Norwegian Jokke Sommer always wanted to fly, and now he's traveling the globe and taking the sport of wingsuit flying to the next level.
If you haven't seen a wingsuit flyer in action, get ready for some serious insanity. These guys slip into what looks like a flying squirrel suit and speed at close proximity over treetops, through mountain passes, and over villages using nothing more than velocity, gravity, and quick thinking to keep them alive.
Jokke started skydiving in 2007 and a year later he pulled off 250 jumps in two months. That wasn't enough, so he started B.A.S.E. jumping and finally went balls to the wall and gave wingsuit flying a try. He recently released the film 'Dream Lines IV,' part of an ongoing series that shows these human flights in all their hair-raising glory. We caught up with him when he was just back from a trip to Dubai, and taking some time off in Oslo before the next adventure.
RedBullUSA.com: So first off, is wingsuit flying as scary as it looks?
Jokke Sommer: When I was looking at it five years ago I was shocked and I felt sick to my stomach just looking at it, but doing it, it's not that scary. The very first time is a bit special. It's a lot of nerves playing and a lot of feelings and emotions. It's very hard to put into words. It's just something you have to experience.
RedBullUSA.com: You'd gone skydiving hundreds of times before trying a wingsuit. How did you make that transition?
Jokke Sommer: I had a lot of jumps from a plane first and that was no problem, and I had a lot of nice B.A.S.E. jumps. I tried with a really small wingsuit first and just progressed from there. It's a lot of steps (to get to your first real wingsuit jump) but I did it in a shorter amount of time. That's the most important thing is that you stay current and develop an awareness of what you do. You're using your body and when you jump off you kind of use the acceleration force to make your wing suit inflate and the gravity is your engine and you have to control your legs and arms and shoulders -- it's just kind of like you would imagine flying yourself.
"I had two shitty times but I learned a lot from them, so I used it as something positive rather than focusing on the negative facts around it." -- Jokke Sommer
RedBullUSA.com: How fast are you guys going at top speeds usually?
Jokke Sommer: Speed depends on the terrain but usually about 200 to 220 kilometers per hour (about 125-135 mph). The faster you go the safer it is, but if you manage to get to 250 kilometers per hour (155 mph) then it's pretty sick.
RedBullUSA.com: Have you ever had any sketchy moments or close calls while you’re speeding through the air?
Jokke Sommer: I had two shitty times but I learned a lot from them, so I used it as something positive rather than focusing on the negative facts around it.
One time I almost hit something and the second time my cameraman was behind me. We were flying with four people and a helicopter and filming, and the stress level was high. We didn't think twice about the exit timing. We missed timing by half a second and it was not one man's fault, it was a group thing. We didn't consider all the facts and variables and the correct timing so it ended up that my camera flier and I crashed -- it was not the most fun part of the day. But we learned a lot from that. All I can say is those two times where it almost went bad were times where it actually maybe was better for the future since we learned from it.
RedBullUSA.com: How do you handle sketchy moments like that? Do you call it a day?
Jokke Sommer: We went straight back out - you have to just go straight back out. I was a bit fucked for like an hour, because you always feel a bit of shit when you know that the seconds you're living now should not have been yours. It's a strange feeling and you don't want to let it sink in too much. I went and did one more jump just by myself just to be done with it.
RedBullUSA.com: Your new film, 'Dream Lines IV,' is pretty epic. You can almost imagine being up there, and you can hear what it must sound like to be whizzing through mountains and trees at those speeds. Where were the locations, and how do you find them?
Jokke Sommer: We were in Switzerland and France. I find the terrain myself mainly. We want to present lines that no one else is doing and people can of course copy it themselves the year after, but we want to have exclusive lines that haven't been seen before. These were lines we found on Google Earth. It's just like Boy Scouts, you're just out looking for some fun and you have these adventures. It's like a wonderland where you have a tree here and some cows there -- it's like a dream.
"The one we just did in Switzerland is the one I remember the most. It had everything: It was fast, technical, and visual. It feels like you're flying through a little village... It's like this wonderland." -- Jokke Sommer
RedBullUSA.com: What would you say to people who've maybe gone skydiving once or twice who want to try wingsuit flying? Is it for everyone?
Jokke Sommer: I don't think it's for everyone unless you want to do it full time because it is pretty sketchy. It feels very safe and fun but suddenly out of the blue it smacks you. It's a sport that's not for everyone.
A sport like B.A.S.E. jumping yes, that's a nice sport that's suitable for most people all around the globe. You can't just have one month of vacation a year and do hardcore proximity flying (in a wingsuit). We saw a big affect from this the last two years and there were a lot of accidents. I don't suggest just anyone starting with it unless it is really what you dream about doing, but it's not something you just try for fun.
RedBullUSA.com: Is there any training involved? Are you sticking to any kind of physical program during the year to stay in top shape for your trips?
Jokke Sommer: I'm just visualizing a lot and thinking about new lines and how the lines are going to be to fly and being prepared. So it's more of a mental game and it's not so physical. It's more of a mind sport. It's important to think ahead all the time so you know your line. If you're going 40 to 50 meters per second and you have tight terrain where you're going to slalom through the trees and stuff you always need to be ready for the next thing. So you always think one step ahead. Chess is pretty much the same. It's good to have good reaction time and make quick decisions or make a sudden switch to Plan B. That's the technical side of it.
RedBullUSA.com: How many trips are you going on a year? How do you handle the down time between flying through Swiss villages and slaloming through the trees in France?
Jokke Sommer: My time off is chilling out in Oslo with my friends. If I have a job I try to stay at the location and I try to surf or do whatever that spot has to offer. You have hard work then a little vacation then hard work. You balance it. I think this year I'll have more than 250 travel days, and last year was about 220 to 240. I find it interesting so I try to get inspired by every new location so you don't start to get tired of what you actually love doing. You have to look for the cool opportunities in every place.
RedBullUSA.com: Where haven't you flown that you're excited to check out?
Jokke Sommer: Hawaii. I really want to do Hawaii in April and maybe B.C., but for now it's Rio, then Chamonix in France in March, and then maybe Hawaii in April. It's full-on until the fall.
RedBullUSA.com: There are more competitions cropping up for wingsuit flyers. How do you think this is going to impact the sport?
Jokke Sommer: There are a lot coming up now. That is of course going to make the sport even bigger and make the industry around it grow. The skydiving industry is getting a lot of new clients because of us. I think this sport is going to grow really fast. There are going to be more films, simply because with all the views we are getting the bigger film industry will use more of this. If you go back in time and look at skating and all these industries and how they suddenly exploded one by one -- we're at the exact right time and the exact same place now in our sport that they were when they started to explode.
RedBullUSA.com: What are some of your favorite lines you've flown so far?
Jokke Sommer: The one we just did in Switzerland is the one I remember the most. It had everything: It was fast, technical, and visual. It feels like you're flying through a little village. It doesn't feel so steep when you're flying, you see it kind of like just how you'd imagine when you dream about it. It's like this wonderland. It's like Alice in Wonderland but you do it for real. Every human being should get that feeling once in their life -- that could change a lot in this world.
Follow Red Bull on Twitter for more updates.