August 21, 2014 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Are your palms nice and dry? Is your stomach failing to churn? Watch Don't Look Down, a Channel 4 profile of freerunner James Kingston that follows him to the Ukraine to fulfill his need to make other people nervous by climbing (and doing backflips on) cranes, bridges, and buildings.
posted by item (23 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
nope nope nope nope nope
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 9:38 AM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Awesome program.
posted by Nevin at 9:47 AM on August 21, 2014

posted by mondo dentro at 10:06 AM on August 21, 2014

I agree if you are going to go up there, why not look down, but why go up there in the first place?
posted by 724A at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2014


There's a point in the program where he remarks that dangling 300 feet above the ground is really no different than dangling 3 feet above the ground. From my point of view, jumping around 30 feet above the ground (like in traditional parkour) is just as deadly as jumping around 300 feet above the ground.

Early on in the beginning of the video you can see Kingston training in the forest on a trampoline and a balance bar, and it's obvious he has an almost preternatural sense of balance.

He's obviously a gifted person, and gifted people do things that some of find hard to understand.
posted by Nevin at 10:24 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why? Because quick adrenaline rushes are like crack, and who doesn't like crack?
posted by item at 10:24 AM on August 21, 2014

If you're doing something like this and you get an adrenaline rush, you're doing it wrong.
posted by Flashman at 10:37 AM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Kingston mentions that he never actually feels fear. It's more about his wanting to be in absolute control.

There is one point in the program, towards the end, where he does a reverse backflip on top of a bridge in Ukraine. He said it was the first time he had felt fear in a long time.

The other times, he's in utter control of his situation. There is no adrenaline rush.
posted by Nevin at 10:45 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I made it four minutes in and had to stop, even though I'm fascinated. I was afraid the vertigo would make me fall off my chair.

A kid I know who has autism had a thing about climbing trees. It was his release at times of stress, maybe his form of "stimming." His physical therapist suggested he found the weight on his shoulders to be comforting. I wonder if there's anything like that going on with this guy -- like I said, I couldn't make it very far in -- a comforting stimulus he gets from climbing and feeling his bodyweight.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:14 AM on August 21, 2014

Does adrenaline have to come from fear? His brain is certainly getting flooded with something rewarding when he does what he does.
posted by item at 11:16 AM on August 21, 2014

Fucking hell! Amazing! They should just call it "The Willies: The Movie".

I'll finish it later with scotch safely in hand.
posted by Mister_A at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2014

Well, I made it about a minute into this one. New record for me!
posted by jbickers at 11:32 AM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

item: as a mountain biker and sometimes very low level parkour practitioner (I took parkour to give me better sense of space for MTB actually) I can say with confidence that what you are seeking in these instances is focus. It's that place where you're completely locked in to the trail and humming along at +20mph on a really burly downhill track and you're just railing it.

I have experienced this also in very high level equestrian events where the horse and I were superbly in synch and operating like one organism.

Focus is something all high level athletes from gymnasts to skiers to marathon runners strive for. It's that place where all the mental noise shuts off and you're just really really in the moment.

I dunno, maybe meditation or reading a really good book can get you there too, but I don't get the same physical clean wash of exertion and calm release afterwards.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:35 AM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Witty Ticcy Ray, Oliver Sacks notes that when his friend Ray, who lives with Tourettes, took medication to suppress the manifestation of the condition, Ray's astonishing reflexes also became subdued:

He came back, the following week, with a black eye and a broken nose and said: ‘So much for your fucking haldol.’ Even this minute dose, he said, had thrown him off balance, interfered with his speed, his timing, his preternaturally quick reflexes. Like many Touretters, he was attracted to spinning things, and to revolving doors in particular, which he would dodge in and out of like lightning: he had lost this knack on the haldol, had mistimed his movements, and had been bashed on the nose.

My point is not that Kingston has Tourettes or any other biochemical imbalance, but perhaps he is "abnormal", as Sacks might say, needing or craving intense focus and the opportunity to harness what is clearly impressive strength, stamina reflexes and superhero-like agility.
posted by Nevin at 11:47 AM on August 21, 2014

I still don't see how his brain's pleasure center isn't being rewarded in one way or another upon completion, how it's not the memory of the epinephrine flood that he receives that makes him want to climb the next crane - and keep searching for bigger conquests.
posted by item at 12:08 PM on August 21, 2014

While I am impressed by what these guys are doing, in a certain way, it seems highly likely that some of them will die doing this. Walking on narrow metal pipes hundreds of feet in the air, there is only so much that experience and training will compensate for. Or the guy hanging from the i-beam, doing pullups. Just a little slip is all that would be required.
posted by dellsolace at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2014

On the one hand (unfortunate pun, given the hanging sequences), along with the nope-nopes, I flash on traditional rock-face free-climbers, and on extreme high-wire walkers, like Philippe Petit, who have tradition and context to make their endeavors seem like they make sense, so why not extend the same to these guys?
On the other hand, I wonder if it's the autism/spectrum manifestation, looking for and finding stimulation of a particular nature, and if that doesn't call up a lot of questions about people having the freedom to express their disorders in extraordinarily dangerous ways.
Meanwhile, my hands are hella sweaty, and I'm a little queasy . . .
posted by pt68 at 12:37 PM on August 21, 2014

These videos make people afraid of heights when they might not have been before. They are significantly scarier because they don't show the hands and other secure points preventing a fall. All you see is empty space and feet dangling. There's nothing to stabilize the brain's need for security, which is normally done with hands. Thus the sweaty palms effect. Plus the unpredictable camera swings, thus the upset stomach as your brain tries to retain balance. It's like being on the top of a spire, in an earthquake, with your hands tied behind your back.
posted by stbalbach at 1:02 PM on August 21, 2014

ok look. I know this is hard for anyone who hasn't ever done any level of risky athletic stuff that requires a lot of skill and practice to progress, but seriously, come on.

My husband and I similarly risk our lives (so to speak) on our bikes every time we decide to partake in competition, which is on average roughly once a weekend throughout the year. Honest to god it is RIGHT THERE on the competition release waiver that YOU CAN DIE doing this stuff. I don't care what discipline - road racing / criteriums where you're frequently going 50+ kph on pavement next to solid objects or mountain biking of various degrees where you're going fast over rocks and weaving between trees and dropping off ledges and generally doing shit that will fucking break you if you screw up. I mean you can easily die casing a flip or falling off a damn balance beam tbh but that doesn't seem to stop about a million moms signing up their princesses for baby gymnastics thanks to the Olympic coverage every 4 years.

But you know what? Assuming you've done the work and progression to get to these kinds of elite levels? It's generally about as risky as one of us norms walking across the kitchen floor. Or, I don't know, how about getting in a car and driving to work (which on last check kills some 35,000 people plus a year just in the US alone).

So yeah, on the one hand it's not like they can't die. But also your average joe teenage parkour kid isn't doing this level of stuff.

You don't see lots of people dying in freeskiing accidents or freeclimbing or base jumping or at things like the Redbull Joyride at Whistler.

Autism spectrum? Really? No, actually this is what hard work and fitness and skill and competence looks like. OK for a vanishingly small number of non-neurotypicals, sure, I get that this could be something they'd excel at (anything that requires single minded focus actually). But I honestly take offense to the "daredevil" label because those of us who do these sports are athletes, first and foremost, and we have put in years of training and hard work to get where we are.

It's just that some of us have more talent and drive, that's all. This is why there are various merit levels of any sport (amateur / elite / pro / etc.)
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:06 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

That fisheye lens. *ugh* Yeah it looks great, but (for me) really accentuates the disorientation.
posted by thewalledcity at 1:49 PM on August 21, 2014

Thanks so much for posting this.

I could never in a million, billion, trillion years do anything like this. But I love watching these. I wonder what that says about my neuro-typical-ness.

And when I say, "watch", I mean watch 30 seconds until I can't take anymore. Go away for awhile and come back. This 47 min show will keep me entertained for a week at least.

Oh, and allow me to post these heart-stopping pics I stumbled across earlier this week. Apologies if it's something you've seen before.
posted by marsha56 at 2:48 PM on August 21, 2014

In all the previous videos I've seem of Russian/Ukrainian freeclimbing and hanging, I've just not understood it all. It made no sense.

After this video, I totally get it. I'm never going to have the level of fitness or balance for this sort of thing, plus I have kids now, which mitigates my risk-taking behaviour, but I can absolutely see the appeal and can easily put myself in the mindset of someone who would be driven to do this.
posted by 256 at 3:07 PM on August 21, 2014

Never was that keen on heights, but I liked the view.

A climber I know led me and several friends on a nighttime climb of the bay bridge during a lunar eclipse. We did not have keys to get into the towers themselves so we had to climb on tiny ladders on the crisscross sections between the towers after we got past the road decks (they were open metal before the seismic refit).

I cant say I really enjoyed looking up or down much. The bit that still gives me the willies is the bit where you got to the middle of the X and you had to let go of the ladder where there was just fog-wet plate metal to stand on and lean out over a void to grab the next ladder.

Going down was worse. Glad I did it though.
That Climb
posted by boilermonster at 11:53 PM on August 21, 2014

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