From below, a high-dive platform resting at 58.8m looks simply high. From above? It quickens your pulse and makes you draw in your breath and wonder how anyone could survive this kind of a drop – even if it is into an 8m-deep pool of aerated water. But that’s the view Laso Schaller had as he contemplated such a leap. And he made it – setting a new world record along the way. Watch below.
See the world record leap off a waterfall
Laso's world record jump – filmed in partnership with SRF Swiss Televison – became one of the most widely-circulated news stories of August.
The Brazilian-born, Swiss-raised 27-year-old is a canyoning expert – using rope, harness and other rigging to descend rivers in ways few others have before. He’s got numerous first descents to his name. Of course, in canyoning, there’s another way of getting down that doesn’t involve the hassle of ropes, anchors, or belay devices: you just jump. Schaller’s picked up a reputation for being the most fearless of all: he regularly leaps off 25m, 30m or even 35m cliffs with nary a thought.
But almost 60m – higher than anyone has ever jumped before him? That takes some thought.
The high (and highly impressive) Cascata del Salto
In the Italian-speaking Ticino area of Switzerland, there are over 150 descendable canyons, with countless waterfalls. But the Cascata del Salto is the king. Sitting above the town of Maggia, 1.5 hours north of Lugano, the waterfall gushes to life with summer rains. Water comes cascading down over a sheer drop into a deep pool, creating a stunning natural amphitheatre.
The jump on endless repeat...
The magnitude of this jump required more preparation than your standard take-a-breath-and-go waterfall jump. Under sunny blue skies, Schaller and team first built a platform to give him a clean, controlled exit, with enough projection to clear the rock wall. Secondly, they explored the area with scuba gear – and set six tanks in the pool to aerate the water and soften the landing. Finally, they did a number of rock drops – timing the landing, seeing the fall line. That said, for Laso, it’s almost the same as any old jump. “Once you get above 25m, everything starts to look and feel the same,” he says. “The only difference is the airtime.”
Click through the gallery for more shots
Schaller, who looks more surfer than Swiss thanks to his Brazilian heritage, is relaxed but diligent about the preparations. He knows just how he’ll land – feet-first, leaning ever so slightly forward, body tensed, with his hands folded in front of his hips to brace the impact on his face. He knows he’ll 'push’ in the microseconds as he’s entering the water – slowing the 120kph speed to zero in just a few metres.
Speaking of which – only 8m of depth? Surprisingly, higher speeds from higher jumps slow down faster. From 10m, you need about 3m of water for a safe landing. From 50m, you only need about 4m. He has it down to a science. "It’s best when I’m a little warmed up,” says Laso. “If I’m too relaxed, I won’t tense up enough when I land.”
Arms out for control
And as for practice, Schaller has plenty. His mother was a gymnast, and he grew up in the gym and in the pool – two perfect ingredients for his current career as a canyon guide and athlete. He regularly participates in high-dive shows, knocking off as many as 20 25m jumps in a day.
With nearly a dozen cameras rolling, the jump was scheduled for mid-afternoon on Tuesday, August 4. After a day and a half of bright sun and clear skies, an afternoon storm rolled in, giving a dark atmosphere to a stunt that the two dozen onlookers knew could bring dark consequences. Thunder rolled in the background; clouds blocked the sun. The crowd looked ready to leave; film crews covered thousands of dollars' worth of camera gear in 10-cent plastic bags.
Then Laso walked up the hill, looked over the ledge, and jumped.
Look closely and you can see him...
The noise was deafening – akin to a gunshot. He overshot the aerated water, landing in the harder water in the centre of the pool. His canyoning companion Jörg quickly rappelled down as others swam out to meet him. After just a couple of seconds underwater, he emerged triumphantly, then swam over to shore for a medical check. The landing, although clean, pulled his right leg out, possibly slightly dislocating his right hip for just a second or two. But after a quick lie-down on the stretcher, and an examination by the medic, a smile broke over his face and everyone knew he was all right – and that he’d just done something no one ever had before.