The first time I had the privilege of meeting Chris Geiler was in the beautiful French town of Antibes surrounded by multi-million dollar yachts and a whole lot of work. Long before that moment in 2007 though, this determined young Australian had set his sights on various goals in life and is now seemingly hitting every single one along the way. So, as I continue to follow his sporting progress with envious eyes, I asked what motivates this multiple F.A.I Gold Medallist and World Champion to leap off a mountain voluntarily, how he conditions himself physically and mentally and to generally find out more about this incredible sport of Wingsuiting.
It’s apparent that the unconventional is something that Chris thrives on and that was evident in the initial days working together onboard the superyacht – The Maltese Falcon. Unbeknown to me, I was sharing a cabin with someone who had zero fear and a rather different outlook on life. However, his progression in this extreme sport and his cool social media feed has fortunately allowed me to live the overcautious part of my life vicariously through him from the safety of my laptop ever since….and that I’m more than comfortable with!
So, in-between jumping out of planes and tutoring other like-minded daredevils at his new base in California, I asked this 38 year old Australian a few questions…
GFG: So we met in the yachting industry a long time ago, what was the reason for the transition from yachts to flying?
CG: I think yachts and flying easily both fall into the same category for an adventurous person. I loved the spontaneity that came with yachting. As you know, we worked long hours but got to go to some of the most amazing places in the world, some that not many people to get to experience and half the time we didn’t know where we going until we got there! Flying is kind of similar in that each experience is unique and that decisions have to be made very quickly. It can be hard work to hike up mountains to get to some of the exit points, but the views and experience make it all worthwhile.
GFG: Do you miss yachting these days or look back and think that was great but a chapter closed?
CG: I do miss it. Those were some of my most memorable times. It became a matter of not having enough time and I didn’t want to be working in a responsible role when I felt like I wasn’t current. I think some people don’t understand how much responsibility comes along with being an Officer on a superyacht.
GFG: When and how did you start flying?
CG: My best mate and I started back in Australia in 1999 but couldn’t afford to keep doing it as it’s pretty expensive back there. We were both living in Italy, working on different yachts when we finally both got around to completing our skydiving licences. It was pretty hard to find time to get to dropzones at the start, so we would both go to a wind tunnel in Prague to learn to fly our bodies better. Working on boats gave us the opportunity to have money but not time, so we made the best use of the time we had.
GFG: Was it something that you felt naturally drawn to as not all people will take up this adrenaline sport?
CG: It definitely felt natural. I started scuba diving when I was 15 and to me, it gives the same peaceful feeling. It’s not about the adrenalin at all, it’s about being completely in the moment with 100% focus.
GFG: How many jumps have you made in your lifetime now?
CG: I’ve got a little over 5000 in total including Skydiving and B.A.S.E
GFG: You’re now living in the USA – how come? Is that for training/competition reasons?
CG: The States is the best place to be for skydiving as it has the largest and busiest dropzones and also the highest skill level. For me to progress and reach my goals, I needed to surround myself with peers that I could learn from.
GFG: You’re married to Reina – what does she think of you flying at 120mph through a waterfall or below tree level?
CG: She thinks that I’m crazy! I think she has probably accepted it more these days but it’s been hard with me losing friends that she knew as well. I’ve always taken a level-headed approach to my Wingsuiting and I think she sees that.
GFG: Does she come and watch when you’re competing?
CG: Yes, Reina comes to most of my major competitions. It’s kind of boring for her to be on the ground all day but she puts up with it!
GFG: Did you meet each other flying?
CG: No, she doesn’t skydive. I’ve taken her for a few tandems and a friend of mine took her paragliding in the Swiss Alps, but I can’t seem to get her hooked on it for some reason!
GFG: OK, so when you compete, how does it all work as I would imagine most won’t be aware..including myself?
CG: Most of the competitions I do are GPS based. We wear a small receiver on the back of our helmet that records our flight, it is then uploaded onto a computer to be scored. The GPS devices can tell you all sorts of information, such as speed and distance flown and can record how long it takes you to fall below a predetermined altitude, which is the end of the competition window. We are capable of reaching speeds of over 200mph over ground and can sustain glide ratios of 4:1. This means that effectively we could travel 4 miles across the ground with 1 mile of altitude. The scoring takes place within the window of altitude, which starts at 3000m and ends at 2000m. This gives us 1 kilometre or 3300 feet of working altitude to perform. We have 3 different tasks to complete… 1 full round in Speed, Time and then Distance. Each task is 1 jump and we are scored for our average speed that is maintained inside the window of altitude, distance travelled and time spent inside this window of altitude. The aim of the game is energy management, we have no engine and only have the inertia that we create (and maintain).
GFG: That’s pretty cool! So where do you want to progress to?
CG: That’s a tough one to answer. I’m still so excited about what can happen in the sport of Wingsuiting and I think we’re only just getting started. I want to be able to keep helping the sport grow and gain traction as a profession. It’s still mainly seen as a bunch of crazy people, but slowly we are changing that. I’m part of a small group of professional Wingsuiters called ‘Next Level’, which is re-educating the Wingsuiting community. We now have a solid grasp on the physics involved and no longer just think that it’s magic that we can fly. This is going to make the next generation of Wingsuiters better and safer than what everybody has heard of in past years. Once we are seen in a more professional manner it will encourage more big companies to get behind us because Wingsuiters won’t be seen as a high risk to reward for sponsorship. It can be done safely!
GFG: Scariest moment…what happened?
CG: Honestly, none! I like pushing limits but I am super-calculated in my approach. I’m not too macho to walk back down a mountain if the conditions aren’t right and I don’t let other people influence my decision making.
GFG: Not that I’m considering it before you ask, but how long does it take to progress from the first parachute jump to where you are now?
CG: Years! It seems like everybody wants to become a Wingsuiting Terrain Flyer these days and at some point, I did too. I took my time and learned a lot from my peers along the way. I had over 1000 skydives before I started base jumping and about 300 Wingsuit Skydives before I started Wingsuit base jumping. It’s crazy to look back and think that even though my progression was pretty mellow I can still see that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did at the time. Everybody wants to get internet famous and it seems like they’re willing to die to get there. I screwed up somewhere along the way because I’m still a nobody…..I just don’t get social media!
GFG: Still a nobody in your sport? I very much doubt that with that medal collection! So let’s discuss your best sporting achievement to date?
CG: I don’t know.. ..the obvious answer is winning the World Championships, but to me, that’s just a competition and only something I do to try to gain some recognition in the sport. Clearing a road gap on a snowboard or holding my breath for 5 and a half minutes while free-diving are probably greater achievements to me personally.
GFG: Does anyone have any idea how many people are involved in this sport? And is there a dominant nationality?
CG: Nobody knows! The companies involved with the sport won’t share their info with each other so we are all left guessing. If we are talking about Skydiving, there might be a few thousand and if we are talking about B.A.S.E jumping then the number is significantly smaller.
GFG: Is there an international circuit you compete on or is it just one-off comps?
CG: It’s both. There is at least one worldwide series of competitions and then also 1 major stand-alone competition that is sanctioned by the F.A.I. The F.A.I is basically the Olympic Committee for all airsports and are seen as the highest level of competition. I have won a World Championship and World Cup Championship from the F.A.I.
GFG: And how much do you spend on equipment and entries, etc per year…is it expensive?
CG: Luckily I don’t have to pay for equipment, but for training and expenses I estimate about USD $15,000 per year, maybe even more. The math just doesn’t add up considering there isn’t even prize money for the F.A.I events!
GFG: So you must be sponsored…want to drop them a mention?
CG: Yes I am and I couldn’t keep doing this without their support.
Squirrel @squirrel.ws for all my Wingsuits, Parachutes and B.A.S.E equipment. They are definitely leading the way into research and development for furthering this sport.
Ausfit Torsion Bars @ausfittorsionbars make awesome gear for working out at home or outdoors. Their bars are completely weatherproof. They’d be great for on yachts too!
Sigma @sigmacertified is an online system for you to keep all of your qualifications in one place, this would be great for yachts too as it would make it so much easier to show your qualifications to new boats that you might be applying to work on.
Sunpath Products @sunpathproducts makers of awesome skydiving containers for our parachutes and the only Wingsuit specific container on the market!
Cookie Helmets @cookiehelmets makers of all kinds of rad helmets including a new impact rated helmet.
Vigil AAD (automatic activation device) @vigil_aad Hopefully I never need to use it but it’s nice to know my reserve parachute will open on a skydive if I get knocked unconscious in the air.
Dekunu Technologies @dekunugram maker of the first smart altimeter which can tell you so much more than just if you are going up or down. These guys are truly innovative and I’m excited to see where their products will go to in the future.
GFG: Redbull, GoPro, Youtube & FB are obviously a huge influence in adrenaline sports and have changed the way it’s seen around the world. Who are the others who are influencing and progressing the sport?
CG: Everybody knows Jeb Corliss.….he’s definitely still the biggest link we have to mainstream audiences. If you haven’t seen his video from about 6 years ago with the song “Sail” then you have been living under a really big rock! Then Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet have been showing the world what is possible when you have lots of money to play with. Those guys are insane and constantly raising the bar on what is possible. B.A.S.E jumping off a mountain and then flying your Wingsuit in through the door of a flying plane! How do you come up with that?!?!
GFG: If one wanted to learn how to do this, what route should they go through? Websites…clubs…call you? And again, this isn’t for me – honest!
CG: Find your local skydiving centre and go make a tandem to start off with. It’s not for everyone and this will give you a good idea if it is for you. If you like it then they will be able to steer you in the right direction. Once you have over 200 skydives you can start thinking about Wingsuiting….then give me a call!
GFG: And not to put anyone off after that, but if not mistaken, 2 years ago was pretty tragic with quite a few fatal accidents…did you know anyone?
CG: 2016 had twice as many deaths as 2017 so it wasn’t a good year at all. I’ve lost a lot of friends to the sport but as long as I can see what their mistakes were it helps me to be confident that I won’t do the same thing. Complacency and education are the 2 largest factors towards death in the sport.
GFG: I don’t want to know the details, but what would make it dangerous apart from unpredictable winds? And what makes you step away from the edge or for a comp to be cancelled?
CG: Wind/weather is definitely the biggest factor. I could be flying at 200kph (over ground speed), fly around a bend and be hit with a 30kt headwind. All of a sudden I’m not moving forward over ground fast enough and wouldn’t be able to make it across terrain to a safe area to open my parachute. That’s just one example. Tailwinds at an exit point are going to push you down more before you get flying too and cold/shaded areas will produce less lift, which could be getting you too close to the ground. There’s a lot more too it!
GFG: When you hear of these sad times, it must make you think about your own mortality, but how do you then react to that? More determined…analyse and learn from? A salute to your comrades when you next jump?
CG: It’s a very real outcome. It’s hard for me to be shocked when something happens. I just learn as much as I can about the accident. We’re just emerging from the “early days” of the sport and just like those days for aviation, we have had to learn thing quickly and on the fly. The numbers are also hard to form an opinion off because every year the sport is growing and therefore the statistics should be constantly changing too.
Your Fitness Routine
GFG: So how do you train to stay in physical shape as it must be a huge strain on the body? Cardio, weights, CrossFit?
CG: Over winter I try to increase my strength with weight training and then try to refine myself during the season. I have an idea of what weight I want to be and then I try to train in a way that puts the weight in the best place. Weight equals acceleration, but too much makes you too heavy to be anything more than a speed machine. I’m trying to be well balanced.
GFG: You just mentioned the importance of weight – what is your ideal?
CG: 79kgs (175lbs) – it makes me heavy enough to have good acceleration but light enough to be floaty.
GFG: So how often do you train in the gym each week to keep at this target?
CG: About 3 days. I wingsuit 5 days and get most of my training from the jumps as I’m either coaching others or testing prototype suits for Squirrel.
GFG: Can you describe a workout for me?
CG: It’s pretty hard to recreate the strength training needed for Performance Wingsuiting as it’s kind of like doing a wide-armed plank for over 90 seconds at a time. However, the strength training I do in the gym is really only to supplement the training I get in the sky. I isolate areas such as back, chest and shoulders, doing high weight/low reps and try to use mainly free weights as they also promote the use of stabilizing muscles. Having good strength in your legs is important too, especially if you’re hiking. It gets you everywhere so you need to replicate that! I’m normally in the gym for about an hour, which includes a warm-up and cool-down. I stretch when I get home.
GFG: What’s the favourite exercise?
CG: Wingsuiting! Hah ha.. in the gym I guess it would be seated chest fly with a machine. I extend my arms so they are straight which simulates my arm position in the air and then it is the same motion. The more strength I can have for this directly translates to being able to maintain my wing configuration as I try to gain altitude.
GFG: I saw you at the top of a mountain pre-jump…how long does it roughly take to hike to get to a good height for a jump?
CG: It depend on the location- there is cable car access to many mountains that reduce the hike but if I’m doing the whole thing by foot it is usually between 2 to 4 hours to the exit point.
GFG: Is there any assisted stretching, yoga classes and/or pilates involved?
CG: I wish! I don’t have time for much more than my own basic Yoga routine, which I’m not very consistent at getting done.
GFG: Are all competitors as focused on their personal exercise levels as you?
CG: Probably not, most people have real jobs and can’t commit the time that I do!
GFG: Do you use any other Practitioners…Osteo, Physios, etc? If so, how often?
CG: I wish! If you find one that would like to give free sessions to a Wingsuit Pilot then send them my way!!
GFG: Fuel prior to a big comp – how do you prepare?
CG: Nothing crazy but usually something with a low G.I to give me sustained energy. I try to keep nibbling at things during the days of competition to keep my energy levels up and then smash an energy drink when it’s near the end of the day. To some extent, I have a long history of competing in different sports and have a pretty good idea of what I need to do to keep my energy levels high and how to recover faster. I know my body pretty well.
GFG: Do you take any shakes, recovery drinks, etc?
CG: I take protein shakes after jumping, stretch and take cold showers to speed up recovery.
GFG: Do you ever use a Sports Psychologist to help focus since you have to be so switched on? If not…does anyone else?
CG: No, never thought of it and definitely couldn’t afford it. There are only a few people in the world that are financially sound from doing this and they are all wearing a blue/silver helmet or dressing up as Black Death!
GFG: Can you tell me a little about your coaching, how that works, costs, and so on?
CG: Coaching was the whole reason why I started to do competitions. I knew that if I could put up some good results I would have more credibility as a coach. It’s what I love doing the most and what I hope to continue doing for a long time. It’s pretty awesome to share the stoke with someone on their first Wingsuit flight or to watch them evolve as a Wingsuit Pilot. I normally do coaching by the day and it takes people some time to refine what it is I have just taught them, so it’s not similar to anything like personal training, which can be done almost every day of the week. That makes it kind of hard to have a constant flow of income from as I’m only coaching when somebody wants to get better at something.
GFG: Where do you think the sport is going in the next 5-10 years?
CG: Once drones can fly fast enough to follow us I think the sport will get a larger following. The biggest problem that we have now is that people can’t see most of the action and that they have no idea what we are doing either. I’ve started to post videos with visual displays of my speed and glide ratio so that people can understand the performance that is possible. Hopefully, this will become the standard for videos as it will also make pilots more aware of if they were flying too slow.
GFG: Yes, I’ve seen this data in the videos and it’s pretty amazing to watch. Ok, so now where do you see yourself in 5 and 10 years?
CG: I’m hoping to still be as active in the sport as I am now. Age isn’t really too much of a factor as long as you stay fit and strong, there’s no reason I can’t be doing this in my 60’s!
GFG: Let’s hope so, but promise me the exclusive interview after your first flight in your 61st year on this planet, please?
CG: Haha! Sure thing!
As I continue to follow Chris, often in disbelief, it’s clear to see that this unique sport is still in its infancy and there is a long way to go for these guys. However, combining these determined individuals who have big dreams and even bigger b*lls with the ever-developing camera and drone technology, I can’t see it being too long before their persistence is duly rewarded. With the power of social media and an increase in sponsorship, let’s hope we are watching these professional sportsmen and women competing for Olympics gold soon! Can you just imagine the viewing figures on that?!!
Cheers, Chris, for your time!
Check out more insane videos and images from Chris’ social media feed and website!