July 11, 2016

BASE Jumping in Utah: Behind the Shot with Forest Woodward

Check out this behind the scenes perspective on a high-stakes photo shoot in Moab, Utah with Forest Woodward. Just look before you leap!

“Now you’re making me nervous,” Ian chuckled as I lowered myself over the edge of the cliff.

We were a few miles outside Moab, and Ian and his girlfriend Steph had been kind enough to let me shoot them BASE jumping.

I had never shot BASE jumping before and had only met them two days prior while working on an article for Outside magazine about adventure athletes in the area. I was outwardly nervous as we left the trail far below, scrambling high into a rolling sea of red sandstone rising steeply above the Colorado River.

Forest Woodward photo of BASE jumper in Moab

Cresting a ridge, we were greeted by a warm breeze, absent from the valley below.

Cause for pause.

Ian and Steph stopped and stood quietly watching the indicator flag they had planted in the river bed below. I hung back. Watching. Waiting. Ready to head back if that was what they decided. The last thing I wanted was for them to feel any pressure to jump because I was there with the camera.

They decided to keep going. I suggested that they shouldn’t go through with the jump just because I was there, at which point they just laughed, and replied, “Don’t worry, we won’t”.

Before long, we reach the exit point for their jump. Ian hawks a few loogies over the edge, watching the wind gently roll and twist them as they fall in slow motion towards the canyon floor below.

Uncoiling a rope from my pack, I attach it to a fixed anchor and proceed to lower over the lip. Soon I find myself spinning in free space a few meters below their exit point. It’s at this point that Ian looks down at me and laughs, not envying my position, suspended on a strand of rope, a backpack filled with 40 pounds of camera equipment on my back instead of a parachute.

Did I mention that I’ve never shot BASE jumping before? However nervous I might be making Ian by dangling out here in space, I’m certain I’m far more nervous for them. All I know about BASE jumping is what I’ve learned from them on the walk up. OK, and the sensationalized media about accidents and deaths that is constantly being pushed as clickbait on Facebook.

Steph jumps first.

Time accelerates and she is gone. Then a bang, like a gunshot from the canyon below, as her chute opens.

I watch for a few seconds as she floats out of sight and is gone. I’m breathless. Giddy from the adrenaline of watching her fall past me a few feet away. I don’t think I got the shot. She’s back on the ground now, her dog Cajun happily greeting her with a wagging tail, patiently watching as she packs up her chute. I look back to Ian. He’s waiting on me.

Damn. One more shot at this. A split second for a single frame that I get one chance to make. Somehow in my calculations for making this shot, I neglected to consider that there are no “take twos” in shooting BASE.

“Is it cool if I do a gainer?” He shouts down to me.

“Sure… What’s that?” I shout back.

“Oh, a backflip essentially,” he replies, stepping into space, gracefully, slowly, rotating for a second in my viewfinder before disappearing, accelerating into what I could only imagine to be the most satisfactory of sensations. His chute billowing, he floated into the sandy draw where Steph and Cajun awaited.

Nerves calming, I slowly ascended the rope, packed up my gear, and began the long slog back down to the base of the cliffs, grateful to have witnessed firsthand the art of BASE.

“Next time maybe I’ll fly,” I thought, “but for now, solid ground feels pretty good.”

Want to read more of Forest Woodward’s stories? Click here for an extra dose of stoke.

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