Ellen Brennan, worlds fastest flying woman (article)

Have you ever had the feeling of fear mixed with pure happiness,
sensed the silence around you while hearing the heart pounding in your chest?
Noticed that the surroundings disappear, and become entirely focused on what’s beneath you?
If not, then maybe you’ve never stood on the edge of a cliff, knowing that in a few seconds you’re going to jump..?
Fly down the mountainside in over 125 mph.
See every detail of the landscape while the blood rushes through your body,
and the overwhelming feeling of joy as the parachute is unleashed and you float the last meters down to the ground.
And of course the relief triggered and the immense energy you feel when your feet finally touches the ground. A feeling that is hard to describe.

These emotions together with wonderful moments with good friends, make Ellen Brennan pack her wingsuit and trek up the mountainside almost daily to fly. This has in turn earned her the title of the worlds fastest flying woman at the World Base Race in Innfjorden in Åndalsnes, Norway in july 2013.
The petite, blonde girl, with a glimmering smile and strong, toned overarms, steadily trudges the path in front of me, together with norwegian Hege Ringard towards exit at Grisetskolten.

What seems like an ordinary mountain trek with 3 fit girls is far from it. Only one of us is walking back down.
The other two are going to jump. Or fly.
I must content myself with staying behind, observing it all through the lens of my camera.

But for me that’s enough, because it’s so unbelievably beautiful to watch.
Not just the stunning scenery around me, but the basejumpers that get themselves ready, the energy, and the moment when they step off the cliff..
Both Ellen, Hege and the other jumpers in the competition are athletes, although many prefer classifying the sport as pure madness.
But to see them do what they’re really passionate about, and to observe this passion up close; that makes me realise there is so much more to it.

Ellen grew up in Salt Lake City in Utah, and at an early age she was very impressed and fascinated by her dads acrobatic skills with the paraglider.
It was also her dad that on her 18th birthday took her parachute jumping for the first time and that opened her eyes to the world of air sports.

The girl that had never done any sports before this moment experienced an adrenalin kick and took off from there. She continued on to paragliding, then base jumping, rock climbing, kite surfing and speed riding.
But the biggest passion lies within flying with a wingsuit.

After having done base jumping for 2 years, she began flying wingsuit in 2008. She has now moved to France where there are better opportunities for flying.
Here, the Alps are pretty much her back yard, and she travels up the mountains daily to find the perfect ride.

There are endless possibilities up there.
Also, the community of base jumpers is small enough for her to make friends across borders. Therefor, she visits Norway often, and has been practising here regularly. She’s been hiking in Romsdalen along with Tom Erik Heimen, which has helped increasing her hikingstamina considerably. Tom Erik is the kind of man who will beat most people climbing the steepest of hills and who’s made a sport of timing the trip from landing point and up to exit.
Because base jumping is also about strength, community, friendship, being close to nature, knowledge about wind and weather conditions, and not to mention technique.
There is also a big difference in the equipment used. There is a continuos research and development of new suits going on. Ellen says it’s like skis; you have a pair for each use.
And there is a difference between base jumping and flying with a wingsuit. Base jumping, or
tracking, is usually executed from lower heights, often down to 35 meters above ground, whereas with a wingsuit you can fly from up to 2000 meters and accomplish a speed of up to 155 mph. It’s self explanatory then that equipment, focus, technique and physique must be in perfect condition. There is no room for any slack, and nothing must be based on luck.

Ellen never jumps without having good knowledge of the terrain, and always checks both exit, the route she’s flying and landing zone well. In addition, the wind and weather conditions must be right.

She is considered to be one of the worlds most talented wingsuit pilots and has about 600 basejumps on her resume.  Most of them in the French Alps, which are quite different to fly from the Norwegian mountains. There, the mountainsides are gentler and longer, whereas in Norway we have short, steep cliffs. It demands a different technique. Both places you have grate hikes before jumping, but in Norway the hikes are steeper. Both are very demanding!

Maybe it was her technique that separated her from the others in the World Base Race last week, or maybe it was some intense few weeks working out in the Norwegian mountains.
Ellen didn’t just beat the other girls, she was better than many of the guys as well.
Best Norwegian girl in the World Base Race was Kjersti Eide who came third.

There are few Norwegian girls in base jumping, but those who are active are just as good as the boys, and compete and practise with them.
In Kjerrag in june Hege Ringard got together 15 girls and beat the world record in number of girls jumping at the same time. A so called Big Way.
Ellen was supposed to be number 16, but chose not to participate as she was in the finals for an on going competition. Then as the only female contestant.

During the Summer there is a good chance of seeing Ellens blue and pink wingsuit flying along Norwegian mountainsides, as she will be spending several weeks here with other wingsuit pilots. The sport is growing in popularity, something lucky tourists in Trollstigen have had the joy of experiencing at several occasions.

And if you’re lucky and quick on the trigger, you might be able to get a good shot of them as they’re flying by.

The World Base Race is part of ProBase WorldCup, and the next competition is in Switzerland in october, and it’s up to Ellen to defend her title. The nice thing about this sport is that even if the competitive instincts are very much present, the friendships and the community is even more important. They help each other and they practise together. Because they all want everyone to get down safely.

Even though this sport is about pushing boundaries, one thing is clear; safety first.

Be sure to check out the september issue of Blue Skies Magazine for more of my pictures of Ellen and the World Base Race


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