Clair Marie on BASE Jumping, Rock Climbing, Fashion and Female Competitiveness

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It’s hard to pin down a girl that loves to fly. The world’s youngest BASE jumper at the age of 16, Clair Marie is still finding new heights ten years later.

an image of Clair Marie, Base Jumper, SkydiverNo one believed eight-year-old Clair when she insisted she would be a BASE jumper someday, not even her mother. Clair is a stunning example of someone who defied all odds to see her childhood dreams come to fruition. We caught up with her to hear about her new BASE girl bikini line, her view on sexy women in action sports and why bungee jumping scares the bejeezus out of her.

SB: Who are your sponsors?

CM: I am currently sponsored by Kaikini Bikini (I just launched the second installment in the exclusive BASE girl bikini line with them), Raw Revolution and Evolv.

SB: What does it mean to be a BASE girl exclusive bikini line?

CM: BASE girl is my brand. The first suit I modeled was a Kaikini design. The second one I designed with active sports in mind. The top isn’t a typical triangle shape so you don’t have to fear falling out of it. It is designed for more sporty girls and for keeping everything in one place!

SB: Where are you from and where do you now call home?

CM: I was born and raised in a small mountain town just outside of South Lake Tahoe. I was raised skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry of Tahoe and the Sierra’s. In the summertime, I took full advantage of the amazing rock climbing, hiking and camping that my hometown provided. Growing up in the snow was a blessing and a curse. I really loved where I grew up but as I came into adulthood I really desired a slightly warmer and easier climate which is why I ended up in San Diego. I still love the snow so much but now I get to decide when I want to spend time in it.

an image of Clair Marie, Base Jumping, Parachuting

Photo by Tine Riche

SB: At the age of 16, you were the youngest BASE jumper on record. Was it hard to gain respect in the BASE jumping community being so young?

CM: Respect in the BASE community is hard for almost anyone to attain. The BASE community is really bizarre in their behavior. I was very harshly judged because of my introduction in the sport. I had very few supporters in my early days. In fact, I had many people who wanted to stop me! Learning at 16 was an amazing and really difficult experience for me. It was amazing because it was a dream come true for me but it was also really hard. For the first time in my life, I got a real harsh look at the way people are and how mean people can be.

SB: What made you get into BASE jumping? You said it was a lifelong dream but where did it originate?

CM: When I learned about BASE jumping it was really much more difficult to be introduced into. Now, they have an official course where you can go after you have had over 200 skydiving jumps. When I started you had to find someone to mentor you, they were trying to keep it really small. I saw it on a snowboarding video when I was eight at a ski resort. I told my mom that would do it someday and she was like “no, you’re not”.

an image of Clair Marie, Base Jumping, Parachuting

Photo by  Alex Edge

I researched it as much as I could and told everyone that was willing to listen that I was going to be a base jumper but no one believed me. I found a video about the sport that I watched over and over again. One day, I discovered that there was an email of the man in the video on the back of the cover. I sent him an email asking him to teach me but he thought I was joking. He thought I was just some kid that was messing around. When I was adamant and sent him another email, he said he would teach me for free if he could film me and my first jump. He taught me how to base jump before I had my first skydive which is totally backwards from the way things work now. I grew up in a town of 52 people and my family was 11 of those people. I was the most shy and awkward kid. When he asked me my name on the video I made this face like I wasn’t sure that I even knew the right answer.

SB: What is the appeal of BASE jumping that caused you to steer towards pursuing a career in that action sport as opposed to snowboarding or rock climbing?

CM: I had always been a rock climber and a snowsports addict but there was something so different about BASE. It might be because I spent so many years dreaming about it and it was so unattainable for so many years that when I finally had a chance to do it I just ran with it. I will always love climbing and skiing/snowboarding but the feeling that I get while BASE jumping, every aspect of BASE jumping, is unmatched by anything else I have ever done.

an image of Clair Marie, Rock Climbing, Mountain Climbing

 Photo by GB Imaging

SB: Wikipedia tells us that “BASE” is an acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: building, antenna, span, and Earth (cliff). Which is your favorite?

CM: That’s a hard one. My favorite? It depends on where I am at. I love building jumps. They require a lot more snaking around. I think because I don’t have a lot of building jumps they are some of my favorite. It’s hard to decide though because the 3,000-4000 foot terminal cliffs in Switzerland and Norway are also some of my favorite. It’s more like flying than skydiving.

SB: Do you do any sort of physical training for jumping?

CM: Being physically fit is not a necessity for BASE jumping but it sure does make many of the approaches to the jumps a whole lot easier. I really like cycling for cardio so I try to ride as much as possible. Climbing really helps for accessibility to jumps as it opens the door for many more exit points that require some form of climbing to get to them. I think that physical fitness is really important regardless of sport or lifestyle. I always feel better when I am being active. I am happier and just generally more fired up on life when I work out and feel good!

SB: It sounds like just anyone can BASE jump but being fit helps to get to better exit points. Do you have mountaineering experience? Have you used a lot of your rock climbing skills to access jumps?

CM: It really depends. Essentially, you are falling off an object on to the ground. Fisher Towers of Castle Valley just outside of Moab, Utah there is a jump that is only accessible by rock climbing. It is a three to four pitch climb following a 45 minute hike. People that are out of shape would never be able to do that jump. In fact, a lot of people can’t do it. Getting multiple jumps in a day fitness definitely comes into play. In Norway, there are some of the best jumps but they are a five hour hike in. When we were in Malaysia, we took an elevator to the top of a building jump but hiking and climbing makes it a whole experience rather than just one act. Unlike skydiving, where you get in the plane and then jump but that gets boring. It’s the same thing over and over again.

an image of Clair Marie, Base Jumping, Parachuting

Photo by Scott Rogers

SB: What’s your favorite meal or snack before or after a jump? Do you eat before jumping?

CM: I’m a vegan. I try to really plan ahead otherwise I find myself hungry (so hungry that I’m angry). But, the Raw Revolution bars! They are vegan and delicious. I am not a huge bar person but raw bars are my all time favorite. I love them so much that I contacted them and now I am sponsored by them! I also got them to give me a 20% discount for all my followers, go to www.rawrev.com, coupon code: clairmarie.

SB: So, you pack your own parachutes. That may eliminate a piece of the fear factor but what else do you do to ensure safety?

CM: Packing is huge for security but in addition to packing my own parachute, on every single jump I make sure to be educated about the object, its surroundings, potential hazards, wind conditions, landing areas as well as the people that I am jumping with! If everything doesn’t line up to be really solid then I have no problem walking down.

an image of Clair Marie, Base Jumping, Parachute rigging

Photo by Alex Edge

SB: We have seen you jump in everything from a bathing suit to jeans. What is the most comfortable thing for you to wear to jump in?

CM: I think that each jump is different. Jumping and landing on a sunny beach just begs for a bikini, backcountry and more technical approaches depend on the climate. I would have to say the most challenging thing I have ever jumped in was a full length formal gown off an antenna for a high fashion photo shoot. Generally speaking, I like to jump in jeans, a comfortable t-shirt and my evolv approach shoes.

SB: What is the most common thought you have right before taking the initial plunge off a cliff face or platform? What is crossing your mind when flying hundreds of feet off the ground? Are you taking in the view or calculating your landing?

CM: My thought process is different on every single jump because every jump poses different difficulties and challenges. The one feeling that is pretty across the board is a nervous excitement. A butterfly feeling in my stomach which is eased by a deep breath right before giving the typical 3-2-1 cya countdown.

While in the air, before the parachute opens there is this total sense of calm. You are just kind of along for the ride. Not thinking about anything else but the moment right then and there. If I am jumping a higher cliff and I am tracking then I am thinking about my body position, how the air is hitting my body and how I can manipulate it so I can move further and faster forward. I look around for trees and other objects that can help me gauge how high I am and when I need to open my parachute. When I do finally open there is a change of gears- a surge of excitement from the previous few moments but then, depending on the landing area, a hyper focus on getting to the ground safely. Judging wind condition and landing area obstacles as well as setting up for landing. Its pretty funny for me because I see videos of me shot from a helmet cam and I get to see my face as I run off, while I am falling and then flying my parachute. I have a pretty intense game face until my feet hit the ground. Without fail, as soon as my feet touch the ground my face erupts into a huge smile!

an image of Clair Marie, Base Jumping, Parachuting

Photo by Alex Edge

SB: Have you worked with many other women in the BASE industry?

CM: It attracts very interesting groups of women, in my eyes. It is becoming less and less male dominated as time goes on. I was one of less than 50 people when I first started. There weren’t many people, men or women, that I could look up to because they were new still too. As time goes on there are more women coming up. There are few girls that are the “girlfriends” and they have three to five jumps a year and they call themselves jumpers but not a lot of active jumpers that jump all the time.

There are a lot of strange girls that like being the only girls in the sport. They are very competitive. I think there are a lot of insecure women that are intimidated by other women. In a group of jumpers, there will be only one to two girls in the group. Because I am one of the only women making a career in the industry, I am viewed as intimidating. I do have one woman that I deeply respect, Marta, that has been jumping for 20 years. She is the happiest, most stoked, loveliest woman I have ever met. A lot of the women in Europe are the opposite of my experience with American women. They are a lot of fun to jump with!

an image of Clair Marie, Base Jumping, Parachuting

Photo by Christian Michel

SB: In a recent blog post, you wrote about women feeling that if they are not advocating themselves as a sex symbol that they fail to get as much media coverage as men. What instigated this? Do you see a solution for this problem?

CM: It is not that I don’t support sexiness. I believe women are captivating, beautiful sexual beings that deserve to be able to express themselves in this way. But when that is what the focus is on rather than their ability, I believe that we are taking something away from them. So many photos of badass female athletes are just of them posing next to their gear whereas their male counterparts are featured in action shots. It just bums me out because I know we are capable of some incredible stuff that is really neglected by the media. I think there is a balance between being comfortable with sexiness but also making skill and ability the highlighted area of focus!

SB: When you google your name the first 6 images are of you in lingerie and a bikini, the seventh being a photo of you jumping. How do you feel about this?

CM: I have never had a problem with women displaying their sexuality. I don’t want to shame sexiness but I don’t want it to be the main focus. I was following all these adventure pages on Instagram and it was all dudes. I thought it would be great to start a new ladies instagram handle and so I googled all the women in action sports. All the pictures that came up were the sexy images of women, not competition or action photos. All the pictures are of the girl athlete on or next to her gear but when I googled her male counterpart they are on their bikes or boards. There has to be a middle ground.

The sport should be the focus, not the sexiness. I don’t want to hear “oh, they do sports too?” I’m not saying that I haven’t done that but we should be focused on what we do! It was the sheer difference between men and women and how they are portrayed. It’s unfortunate that when you google me those images are what comes up. Those highly sexed images are always what is put on my cover articles and used in my coverage. Unfortunately, it’s part of what the consumer wants. I can look at the statistics on my own web page and what photos people click on. The number one is one of my bikini pictures. Until the public decides they support what athletes do and not what they look like then nothing is going to change. It’s not just the media but the consumer too. I appreciate the pictures of women kicking ass!

an image of Clair Marie, Skydiving, Parachuting

Photo by  Kyle Berkompas

SB: From bugs to BASE jumping, you seem to have no fears. What are some things that do scare you?

CM: I am so afraid of bugs. I hate them, mostly just the flying ones and when they are buzzing around my head and face. I think part of that stems from the fact that I was once stung in the eye by a bee that flew in between my sunglasses and my face so I consider that fear is totally justifiable. Aside from bugs, I am terrified of bungee jumping. The whole concept of it scares me and I have zero desire to ever try it.

SB: Why do you fear bungee jumping?

CM: I like being in control of what is going on. The first thing is that I don’t have a parachute and second, that I am not going to land on the ground. It is someone else strapping me in and all the videos of ropes snapping. I don’t think I will ever do that. If something was to happen I don’t want to blame anyone but myself. I don’t want to know how I would react to the person that messed up stuffing my parachute or didn’t double check my harness and how I would react.

SB: What does sexy mean to you?

CM: The sexiest thing is confidence and ability. The ability to do what you do and think “I’m good at this and I’m enjoying myself.” There is an interesting vibe and energy when someone is calm and confident in what they are doing- whether it is walking down the street, modeling a bikini or jumping off a cliff. Confidence is the most sexy thing.

an image of Clair Marie, Rock Climbing, Mountain Climbing

Photo by GB Imaging

SB: What does empowered mean to you?

CM: Being an empowered woman is putting the confidence out there. It makes it easy for people to follow in your footsteps and doing it with style. I get emails that I have inspired people to do what they love. It motivates me and drives me to do more and to ignore all the judgements. That’s why I put myself out there! I could do this everyday and never post anything about it. The world is lacking people defying the odds because BASE is so taboo people see that and they think their dreams and desires are obtainable.

SB: Any exciting new projects in the works? In your eyes, what does the future hold for Miss Clair Marie?

CM: I am currently training to hopefully set a few records in BASE that no one has attempted before but thats all I can tell you! I am also working with a few production companies on some adventure shows, as well as some commercial and movie stunts planned for the next year!

Top left Portrait Photo by Kresta Christenson

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About Whitney Chandler

I am a Colorado native with an unfettering love for the West. I grew up riding, hiking, biking and climbing the Rocky Mountains and am looking forward to exploring what Idaho has to offer since moving here in August of 2014.
I am a recent graduate of Colorado Mountain College with a Bachelor’s in Sustainability Studies. I want to ensure that these mountains are still providing epic seasons for future generations to enjoy. While holding down jobs at Moon’s Kitchen and Java in Hyde Park, I enjoy writing about environmental issues, stories that empower women and poetry.