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Amid Edmonton Arrests, Top BASE Jumper Wants to Take the Sport Straight in Canada

A popular mantra among BASE jumpers is "If I die, don't cry for me, I'm doing what I love."

by Mack Lamoureux
Apr 24 2015, 5:00pm

Nice throw, bro. All photos supplied by 3WA.

Gabriel Hubert tightened his tie and let his toes dangle over the edge off one of the most recognizable buildings in Edmonton. He radioed down to his ground crew 500 feet below and instructed them to block the road with their vehicles.

That's when the 40-year-old welder jumped.

This jump was a personal best for Hubert. Something in Edmonton that was never jumped and won't ever be again. From the time his feet left the building to the time his feet were in a vehicle only 46 seconds had elapsed. This plan took weeks, if not months, to orchestrate. All this for a few seconds of freefall.

Hubert is Edmonton's most prolific BASE jumper. He's jumped at least five buildings within the confines of Alberta's capital and five more around the world. Some of these jumps were legal and some, well, not so much.

Those days are behind him now. Humbert is trying to go straight and bridge that ever existing gap between BASE jumpers and the law.

A few years ago Hubert was jumping in the small Swiss town of Lauterbrunnen. There, they allow BASE jumpers free reign, letting them leap off the Alps and land in designated fields below. It was gorgeous, the cliffs were optimal, and it wasn't frowned upon. This is something that Hubert has been trying to bring back to Canada, where the sport hasn't found the legitimacy it has elsewhere. Last summer, while out on a fishing expedition, he found it. A beautiful untamed cliff jutting out of Kootenay Lake. He brought in a rangefinder and cased the cliff to make sure it was safe, and then he jumped it.

"I'm telling you, this is as beautiful as BC gets," he said. "Beautiful green-blue water, glaciers, it's just unreal beautiful."

Hubert has been to BASE jumping events, boogies as they're called, all over the world. The events lend legitimacy to the sport. They bring in safety experts, sponsors and let an international group of jumpers have their way with a cliff for some time. Hubert, a contract welder by trade, founded jump group 3WA, the Three Welders Association, in 2008 with two other welders. Now Hubert and the rest of 3WA are organizing a boogie at his Kaslo paradise. It will be the first in Canada. He's found collaborators in Go Fast, an energy drink, and APEX BASE jumping who sponsor many other boogies around the world. It's going to run from July 23rd through the 26th. He's going to offer challenges, like accuracy landing onto docks, to the jumpers who can win prizes.

Hubert was a late bloomer to BASE jumping. Whereas most skydivers and jumpers start in their early twenties, Hubert didn't fling himself into the sky until his friend's 30th birthday, when he suggested they should go skydiving. They went for one weekend, and then the next and then the next and eventually made over 30 jumps that first summer alone.

Two years later he discovered BASE jumping when his friend Steve "Smiley" Janz told him about jumping off a cliff in Norway and soaring to the ground next to a waterfall. Hubert, who goes by the handle "Ramrod," thought he was full of shit. Turns out Smiley doesn't lie.

"He plugged in these videos, turns out he's not full of it," Hubert told VICE. "This guy is flying wingsuits over mountains and I'd never seen anything at that time. It was life changing."

Smiley was from the old school of BASE jumpers. He had been practicing fixed object jumping for twenty years up to this point and started only a few short years after Carl Boenish, the father of BASE jumping began popularizing the sport. BASE jumping has always been exponentially more dangerous than skydiving but these were especially cruel days for a BASE jumper. There was no set equipment for a jumper and they had to learn as they went. It worked in a extremely unforgiving trial and error like fashion, something would go wrong and they would say to themselves "Oh... let's not do that again." Fatalities were not uncommon. Boenish died BASE jumping and Smiley was pretty much the only one left of his original crew.

After Hubert had shown interest in the sport, Smiley took him out to a 500-foot suspension bridge outside a BC mine and had Hubert and a few of his friends make their first jump. Bridges tend to be popular first jump locations because one of the biggest dangers in BASE jumping comes from having an 180 opening, where your parachute turns you around once pulled. This type of opening is disastrous as the jumper's body can smash into the cliff face. However, with a bridge you just sore underneath. Hubert's first jump was an 180, and after righting himself he soon found himself in a tree. This leafy landing didn't deter Hubert, in fact, he was hooked.

From there Hubert made his way to the Perrine Bridge bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho that crosses Snake River Canyon. Twin Falls is pilgrimage that many jumpers make as it is one of the only locations that BASE Jumping is legal year-round without a permit. It's a place that many virgin jumpers go to have their first jump. But even Twin Falls has seen its fair share of tragedies over the years. Just recently a Vancouver man named Bryan Turnerfell 152 meters to his death off the bridge after his parachute failed to deploy.

Death is a constant danger in the sport.

"To participate in this activity you have to accept that you might die doing it. You have to love it enough to accept that I guess. It's not saying you don't give a shit, and we want to risk it all. We are actually the most calculated people going So many jumpers I know are engineers and doctors," said Hubert. "Critical thinkers that take care of their gear and their planning and all the other factors."

Hubert has seen death as a result of the sport he holds so dear. He recanted a story about one of his good friends that he met while skydiving in Vancouver. She was a renowned skydiver who met a Swiss man at the drop zone and the two fell in love. She moved back to Switzerland, a BASE jumping mecca, with him. Even though, she only had ten or so BASE jumps the cliffs enticed her, and she made a jump she maybe shouldn't have. Her husband watched as his wife hit a talus, an outcropping on the cliff, after seven seconds of freefall. He ran down to her. She was still alive when he got to her. She looked at him and said "Do you have a smoke, babe?" He did.

She died in his arms after one drag.

"Yes, we cry. Yes, we're sad. We're so messed up compared to what we would classify as regular people. We know we're not normal. Normal people will look at what we do and say we're stupid but they don't get to feel what we feel, the highs, that beautiful feeling of flying." Hubert said. "To jump off a cliff and fly down a mountain, it feels so amazing. But on the inverse side of the coin, with great with great happiness can come great sadness."

A popular mantra among BASE jumpers is "If I die don't cry for me, I'm doing what I love." The jumpers try to remember this, but it is never easy to lose a friend or colleague. However the pros outweigh out the cons for the jumpers, and the high is just too good.

After Hubert had graduated from earth and bridge jumping, he turned his sights towards Edmonton. It was more of a lookup then a turn; this was when Gabe started conquering Edmonton high rises. I asked him about how they were able to get to the roof of several well known high rises in Edmonton. What he described to me sounded more like espionage than a sport.

It's all about preparation. Hubert and his team might plan for months for a particular jump. The biggest thing is figuring out their way to the roof. A favoured tactic would be to make friends with the right people and get them to draw him a map to the roof. Then they would do a dry run without parachutes.

"I was told to go to this floor, and I was drawn a map on a smoke pack, it said when you get out of the elevator you'll see a desk, take a right, take another right and go through that door, you're in the stairwell, once it closes on you you're locked in there," Hubert told me. "So I had to duct tape that closed. Then I go up six or seven flights of stairs, and I'm at the roof."

If you went at night, the building would be locked and full of security teams so because of this they had to go during the day, and they had to look the part. That is how Gabriel "Ramrod" Hubert found himself on one of Edmonton's largest high-rises dressed impeccably in a suit and unloading a parachute that he had hidden away in a suitcase.

Hubert and his team got so good at jumping buildings that they even shot a commercial for his friends company once.

If you jump enough times in the city, you're bound to get caught and Hubert has, numerous times. However, one of the common misconceptions about BASE jumping is that it's illegal.While some of the actions required to jump may be illegal, the sport exists in a grey zone. There is no law outlawing it. It's frowned upon but when caught you tend only to get dinged with a trespassing ticket and maybe B&E if you are going to extremes. That said, it also tends to deviate police forces to a non-emergency.

"Individuals who engage in this type of behavior are making a selfish decision that negatively impacts the rest of the city," said Supt. Kevin Galvin with EPS Downtown Division in a recent media release. "These people have little regard for the number of police resources that are dispatched to this type of call – a situation where it was believed someone was in distress. These types of incidents pull police resources that are already overstretched away from those who do require assistance."

These actions can give the sport a bad name. Especially when you all you see are reports centered around men being charged for jumping off a cranein downtown Edmonton. This bad reputation is something that Hubert is trying to remedy with his Boogie by allowing jumpers a safe and legal jump site in Kaslo.

"I think it's an evolution for me. You see different stages in people as BASE jumpers. When they first start they're so eager they'll go do dumb shit and then boom they'll get hurt. Back in the day I didn't give a shit about who saw me, I didn't give a shit about negative exposure or any of that. I just wanted to jump," said Hubert. "Now I'm going through a phase where I've matured and I've attended all these legitimate events around the world and I've jumped in seven countries now so I got to see different things. I think I just see a bigger picture now. Given that it's the only thing stopping us here in Canada is a legitimate place to do it and some recognition.

"It'd be great to be looked at in a positive light."

When I asked Hubert about the passing of his friends, he told me about an article written by renowned jumper Chris "Douggs" McDougall called "Death in the Sport of Life." After talking to Hubert at length, I can see why McDougall refers to base jumping as the sport of life. I asked him why he does it, why does he put himself in danger like this so willingly? He thought for a second, smiled, and responded.

"Did you ever have dreams that you were flying when you were a kid?"

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