Signed into FB today and I saw something at the top of the screen that made me pause for a while;
It said simply; “Happy birthday Ludovic Woerth”.
Having been around wingsuit flying for a few years and known a fairly unhealthy number of people who won’t experience the pleasure of any further birthday wishes and also not being an avid FB user, these somewhat ironic greetings to the dear departed tend to pass me by quite often.Today though was one of those times when it stopped me in my tracks and I started to remember.
I didn’t really know Ludo very well at all, I first met him in 2012 at the WWL grand prix in China and again in 2013 at the same place where I was working for red bull in photographing the event. I wasn’t a great friend of his and neither do I have any great stories about him, I’m not a BASE jumper and have never even skydived but still I have this connection to him that even though I have met and photographed many truly great pilots over the years since, for me he is still someone quite special and unique.
He was the first person I ever saw fly, quite simply that.
It was an especially miserable and freezing day at the top of a cloud wrapped Tianmen mountain. This was a day with merciless and bone-chilling drizzle dripping continuously down your face, soaking through the skin and freezing even the hearts of the most ardent of optimists. With nowhere to hide and with a seemingly implausible chance of any jumps taking place whatsoever it all felt more than a little desperate and thoughts turned vividly towards a warm hotel and hot food. With my mind and spirits shutting themselves down and isolating myself against the cold it was then especially enlivening and surprising to witness the illuminating presence of a French guy shuffling forward to take his position at the exit point and prepare to jump in spite of the rain/cold/fog/cloud and most of all hugely skeptical looks.
Jump he did though, after the smoke flare on his shoe was set alight, off he went as he was quickly swallowed up in the mist/cloud/fog. But, for a few truly glorious seconds before he vanished I watched spellbound, stunned by this man wearing something that looked like it had been bought from a fancy dress shop take a leap from solid ground out and down into a white abyss. It was just a fleeting moment but so serene, elegant and courageous that it was enough to capture my imagination and pull me into a sport of which a week previously I had never even heard of.
The sport of wingsuit flying has it’s fair share of detractors, people who are against it for all manner of reasons, some of those reasons are understandable while others are based on ignorance. In it’s essence though, it is fundamentally a free-spirited sport of pure belief, courage and trust although one that is as equally intoxicatingly beautiful as horrifyingly brutal. Witnessing that first leap from Ludo was for me something that remains a truly special and enlightening memory.
Somehow it seems a little perverse to celebrate the birthday of someone who is no longer with us ( especially in FB land where it’s always startlingly today and never posthumous) perhaps it’s better instead to celebrate a particular moment in that person’s life when something they did effected inspiration in another human being. At least that’s what he provided for me and that’s what I celebrate.
He was the first person, back in 2013, who ever said to me; “Ian, take more photographs , take a lot more”, I’m not sure whether he thought the ones I had been taking were awful and I needed an increase in quantity to compensate or whether there was perhaps some other more darkly cryptic meaning. I took it to mean a little of both.
And one last memory, also from that first year; whilst suffering acutely the effects of wind/cloud/fog/rain/cold induced depression he came up to me in the hotel lobby proclaiming jovially to have discovered a real and tangible ‘double happiness’. Alas, the promised cure for this shroud of gloom turned out to be not an elixir of effervescent and eternal good humour but rather a nicotine induced state of sedation from Shanghai Tobacco inc.
It did though produce enough of a smile to make it through the next few days of gloom and despair and even now when I see a pack of DH in the shop I think of it solely as Ludo’s brand.
So, perhaps in the end no happy birthday wishes but for sure a huge and heartfelt thank you Ludovic Woerth.