If you met Roberta Mancino on the street, you wouldn't be surprised to learn she's a model, but you might be surprised by a few other things. For example: three skydiving world records, two first-place wins in her home country of Italy, hundreds of BASE jumps (including scores of wingsuit proximity flights) and more than 8,500 leaps from an aircraft, including some dazzling aerial stunts for "Iron Man 3." If you read Mens' Health, you might recognize her as The World's Hottest Female Athlete of 2010. Fellow female free-flight enthusiast Annette O'Neil catches up with Roberta for a chat.
Is it a bother when people place more emphasis on your looks than your athletic abilities?
I don't really mind, but I don't like when people just talk about the modelling and ignore the sports. It's so funny - of all the big stunts and the beautiful jumps, people prefer to talk about one naked jump I did for a shoot ten years ago. But look - we are women. We like to feel beautiful - and sexy sometimes, of course - so why not? They talk about what they like to talk about, and I keep doing the things I love to do.
Of every model in the world, nobody else does what you do - lonely?
Not really - I love it. I started modelling when I was 16, and I’ve always been different. I remember one time when I was 18, doing a shoot for Vanity Fair that had a horse in it. The other girls wouldn't even get up on the horse for the pictures, they were so afraid of getting a bruise. My job got better when I started skydiving. Now, I try to express myself with the combination of modelling and sports.
Where was your first BASE jump?
Technically, my first BASE jump was in 2006, from a cable car in Switzerland. I was with a friend who was BASE jumping, and I was driving him crazy asking him to teach me how. Finally, he said fine, here is the rig, hold on to the pilot chute and promise me you will let it go after 3 seconds. I was so young, I wasn't even scared! I really wanted to keep jumping, but my modelling contracts said no. Then I went to the Perrine Bridge, in Twin Falls, Idaho, and that's where I really learned the sport. I didn't really fall in love with BASE jumping until I went to Switzerland. Those tall cliffs inspired me. That's when I thought, "Hey - I can fly!"
Anything you would have done differently?
I would not change a single thing.
Is it weird to jump in normal shoes?
I have done so many skydives in high heels, I could consider it a specialty. I don't BASE jump in heels so much, but I did do a shoot at Monte Brento [wearing Roberto Cavalli] in four-inch heels. The rocks at that exit point are uneven, so the crew had to construct a little platform. It still wasn't easy - it was slippery, sometimes - but once you're in the air, it's no problem. The trick is making sure you have the time to take them off before you have to land.
But with one exception, right? You wouldn’t be caught dead in sharkskin heels.
Never. I met a shark in the Maldives when I was there in 2000 and I fell in love with them immediately. They are strong, powerful, and so ancient, but they are surprisingly playful and friendly. You really have to make lots of mistakes to be in trouble. My favourites are the Tiger sharks - the way they move is so sexy and elegant. I rode one of them in the Bahamas, and I felt so connected. It was probably the most incredible experience of my life.
Who are your favorite people to jump with?
I love to jump with my friends, of course - but when I jump with my boyfriend Noah Banson, it's something special. There was one jump we did together in Norway, where we were flying together head-down. While we were in free fall, he kissed me. Of course, I closed my eyes. I should really keep them open when I'm jumping from cliffs. I wish I could jump with him more. It makes me so happy.
It’s a secret. But I can tell you that it’s a film project, that I’m working with a big Hollywood director and that we’re shooting here in Panama. It’s going to be very, very beautiful, and there will be plenty of skydiving and BASE jumping. You will see!
Annette O'Neil is a skydiver, paraglider, BASE jumper, and writer. You can follow her on Twitter for more nylon-inspired awesomeness.