After spending much of his twenties working as a software engineer in San Francisco, Josh Miramant left his job earlier this year to travel. He landed in Tonsai, Thailand, a rock climbing paradise with huge cliffs lining the ocean. There he met a 29-year-old free spirit from Moscow named Stanislav “Stas” Aksenov who has been pioneering a new way to BASE jump that’s almost unimaginable.
They call it “suspension BASE.” In a somewhat appalling fashion, the activity combines an ancient body-piercing art with parachuting: Instead of stowing your chute in a pack, you attach it with metal hooks directly to the skin on your back. Then you jump.
If that sounds gory, you should see this video. It shows Miramant, a 28-year-old lifelong rock climber, executing his first suspension BASE jump on May 13, exactly 22 days after his first regular BASE jump, from a 380-foot-high cliff. Miramant’s chute was attached to four bolts that Aksenov bored into Miramant’s upper back then fastened shut. (The hooks are removed soon after the jump, leaving four-millimeter incisions that bleed.)
Miramant posted the video earlier this month to his website, ExtremityProject.co, and to YouTube. He is only the 11th person and third American to try a suspension BASE jump, according to both Aksenov and the International Suspension Alliance in Texas. Each of those 11 were pierced by Aksenov, who first rigged up a suspension BASE jump on another person (one of his friends) two and a half years ago.
“I honestly thought it would’ve ripped the skin, but it’s pretty amazing how sturdy it is and remarkable how not painful it was,” Miramant said last week from Russia, where he is traveling with Aksenov. “The catch of the canopy is just this relief and rush, about the same time the pain would be firing. It was a pretty amazing surprise for a person with no context of any self-mutilation.”
Why would anyone opt for a suspension jump over one that employs a backpack? “All your instincts about safety, they are broken,” Aksenov says. “When you make the jump, the adrenaline is much stronger. It’s probably the most pure feeling of flight. It’s just you and the canopy and nothing else. So you really feel the flight with your own skin.”
Suspension BASE came about after Aksenov and some friends—they call themselves the “Sinner Team”—began experimenting with suspension freefalls. They jumped off fixed objects attached to ropes by hooks and pendulumed back and forth once the ropes caught their fall. Aksenov says he holds the unofficial world record with a jump from 560 feet high. “Five years ago when I made the first jump from 25 meters, nobody believed you could do this,” Aksenov says. Now, he does it for a living under the Sinner Team banner with the help of donations from strangers. “I make jumps for the people. They give what they want, and it’s enough for me.”
The medical implications of suspension BASE jumping are a gray area, largely because it is next to impossible to gauge how much force the canopy exerts on the back from different heights—and how much force it would take to rupture the skin. Aksenov said he once hung from a single hook in his upper back with three women hanging on him, and it took a short time before his skin began to rip. “We think you need around 200 kilos [441 pounds] to rip one hook out of your back. And we use four or six hooks for a jump.”
Sports dermatologist Brian Adams, the chair of the dermatology department at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, had never heard of suspension BASE jumping until he watched Miramant’s video. “Seems foolish on the face of it,” he wrote in an email. He wasn’t surprised that Miramant’s skin could hold his weight against the tug of the parachute, but he cautioned against trusting it every time. “Ripping forces as one’s kinetic energy is abruptly stopped by a forceful tug could be very unpredictable and quite powerful enough to rip through the skin.”
Miramant, as you might have guessed, has no plans to return to his desk job or to stop suspension BASE jumping. He has hopped aboard Aksenov’s train of aerial exploration. They are heading to Crimea later this week, and sometime in the next six months, Aksenov hopes to perform a freefall suspension jump where he reaches terminal velocity from a hot air balloon.
Miramant will fly to Western Europe after his adventures in Russia, then head down to South America to snowboard, alpine climb, and jump. He has kept his apartment in San Francisco, though he's not sure when he'll need it again.
“I’m sort of floating right now,” he says