Sep 18, 2013
Q & A with US climber and BASE jumper Steph Davis
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Someone who blindly followed her ambition
as a teen, this 40-year old American today knows the course towards her dreams
Steph Davis is an American rock climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer based in Moab, Utah. The daughter of an aerospace executive, she started climbing since the age of 18 at the popular Carderock crags, in Maryland, near Washington DC, US. Today, she’s the author of two books: the first one on climbing – ‘High Infatuation: A Climber’s Guide to Love and Gravity’; and the latest- ‘Learning to Fly’- a rare and riveting journey of self-discovery and liberation, Steph and Mario Richard (her late husband and also a BASE jumper) have set up their own company- Moab BASE Adventures.
Here’s a one-on-one interview of Steph on ‘Learning to Fly’ and how she got there.
# What do you do for a living?
– I’m a professional climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot. My husband, Mario, and I also own a company in Moab called Moab Base Adventures. We do tandem BASE jumps, BASE guiding, climbing clinics and stunts.
# What do your parents think about your lifestyle and how do they cope with it?
– They are proud that I’ve created my own path and a way to make a living doing what I love. And they love Mario.
# Doing something every day for 15 years of your life is a big investment. Do you still get time to play the piano?
– Hardly, but I have one in my house.
# Kevin Reese introduced you to rock climbing. I am sorry to learn that he passed away. Would you like to share a memory with us?
– I always remember meeting him for the first time in Maryland and thought he seemed like a character out of a book- so impressive and fascinating! He was one of the toughest and friendliest people I’ve ever met.
# Did you ever think of writing ‘Learning to Fly’ (or for that matter, any other second book) or it just happened after you lived through a great part of actually learning how to fly.
– ‘High Infatuation’ (my first book) was a learning-by-doing effort. But I was intimidated by the idea of writing a manuscript from start to finish, because it was a collection of stories. I knew it was something I aspired to do, but did not have a specific plan. Learning to fly just popped up—I wanted to write it. I had an ACL surgery in 2009, and thought I could get started on the project with my downtime. But I hadn’t even finished the book’s proposal by the time my knee was better.
# How were you convinced that ‘sky-diving’, something you absolutely did not want to pursue and even disliked at some point, was the only refuge when everything else went tumbling down in your life?
– Usually with big decisions or directions in my life, I just know deeply that ‘this is what I should do’, and it was the same with jumping.
# Did you have a target audience when you started writing ‘Learning to Fly’?
– I was hoping to write a book that was authentic and meaningful to my core community (climbers, jumpers, al fresco people) but that was also accessible and meaningful to people who don’t do those sports.
# You have pursued a minimalistic approach to climbing. Base Jumping, in some sense, is similar to free-soloing. One slip-up and you’re dead or fatally injured. In what way do you think you have evolved from ‘High Infatuation’ to ‘Learning to Fly’?
– ‘High Infatuation’ was mostly written during my twenties and early thirties, and I think the title says it all—the infatuation towards the world of climbing and high places, wanting to go everywhere and experience everything! ‘Learning to Fly’ is the beginning of where I am now.
# Many rock climbers look up to you. Comparatively, you are new to the BASE jumping community. Do you differentiate between the two in any way? For example, climbing has also been a source of income. How do you look at BASE jumping compared to that?
– I have been climbing for twenty two years and jumping for six years. I make my living from both climbing and jumping now—it’s about an equal divide between my climbing-related work and the jumping work for Moab Base Adventures. And the lines are blurred, because my climbing sponsors are now supporting my BASE jumping as well.
# Do you have a BASE number? If so, what is it?
– I don’t have a BASE number. I do not count jumps (or climbs).
# Like you mention in your book, it is a huge gear shift to jump off cliffs when all your life you tried not to think about it. Such a complete reversal of mental attitude cannot be easy, especially when you climb and jump off cliffs in succession. How do you handle it?
– It is really interesting and I think one reason I enjoy it so much is that climbing is very drawn out, while jumping is more about concentrated moments of intensity.
# If not for Fletch, would you have managed to stay on the road being a dirt-bag climber for that long?
– That’s a neat question. I never imagined meeting Fletch to begin with, and after that I never imagined being without her.
# Living out of a truck in your early twenties and travelling the world to climb can get very isolating /lonely. How did you manage?
– Maybe, but I never thought of it that way. I enjoy peace and solitude, and I seek out opportunities for reflection and time alone, as much as I enjoy good company.
# What is your favorite jumping spot in the world?
– Moab and the Alps.
# Do you have some advice for youngsters who are trying to pursue Base Jumping? It is a rather expensive hobby/passion and one of the most extreme sports in the world.
– I see a lot more people getting into BASE jumping in the last three years. There’s a noticeable difference between jumpers who love the act of jumping and jumpers who love the idea of ‘being a BASE jumper’. I would encourage people to pursue the sport because they love it and respect it.
# Switzerland is a paradise for BASE jumping. I was at High-Ultimate and Flower-Box exits last week and happened to run into many base jumpers. I also met a few residents in Stechelberg village down in the valley. They didn’t look pleased about the whole scenario of jumping due to the risks involved. This has led them to protest against even less risky sports like paragliding and technically safe bungee-jumping. How do you feel about their attitude towards BASE jumpers?
– I have not personally experienced any negativity towards jumpers in the Swiss valley, and I know the tandem paragliding is big business there. Personally, I love the European attitude towards BASE jumping, where jumpers are accepted and treated like other mountain athletes.
# Lastly, what was your experience while writing this book? How did it feel to reflect on all that happened after having lived through it for where you are today?
– I had an overwhelming desire to write ‘Learning to Fly’, and a lot of it was harder to write than I expected. It was great to relive the time when I met my husband Mario, and all the excitement of being a new jumper.
TOJ Update: Steph Davis’ husband Mario Richard was killed on August 18, 2013, while wingsuit flying in the Dolomites in Italy. He was 47.
Image © Tommy Chandler