How Tom Pagès redefined both FMX and BASE jumping in one stunning leap
The first FMX rider to combine a Double Frontflip with a BASE jump off a massive cliff, French legend Tom Pagès reveals how he nailed the jump of the year.
It was a two-year journey that was to take him around the world from the Gulf of Arabia to the Indian Ocean, from the tallest bridge in the world to the top of the dizzying cliffs of Avoriaz in the French Alps – and saw him working with some of the true legends of BASE jumping.
Some people ride motocross, others go BASE jumping, not many do both. Fewer still combine the two into a unique combo of massive FMX tricks and daring BASE jumping. That’s why they call Tom Pagès 'The Inventor'.
One of the greatest FMX riders in the world, Pagès made tracks for Avoriaz, the ski resort in the heart of Portes du Soleil in the French Alps that stands precipitously on top of a huge cliff. There he was to attempt – and ultimately pull off – an unimaginably difficult and dangerous FMX trick, which even the Red Bull X-Fighters World Champion calls "the project of a lifetime".
"The idea was conceived in the summer of 2019 with the help of the late Vince Reffet, the legendary Jetman and Soul Flyer. It was a crazy idea," says Pagès. "We knew that the bike-BASE jump had already been done, but no one had done it while performing tricks, so that was the starting point."
First jumps in Dubai
"At the start of the project, I'd done about 200 skydives, but Vince wanted me to have at least 300 under my belt before I could even try BASE jumping," Pagès continues. "So, at the start of 2020 I flew to Dubai to join the Soul Flyers at their Jetman training camp. That way I could do the jumps with Vince at my side to coach me.
I don't need to compete to be happy, I want to do new projects like this
BASE jump basics in Réunion Island
"After Dubai, I flew to Réunion Island to meet Loïc Jean-Albert. He's one of the founders of the Soul Flyers. In fact, he was the one who taught Vince and Fred Fugen everything. I spent 10 days on the island polishing my technique with him, practicing from a chopper and performing my first BASE jumps.
"When it comes BASE Jumping, a bridge is the perfect place because there's no walls or cliff face to collide with, which is more likely, especially if you're doing a big twist when opening the parachute. I also learned to fold my own parachute, so I could be as independent as possible in training. The idea was to master the discipline because I knew I couldn't do a test jump with the bike.
Jumping off the world's highest bridge
"I began training with Bras Noir – Aurélien Chatard – who's one of the pioneers of BASE jumping in France. He jumps all the time with Fred, who was also on hand to guide my overall training. They took me through the next stages of my apprenticeship as I went BASE jumping from the spans of the world's tallest bridge, the Millau Viaduct in the South of France.
The idea was to master BASE jumping because I couldn't do a test jump with the bike
"That was only the basics. I still wasn’t ready. I needed to build my skills by jumping from as many different spots as possible because, at that point, I didn't know exactly where I would be making the final jump or where I would be landing.
"Unlike skydiving, where you land in large, flat fields, BASE jumping is complicated by the fact you're often having to land in tricky places that are hard to access. So, I had to train in as many situations as possible in a short period of time – and that's what I did!
The perfect location
"The jump was always going to take place in France and the shortlist came down to just two locations: Millau and Avoriaz. We chose the second, not only because it's a spectacularly beautiful place, but also I learned that it was an iconic location after the stuntman Alain Prieur jumped there in the '80s. The team there welcomed us warmly and gave us a carte blanche to do the trick.
"There were still a few obstacles in the way. Firstly, we only had 130m of cliff for the descent, not 150m as we'd originally planned, and the landing was gong to be very technical. We also needed a huge ramp: it had to be very high for me to have more time and safety in the air. Usually, we work more with three metre-high ramps, but here we needed seven metre ramp, so there was a lot of logistics to sort if we were going to bring it.
"While I had a good idea of how the bike would handle, I'm not used to riding so fast on such a big, high ramp. With only one shot, there was no room for error and if you don't get it right, you're heading for disaster.
"I put in a lot of hard work at my personal compound, especially in the foam tank as I prepared for the motorcycle jump. That element was still one of the many unknowns in the project. For a start, we didn't know how the motorcycle would handle the descent. Stéphane Zunino, another founder-member of the Soul Flyers, installed a reserve paraglider – essentially a square parachute – in the saddle. I had a handle that I had to pull during the ejection to remove a Velcro panel in the saddle and deploy the parachute. And I had to adjust all the straps to make sure the bike balanced after deployment. Even so, we didn't know how fast it would be falling.
"I didn't even know if I needed to perform a straight jump, without any tricks, to regulate the speed. I'd originally planned to do a Frontflip (not a double) Double Grab, in which I'd have gripped the saddle ready to pull the cord. But, of course, when we got to Avoriaz nothing went as planned!
The big day
"The production was a huge operation, with almost 50 people on site. There were rescuers at the base of the cliff, ready to rescue me from places that were hard to access, a motorcycle crew responsible for collecting the bike and an entire aerial team with Fred, Loïc and the others, the film crew, the people from Avoriaz and the team responsible for installing the ramp.
"I was able to do a straight jump, which went great, but on the second attempt I realised as I left the ramp at 80kph that my bike was rotating more quickly than expected. I pulled a Double Front Flip, which was a bit tricky to deal with because I was mid-jump and mid-air. I had to judge the right moment to open the parachute while spinning and make sure I didn't pull the cord while I was upside-down.
"We needed to make another attempt the following day, but by then I didn't want to go back too much because, honestly, I'd scared myself. I used the time to think about the jump, steady my nerves and focus on everything I needed to do.
"The next day, everything went to plan – even for the motorcycle. It came down in one piece after every jump. In fact, it would have been in worse shape after a day of riding around the gravel in front of my house.
"I'm so proud of this project. I like to innovate in my sport, but I found that even as I continued to invent tricks, they somehow all felt the same. This was completely new. I realise now that these days I don't need to compete to be happy, I want to do new projects like this. I'd like to thank all the groups without whom this would not have been possible, like Red Bull, the Soul Flyers, of course, the people from Avoriaz and so many others."