Tony Flying his Apache wingsuit over Zephyrhills, Florida
In July this year (2012) Tony Uragallo won the World Base Race competition in Hellesylt, Norway, aged 58. This certainly aroused our interest! Base Racing is the competitive facet of the sport of Base Jumping, one of the most extreme sports in existence. In Base Racing, competitors aim for the highest speeds, or the longest flights (time or distance or both) and fly using wingsuits. Wingsuits are a development of parachutes but where the flying/flotation force is provided by parachute-type material which is stretched from the arms to the legs, between the legs, and attached onto a full length bodysuit. The wingsuit flyer jumps from a plane, helicopter or mountain (the mountain being the base jumping part) and at the end of the flight opens a parachute to land safely. Recently the first wingsuit flight to be landed without a parachute was achieved. The flyer, Gary Connery, flew towards and managed to land on a prepared "runway" of cardboard boxes and walked away from the landing uninjured. (He was using one of the wingsuits manufactured by Tony Uragallo's company Tonysuits.)
So, here's a very extreme sport, and a very successful practitioner of it, nearing the age of 60. We decided that we'd like to find out a bit more about it, contacted Tony Uragallo through his company's website, and he kindly agreed to give us this interview.
But first a bit of background. He was born in England, in Stepney, East London in 1953. His father was Italian and his mother Scottish. As a teenager he began working as a bricklayer, a job he did for 5 years even though, as he says, he hated it. At the same time, he was also in the RHA Para Reserves where, at the age of 17 he did his first parachute jumps. This was something he took to, and this passion was to decide the course of the rest of his life.
Flying his Apache Rebel Wingsuit at Monte Brento, Italy
Parachute jumping led to skydiving in 1972, and between then and now he has amassed an estimated 11,000 skydives. He began competing in the sport and reached the World Championships for the first time in 1975. He was part of the UK National teams in the 4-way and 8-way skydiving Style and Accuracy competitions, and from 1976 to '96 qualified for the World Championships at least 50% of the time. Amongst his other achievements in competition are a win at the Australian Nationals in 1978, a Bronze medal at the 1981 World Championships and a second place after 9 out of 10 rounds at the World Accuracy Championships in 1991 (unfortunately, his 10th jump let him down and he ended up 7th). However, he had wins at the sky-diving distance competition in Marl, Germany in 2009, 2010 and 2011. From 2010 onwards he has had wins at Base Racing including the Time Distance Speed event in Gransee, Germany in 2010 and, most recently, the win at the World Base Race at Hellesylt in Norway this year (2012).
In 1979, he was in Florida for a competition, and decided to stay on. He had been sewing jumpsuits since he first started sky-diving, and in USA he continued to do so. As he says "I sold my rig to buy a sewing machine, a car and rent an apartment". He started Tonysuits during that period, and since then it has become the world's largest jump-suit maker. In 1987, he designed the first elliptical parachute. He called it Jonathan after the book Jonathan Livingstone Seagull since, when he was asked “Why Elliptical, what’s wrong with rectangular” he replied “I don’t know”, as in the book. His jumpsuits and wingsuits are now worn, as they have been for many years, by many of the winners of sky-diving, and now wingsuit flying competitions.
SGSC So, tell us, who are you, how old are you, what is your sport?
Tony Uragallo Anthony Uragallo, born Stepney, East London Oct 7th 1953. Jumpsuit and wingsuit maker and flyer.
SGSC We'd like to know about the change from skydiving to Wingflying. When and how did flying suits come into existence?
Preparing for World Base Race at
TU Wingsuits were around in the 60's but as most people that tried it died, they were banned. Patrick De Gayardon, started it back up in the late 80's. I used to make his suits, he'd put the wings on..... he died! Birdman brought out their version in the late 90's and I watched to see if it would become popular, it did so I got into making wing suits.
SGSC You have kept going with this sport up to the age you are. Have you noticed any difference physically in the last 10 or 15 years? How have you dealt with it? Has it affected your mental attitude to the sport?
TU Yeah, its getting harder to put my socks on but I figured my legs were getting longer! I keep at it 'cos I make wing suits that have to be tested, all the time. I'm a prototype addict.
SGSC Do you work out? Is the sport very physically demanding?
TU Not real demanding, pretty easy if your parachute opens soft. I do have an elliptical trainer but I don't use it, but a few months before base season starts, I ride the bike a bit.
SGSC Is diet important, for instance for control of bodyweight?
TU Yes, I think its important to eat well - no junk!
SGSC How do you see things progressing in the future as far as your participation goes?
TU I want to win one of these races at 60, then...? The hikes are such a killer, a helicopter helps, my suits are winning ALL the races now, I can't stop.
SGSC Do you do, or have you done, other sports?
TU Only at school, I liked track athletics, I ran cross country for East London, and I threw javelin....Now I play a lot of golf, some tennis, and a little bit of scuba.
At the top of Monte Brento, before
his first base jump
SGSC Of all the sports we have covered, to an outsider yours appears by far the most adrenalin fuelled. As in other sports, the experience is probably somewhat different for someone who has done it for many years. How is it for someone who does it? Do you have fear, and if so how do you deal with it?
TU Till I leave the mountain I have massive fear, a calm comes over me as I start to go. I'm skydiving now, something I know. I have no head for heights and mountains frighten me. Jumping from a plane is way easy, no heartbeat increase, I think, except when I'm testing proto's.
SGSC Are there any other older flyers? Are people who have been doing it for a while continuing to do it as they age?
TU There are many old guys still in the sport, 10 years older than me even, but none winning :-)
SGSC That's it! No more questions, thank you very much.