ROBERTA MANCINO: AIRBORNE BEAUTY
What does freedom mean to you? For some, it’s foregoing 9-5 office hours to work from home, for others, satisfying their wanderlust in far-flung locales whenever they get the chance; for most, it’s about having control of one’s body and destiny.
For model, professional skydiver and BASE jumper Roberta Mancino, freedom means jumping into the unknown for her living.
I wanted to fly – it was a dream, like many people have. Skydiving was something I was very curious about, so when I was 18, I tried it.
Fast forward nearly 2 decades, and Mancino has completed over 9000 skydives, hundreds of BASE jumps and broken three skydiving world records. But to this day, her love for skydiving – and more notably, it’s more dangerous cousin BASE or proximity jumping, which involves parachuting straight from cliffs or similar structures – comes from a place of instinct rather than fame-seeking.
One click on her Youtube channel will bring up videos of Mancino kissing someone mid-flight after jumping from the Princess Tower in Dubai (see below), proximity jumping from the 9-Dragon Wall in Beijing’s forbidden city, and even swimming with crocodiles in Mexico in her campaign to save endangered species.
But social hits aside, it’s the way in which the beauty of those jumps exist outside of a digital sphere that make them so entrancing; to see a woman’s body flying through the sky, totally in control and yet open to the elements, totally unhindered and yet graceful, taps into an urge that we might all have buried inside, to forego conventional wisdom and live life a little more on the edge.
Mancino, who still models, was first discovered when she was a teenager swimming in the sea on a family holiday. At first, due to her age, her family wanted her to forego modelling for studying – but even as her career in fashion took off and brought her to Paris, Milan and London for magazine editorials, little did they realise another hobby was being nurtured that would point Mancino in an even less orthodox career direction.
After initially trying out skydiving at a local military base, she soon found a training school nearer to her home. “Immediately after 30 jumps I knew already just what I wanted to do. I wanted to work in skydiving, be an instructor, and compete...it was very fast!”, she laughs.TRAINING AT SKYDIVE PERRIS, LOS ANGELES
Skyping from Chile, where she has flown to surprise her boyfriend – fellow extreme sports fanatic and skydiving photographer Noah Bahnson – Mancino is effusive on the ways in which modelling and BASE jumping need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, as her profile rose in extreme sports, she found she grew in confidence in all areas of her work life and social life. “It did a lot for the modelling that I was skydiving, because lots of magazines showed an interest”, she describes.
In fact even beyond modelling, the ability to take risks and stay calm seems to be conducive to a kind of profound self-assurance; the same for extreme situations like doing stunts for films, as trying to mediate situations at home. “There are some people who feel more able to take risks than others, and they feel much more comfortable to do it, because they don't panic,” she describes.
“They can be very calm in a very stressful, intense situation. Water, air, animals… Everything, all those stunts, give you much more confidence to help in other situations. If something bad happens, I try to relax other people around me, in my family. To give courage to other people. Tell them, ‘Don't give up’. My mum has been sick for many years but I tell her don't give up, I don't cry in front of her. I try to use all those things that I learn in my sport, in my normal family situationsBASE JUMPING IN PANAMA CITY
However, the focus on ticking off more and more dangerous jumps as a sign of achievement is a dangerous obsession in more ways than one. “In BASE jumping you jump from a rock, or a building – the object is right there. You can impact immediately after you jump off. The guys are much more bold than the girls, they go closer, (and) it’s both good and bad. It’s the evolution of our sport, but at the same time (that) kills so many people. There (are) many factors we don't know when we fly.” It’s clear that for Mancino, being the most dangerous has never been the goal – instead, it’s by combining the sport with her own experimentations that her profile has risen. “I'm more into the beauty of the pure flying,” she says.
You can fly with other people, (make) formations – for me, that is something that is more unique and say, less dangerous, but still beautiful to watch.WINGSUIT FORMATION IN GEORGIA
With technology having developed so much in the two decades since she started out, so too have modes of watching – for Mancino’s fans, as well as for her. Today, thanks to GoPro sponsorship, she can watch herself back, as well as share extreme moments instantaneously with a new generation of risk-takers around the world. What’s her thought process when she watches those videos, some of them from so many years ago? “You grow up and you learn! I was young, I made mistakes – but I was lucky. I look at my videos, and I’m happy and proud. I have huge support around me. My boyfriends support, my mums support… Because you really feel alone. Just imagine, its you, by yourself, and you can die. I need the support from people, it's important.”
From our conversation, a contradiction at the heart of Mancino’s life of jumping from dangerous heights becomes clear: by putting herself in some of the most extreme and stressful situations a human could possibly put him or herself under, she simultaneously achieves a level of inner peace that most people will spend their life striving for. As an extreme sportswoman, this peace is perhaps the result of placing discipline and training in the service of a dream that feels superhuman – and reaching that dream place. As a human, perhaps it’s the result of the communion with nature that is a less documented, but just as vital, aspect of proximity jumping.
I believe that when you go through those extreme moments, you start to think differently about life.PUERTO ESCONDIDO SKYDIVING EVENT IN OAXACA, MEXICO
Life is one day - it could be done, today. The most important thing is the training, and that's what gives you the confidence of feeling empowered – and knowing your body.
When we speak, Roberta is fresh from one of what will no doubt be many firsts in 2018: a base jump off the top of the Eiger mountain in Switzerland, in minus 35 degrees. It was during production of a 3D film called "Wingsuit: The Art of Human Flight", slated for release in IMAX cinemas everywhere in the autumn.
Starring Mancino alongside internationally acclaimed flyers Jon Devore and Mike Swanson, the film will aim to get audiences closer to the thrill of jumping into extraordinary landscapes than has ever been possible before. Today, Mancino’s excitement is barely contained over the line, but she also describes how last week’s events left even her feeling bone-shakingly nervous.
For a week, each night I felt I would almost puke for how scared I was. And then it goes away. And it really is amazing when you're up there.
You look down and there is so much beauty, and you want to fly, and everything makes sense. I know how I got there, and why I'm there now. It’s hard to describe, but it makes sense in the moment.
Text: Claire Marie Healy
Images: Courtesy of Roberta Mancino