photo Alban Mathieu

Flirting with death and understanding my limits

I just spent a few days paragliding in the Swiss Alps and had the most incredible day flying with the world champion, Chrigel Maurer. We flew from the Jungfraujoch at an altitude of 3,400m. He does really crazy things like flying non stop for 11 hours with no engine or crossing the entire Alps only using his feet and his wing.

Here is the video of our flight

Death is Chrigel’s limit

One category in competitive paragliding is acrobatics. For example, flying around your wing upside down. If you don’t have enough velocity you simply fall into your wing, where you can get wrapped in the lines which prevents you from opening your reserve parachute and you die. That’s Chrigel’s limit with his sport. Death.

Close to the limit, but not passing it

I can feel that same limit as I progress with the sport and it becomes my main passion. I just love flying but I also want to be safe. Here is the problem. To be safe flying a paraglider you have to learn the limits and like jet pilots get trained in a simulator. You have to learn what to do when things go wrong. Problem is unlike airline pilots, there aren’t enough good simulators. Maybe one day in VR, but we are not there yet.

How do you find that limit?

I did what we call an “SIV” course. You go above a lake, get two reserve parachutes and start creating emergency situations yourself to learn how to get out of them. Stalling your wing, for example, or collapsing the entire leading edge or side of the wing by pulling on the lines. Things can go wrong if you pull the brakes, or the lines not as you should, or they can just go wrong even if you do everything right. It’s scary. You find the limit by getting close to it. The limit that day for me wasn’t my death, but really my capacity to learn how to deal with a wing going wrong and with my own fears.

One step at a time

The world champion, Chrigel Maurer, told me he teaches security maneuvers not above a lake, but above the ground. He says there were a few students who died above a lake, while none died doing the same thing above the ground. If you free fall into a lake from a high altitude without a reserve parachute you are still likely to die. The students are more cautious if it’s on the ground. They don’t pass the limit. They learn slow but in the end they fly more safely.

This is great training for business and life in general.

I try to go step by step and slowly test the limits in my business too. Before take-off, you need to think about a plan B and even a plan C. You need to think a few steps ahead of time. You can’t just go fly and figure it out later.

Find the limits and get as close as possible to them.

We did a crazy flight by taking off at 3,400m altitude. 200 pilots do this flight every year with the wind coming from the North . We might be the only ones who took off with a wind from the South. I was a passenger tandem watching the master execute a perfect flight. There are rotors. We had to do ridge soaring on the cliff on the South face before being able to cross and go as you can see on the video.

If things go wrong you can be blown back into the huge cliff on the North face or land in an unstable glacier. He explained why he thought it was safe enough to go and he would have not let me fly it solo.

I would have needed much more experience than my 100 flights. I was totally fine with that.

That was only the beginning of the flight of my life (so far!) as we did some wing overs, full stalls and helicopters after… I would do it again in a heart beat. It’s one of those moments in my life that I will always remember.

It’s also very inspiring for how I run my business.

I could burn all my funding in 6 months and go full speed. Or I could go step by step and grow without passing the limit.

Thoughts? Leave a comment!

Don’t forget to do extraordinary things, life is short.

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P.S. You can still join our event “Reinventing Health” in San Francisco on October 4th 6–9pm.

Here are the links to all the sessions of our ChatBots event:
Leaders of ChatBots — FOMO
Leaders of ChatBots — Veronica Belmont
Leaders of ChatBots — Stephanie Volftsun
Leaders of ChatBots — Lauren Kunze
Leaders of ChatBots — Ethan Bloch
Leaders of ChatBots — Stan Chudnovsky
Leaders of ChatBots — Eugenia Kudya

Some of my latest Facebook live videos:

With Boosted Board product Manager Jyri Engestrom
A contrarian view on latest tech trends with Fabrice Grinda
Would you work for Big Tobacco with Leila Janah
Talking tech trends with iPhone inventor Tony Fadell
280km/h 600 hp Audi RS6+ on autobahn
Catching up with Salesforce EMEA CMO Guillaume Roques

Special thanks to Laurent Haug who got the paragliding trip idea and connected me, Chrigel Maurer, Laurent Borella, Yves Gavoldi chez Twistair and Valery Héritier for this memorable trip.

Entrepreneur, pilot, kite-surfer and paraglider. Subscribe to my new newsletter

Entrepreneur, pilot, kite-surfer and paraglider. Subscribe to my new newsletter