For The Flying Frenchies, thinking out of the box isn’t a choice – it’s a way of life. The latest video from this multi-talented collective sees them head to the Vercors mountain range in their homeland, where they slice through the air on a 600m-high highline, reaching speeds of up to 75kph zipline-style before using their BASE-jumping skills to dismount with impressive grace and style.
Basically, this is exactly the kind of thing that makes you wonder, “Where in the world can they get ideas like this?” To find out, we spoke to Anicet Leone, who's the technical expert and one of the brains behind the fantastical Surfing The Line project.
Hello Anicet, can you tell us about The Flying Frenchies?
The Flying Frenchies are a group of buddies who like to do aerial activities. The core is composed of five to six people who do BASE-jumping, mountaineering, climbing, alpinism, speed riding – pretty much all the sports that include flying, climbing and the mountains. But we're also artists, comedians, clowns, acrobats and musicians. It’s a big mix of it all.
Our wish is to turn the values of the profit-driven society upside down to replace them with the beauty of the non-useful, to give a sense to our lives, beyond what is expected. We want our lives to be a music that leads us through our hearts. We want to be open to the unknown and to the wish to discover the world, as much outside than inside of us. We are clowns, gentle fools and we throw ourselves in the empty spaces, surfing the air to provoke and to be seen, representing the atypical dreamers' minority.
In the air, the wind is soft and the soul is free.– Anicet Leone
Life is worth risking so that the message we transmit is intense, and so our existence is beautiful. Fear slowly becomes our friend: it’s not about eclipsing it but to understand what it has to say.
To an outsider, the notion of ‘playing’ seems to be what sets you aside from the others who do the same kind of sports to you. Does it come naturally?
I think it’s pretty natural in our group. We have this light-heartedness, this desire to enjoy everything when we have ideas, or think of funny things. It comes from a universe of cartoons and frenzies, really. You know, you talk about something and you're kind of giggling about the idea, thinking it would be too funny if it could happen for real – so then we actually start thinking about how we can make it happen. Then we enter in the more serious part where we have to calculate things, do technical research, request authorisations. It takes a lot of work to be able to come up with something that's funny, esthetical, and pleasant.
Is that how you came up with the idea of surfing a highline?
Yes. For me, it really was when I met Tancrède Melet [the French tightrope walker who died in January 2016 while preparing for a show]. When I met him, I was just starting to learn how to BASE-jump and he was doing a lot of highline and skydiving. He had more of a sport-oriented approach, but was multidisciplinary, a bit like me. So when I came in to his group, I brought the scenarios and characters layer. In this whole mix of sports, I added a cartoon-ish universe, creativity and a will to try to not only use sports that already exist, but to try to invent things to have fun with it. So an idea like this one and the catapult actually happened during frenzies, in the car and such.
Watch the movie about the catapult project
This is what their dreams are made of
When The Flying Frenchies are all together, how do you divide the work when an idea pops up?
Up until now, it was personal ideas that are shared with the group. But for Surfing The Line, I was the one who did the whole project from A to Z, from its conception, to all the authorisations, etc. Once on the spot, we share the work, but the project is lead by one person. That’s also why we have projects that have different colours.
Is that the signature style of each person?
That’s it. It’s all included in The Flying Frenchies, because we do like being a group. But within the group, I can imagine that people will recognise the work of one or the other, little by little. But normally, even if it’s one person’s project, all the others are still quite motivated, even if it’s not their own style.
The realisation for a two-year dream
Was it important for you to continue the project after the death of Tancrède?
Yeah, very important. It was very important for me, and for him too I think. He supported me a lot when he was still with us. He was a very determined person, very efficient and an important driving force. He transmitted that to me, even if I was already a bit like that before. It’s something that gave me a lot of strength throughout the project, because it was really hard to get to the end of everything that had to be done on this project. So yeah, he supported me a lot: I felt it inside of me. For me as well, it was important to do all of this, to really realise all that there is to be done in such a project, and it will now be much easier to delegate for the next one. But for people to follow you, they have to trust you. So if they never saw what you are able to do, it’s not necessarily easy to gain their trust from the first attempt. This time, I was really able to show that I could do a project like this one.
Fear slowly becomes our friend: it’s not about eclipsing it but to understand what it has to say.– Anicet Leone
What was the most beautiful thing about this project for you?
It was all the thanks from friends who came and who admitted that they didn’t believe in it so much at the beginning. But then they tried it and loved it. Others thanked me for the investment in the project and for sharing it with everyone. The project in itself too: it was so crazy to surf like that, after two years of dreaming about it. It was insane to be on a board at that speed, at a height of 500 to 600 metres. It was awesome. And the fact to be two people together, you'd land and you could really share that with someone. That was also great. But aside from that, I learned so much about my own capacity to do things, on a lot of technical , research and logistical aspects. It gives me a lot of self-confidence for future ideas – I know I can bring them to reality.
It’s not over until it’s over
How do you feel when such a big project is finally completed?
First, I eased off a lot: the whole thing was so much work! Once it was done, once I saw that it was working, I felt one weight was off my shoulders. Then, during the whole month where we were actually on site, doing the project, there was also the 'Zero Accident' goal. I don’t want to add risk to risk. The activity we do is already a bit risky, but that’s normal when you jump with a parachute off the mountains. It’s of course not a risk-free activity. But I’m not there to add some more: I really want to create fun, extraordinary and inventive projects, but not things that necessarily have very high risks.
Anything you want to add?
We're working on a film project about Surfing The Line: a longer documentary about the whole thing. It will most likely be showing in festivals and available online, and We're aiming to release it in time for Christmas.
Original idea: Anicet Leone and Tancrède Melet.
Video realisation: Jérémy Frey pour Hello Emotion.