Want to take the plunge into the world of aerial extreme sports? Find out what Sajid Chougle has to say about the thrills and chills of the game.
Watching videos of aerial extreme athlete Sajid Chougle in action will most likely get your heart racing – his limber frame cushioned by the wind, the endless sky above and uncharted territory below. The 35-year-old has been surrendering to the will of gravity since 2008. An aerial extreme athlete, he participates in skydiving, wingsuit flying and BASE jumping (i.e parachuting or wingsuit flying off a fixed structure such as a Building, Antenna, Span or Earth). With a log of 320 skydives and 11 BASE jumps (eight in Norway, one in Sweden, two in India – including one in his hometown of Maharashtra), Sajid is a difficult guy to pin down. Rekha Shetty manages to keep him on solid ground, if only for a Mumbai minute, for a chat on his recent Scandinavian adventure, overcoming fear, tips for aspiring BASE jumpers and more.
We’ve been trying to get a hold of you! Where have you been?
Hi, Hi…That’s how one greets in Scandinavia. I was travelling around Sweden and Norway for 40 days. Yes, the good life! I left Bombay for Stockholm and from there to a small city called Vimmerby, where I was greeted by my lovely Swedish family, the Lidströms.
Tell us more about it.
I had been waiting for this epic journey since the start of the year. There is a documentary made [recently released in Sweden] on the life of BASE and Wingsuit BASE jumpers called ‘The Flying Viking’. There was a private screening for some people associated with it in Vimmerby. I had a lovely stay with my hosts after which, I left for Stockholm and explored the city for four days. From there I went slightly up north for some wingsuit flying action. After that I left for [Norway] – Oslo, Stavanger and then Lysebotn, where lie the majestic cliffs of Kjerag. That’s our mecca for BASE jumping!
But what made you fall, or should we say let’s say jump, for BASE jumping?
Nice play with words there. To be very frank I didn’t choose the sport, it chose me! Sounds film-y, but it’s true. You have to be super committed to the activity. There are no backups. You have to give your 1,000 percent every time. I’ve been skydiving for almost nine years now. In 2016 on a trip to California, I happened to spend a lot of time understanding the psyche of some BASE jumpers and I felt in sync with them. I tagged along and watched them jump off antennae. It was really amazing to watch them so close and hear the [clap of] thunder as the canopy opened. That’s also when I interacted with a Swedish jumper, Richard Lidström, who guided me on where I could start my course in Europe.
Is there a checklist that you follow before every BASE jump?
BASE Jumping isn’t just about the jump – it’s the packing of the canopy, it’s your physical ability, mental health, decision-making skills, focusing skills, the weather, people around you, the environment, etc. Your mind is constantly telling you step back, but you try to rationalise your thoughts. You know [from past experience] you’ve done it right. If in doubt, always back up; the cliffs will always be there. Just return more prepared another day.
Some important checks are checking your equipment on the ground, ensuring the right pack job for the type of jump (terminal, low objects, etc), ensuring the right configuration of the pilot chute (drogue you throw that catches air and deploys the main canopy out of the container), finding/waiting for the right weather conditions, etc.
What about fear? Does it knock on your door before every jump?
Oh definitely! That’s what keeps you sane. That’s what doesn’t make you complacent. It’s your best friend. There are tons of thoughts running through your head, but you have to filter them out. I somehow love that process of making my mind focus on a single thing; that is the jump and timely deployment. Slacklining has helped me train to focus this way.
Can anyone get into BASE jumping? Do you have any advice for someone looking to start?
In short, yes! But one has to be physically fit and needs to complete the criteria of 250-300 skydives before planning for BASE jumping. Remember BASE is not a sport you just wake up one fine day and jump into. It’s a state of mind. You need to be in sync with your mind and body and the surroundings. Get as much sky experience as possible before thinking of BASE. This is the best way to have an injury-free BASE lifestyle.
What’s your next big adventure?
I love always being on the move. Once the monsoons are done in Bombay, I’ll start exploring the Sahyadri [Western Ghats] for rock pinnacles to jump off. So stay tuned!