The Flying Dagger: A Man Without Fear

April 10, 2018

Jeb Corliss, a professional skydiver and BASE jumper, lives life on the edge- or rather, lives life jumping off of edges. The daring athlete has an impressive resume, from the Eiffel Tower to the Golden Gate Bridge to Angel Falls, Venezuela, for a total of over 1,000 jumps in his lifetime. He has been arrested by the New York Police Department for attempting to jump off of the Empire State Building and was nearly eaten alive by crabs after a gnarly crash in Howick Falls, South Africa. This is a man who “look[s] at every jump like it’s out to kill [him].” Then, he completes them anyway.

This is the difference between athletes like Corliss and the rest of us. It is not that the BASE jumper cannot recognize danger, but that he sees it as challenge rather than a reason to surrender. He is the type of athlete to strap on a wingsuit and glide like a flying squirrel down the side of mountains that many people would not even dream of hiking. Corliss challenges society by breaking rules: from jumping off of symbolic landmarks such as the Christ the Redeemer statue to defying gravity itself, he has more than proved himself as not only an extreme athlete, but a legend.

However, Corliss’s fearlessness had led him astray. He likes to up the ante and push even his own practically nonexistent boundaries. His constant yearning to improve is what makes him admirable- but it comes at a price. The year was 2012. The challenge was Table Mountain, a daunting 3,558-foot rocky beast of a landscape. Corliss, decked out in his state-of-the-art wingsuit, had already successful completed several practice jumps at the destination. However, one might remember the Greek mythological story of Icarus, whose father instructed him to fly neither too close to the ocean nor the sun. Icarus failed to heed his father’s warning, and his wings melted in the heat of the orb.

The greatest extreme athletes are constantly toeing this line between the ocean, which represents a smug comfort in one’s achievements, and the sun, which represents overconfidence. Despite the lesson that Greek mythology was aiming to teach, in the modern world it is simply more fun to watch athletes get closer and closer to the metaphorical sun. That is what makes Corliss so fascinating. The BASE jumper was hurtling down the rocky slope of Table Mountain at a mind-melting 120 miles per hour when his left foot just barely knocked into a boulder. The hit disrupted his velocity and the athlete collided directly into the mountain.

This terrifying clip is the reason that one of the first Google suggestions for Jeb Corliss is “death,” which in a morbid way is the marker of a remarkable adventure athlete. Despite this popular search, Corliss is very much alive: he survived the crash by deploying his emergency parachute. He spent the next year of his life in unimaginable amounts of pain, forgoing the use of prescription painkillers, perhaps his bravest achievement. He broke both ankles, a fibula, and three toes, tore his Anterior cruciate ligament, and required skin grafts to close a gnarly gash on his knee. He took the time to consider the risks he had taken throughout his career, and then retired quietly in South Africa.

Ha! Just kidding. Corliss did spend a year in recovery, but like many athletes, his comeback story is even more telling than his laundry list of achievements. Red Bull China reached out to Corliss about completing his most unique challenge yet: an 875-foot drop from the top of Shanghai’s Langshan Mountain into a narrow crevice- just 60 feet wide at the entrance and 15 feet at the bottom. Corliss agreed to view the spot, the accident at Table Mountain weighing heavily on his mind.

The accident could not shake Corliss’s adventurous spirit, though. When he saw the spot, he was in. Thus “The Flying Dagger” was born, without even a practice jump to ease the athlete’s worries: wind and rain prevented Corliss from entering the crack until the day of the official stunt. He took a literal leap of faith- a 122 mph leap of faith, to be exact-and hurtled through the crack without issue, deploying his parachute and floating to safety. Imagine the rushing winds stinging your face as you feel your body free-fall into a narrow, V-shaped hole in a rock formation, just one year after you suffered horrific injuries on a rock formation. The integrity is incredible.

No regrets? Corliss says he has some. In fact, the daredevil himself has admitted that if he were offered $10 million to complete the same stunt again, he would turn it down flat. No word on if he would go for $11 million, though.