinese wingsuit flier. Xu learned how to wingsuit fly in the US in 2013.

"I have tried wingsuit flying as high as 6,500 meters by jumping out of a helicopter, and as low as about 150 meters [by jumping] from a bridge," said Xu.

Every time Xu puts on his wingsuit, he admits to feeling a mixture of anxiety and excitement.

"The most beautiful part of wingsuit flying is that it gives you the perspective of a bird. Many times I just forget I'm a human, but feel like I was a bird," said Xu.

In order to promote the sport in China, Xu established a wingsuit club called the Righthere Club. "So far I'm still trying to promote the sport to the public. Later, the club plans to focus on training enthusiasts of the sport," said Xu.

He is optimistic that in the next two to three years, there will be a breakthrough for wingsuit fliers in China.

According to Zhang, before learning how to wingsuit fly in the US, he had to amass over 200 skydiving jumps in accordance with the regulations of the United States Parachute Association. He spent 44 days in America and spent over $3,500.

"Normally, the equipment needed in wingsuit flying includes a wingsuit, a helmet, parachutes, glasses and an altimeter. In total, it weighs about 10 kilograms," explained Zhang.

Although wingsuit flying can be experienced by leaping from different places, such as helicopters, cliffs, mountains and even television towers, the place that Zhang frequents the most are the Alps in Europe where the natural scenery is breathtaking. However, Zhang states that China has many beautiful locations for the activity.

"Zhangjiajie [in Hunan Province] is a nice choice. Summer and autumn are the best seasons," said Zhang, adding that people who have good health and sufficient outdoor experience should try the sport.

In Zhang's view, the high risks involved in wingsuit flying are the greatest obstacles in the promotion of the sport.

The American network CNN reported that in October 2013, Hungarian wingsuit flier Victor Kovats died in Tianmen Mountain National Forest Park in Zhangjiajie, after he jumped into a valley.

Although Xu has suffered from injuries to his spine and ankle, he has stressed that the sport itself is not as risky as people think. "A single mistake won't lead to death if you are a well-trained wingsuit flier," he said.

"If we can't extend the length of life, we should increase the depth of life," said Zhang, conceding the dangers do exist in this sport.

"I am preparing to participate in the Wingsuit Flying World Championship next year," he said.

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