Tim Howell – Extreme Sport Athlete

Meet Tim Howell, he is an alpinist who also pursues other activities such as wingsuit flying, BASE jumping, climbing, and Skiing. He is always planning or out on an adventure. He took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

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Please briefly introduce yourself and explain what it is that you do for a living?

My name is Tim Howell and I’m 29 years old. I finished serving in the Royal Marines this time last year. After my A levels I lived in South Africa for two years where I worked as a ranger in the Kruger park. Following Visa problems, I left South Africa and joined the Royal Marine commandos where I served for eight years, ending up as a Mountain Leader. Currently, I work as a rope access technician in between expeditions and trips fulfilling projects and challenges I have set my sights on. 

How did you get into base jumping; was it a gradual process or was it something you saw and immediately wanted to do?

The first time I saw BASE jumping was in a magazine as a child, then in real life in Thailand where I was climbing before I joined the marines. Being a climber it always struck me that BASE jumping was the next step. It was a gradual process, entering the world of BASE jumping, as you have to do many hundreds of skydives beforehand. The intention behind my pursuit of skydiving was always to become a BASE jumper.

At what age did you do your first base jump, and what was your mental state like leading up to it? What about your first experience wingsuit flying?

I started skydiving on my 21st birthday and precisely calculated how long it would take to do the recommended 200 jumps before taking a BASE jumping course. I managed to do the recommended 200 jumps in two years to the day, and on my 23rd birthday I did my first BASE jump. I was confident and was way less nervous than when I experienced my first skydive. I think I knew what to expect and although not overconfident, I knew I had the experience and knowledge to attempt BASE jumping. The cycle repeated itself with the progression to wingsuit BASE jumping, I simply felt and knew I was ready.

With some sports the way to learn and advance is by having a mentor to lead the way and pass on knowledge, is this the case with base jumping/wingsuit flying? If not, how do you hone your skills?

Having a mentor is very important, as well as being active in the community, listening to others who have gone before you, reading reports, and sharing information. Though a mentor might not mentor you over years, you can still gain knowledge and improve by these methods. I often say I learn something on every jump, even if it is a seemingly small or minor bit of information. 

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What kind of physical training regiment do you have in order to do your sports with ease? Would you say that you need to be more physically prepared or mentally prepared before a jump?

Some of the jumps we do require arduous long days in the mountains, so the endurance and cardiovascular fitness definitely comes into play. However, there are plenty of jumps that are a ten minute walk from a car or Gondola, so physical fitness is not always as critical in these situations. Personally, I much prefer jumps where the access is arduous. I suppose muscle memory could also be a part of physical preparation, but practice does not always make perfect, but practice can make permanent so it is important to make sure you are drilling the correct muscle memory. Mental preparation is of course very important. If your mind and heart are racing 100 miles an hour before you jump your mind is not in the right place, any mistakes will spiral out of control. I often focus on breathing techniques and visualization before I jump.

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Photo Credit: Ben Read

Has your experience in the military helped you in becoming a mountaineer? Do you think it has had a positive impact on your ability to push the limits while base jumping/wingsuit flying?

Being in the military has had a great impact on me, not so much on a technical level but rather a mental one. Knowing that if things go wrong I would be able to deal with the situation.

Do you have a specific diet that you follow, or does your diet fluctuate based on what activities you’re presently doing?

Being on the road I often find it hard to follow any diet, not that I would want to any way. When in the Alps it is usually a lot of pasta and pizza!

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Photo Credit: Ben Read

I’m from Canada and most people here complain about the price of hockey. I would imagine that base jumping and wingsuit flying come with a hefty price tag. How do you support your activities, and to what degree does sponsorship play in your ability to continue pursuing such activities on a regular basis?

The gear needed is rather expensive, as is the investment of all the skydives and traveling. I have a lot of people asking, “How much is it to go wingsuit BASE jumping?”, and there is no easy answer. I have never calculated how much it would be. I saved and sacrificed along the way to achieve my goals. Sponsorship is very helpful when I want to complete certain goals. There are some I just would not be able to pull off if it was not for my main sponsor, Jöttnar.

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What is the process for picking the locations that you jump from? Have others usually jumped from the same location prior to you, or are you often the first?

I love finding new jumps around the world. I enjoy the process of searching online for possible new exits, which is where Instagram pages like yours provides me with inspiration. Once I discover an area of interest I look on google Earth to see if there is a landing and a flight, if it is a wingsuit jump. Sometimes if information is lacking, it is a bit of a gamble traveling halfway around the world to see if it will work. There is of course thousands of exits that have been jumped and the information is shared in the community. 

Once you have determined a jump location, what is your preparation process like leading up to the jump; does the routine stay the same or does it change with each jump?

The type of BASE jumps that I do very: very low jumps as low as 30m, ski BASE, wingsuiting, and alpine/climbing BASE jumps. The structure and precautions for each jump remains the same, but each one will differ in regards to how we stow the gear or deploy the parachute. 

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What is your main reason or drive for doing these type of high risk activities? What is it that you get out of it?

I have thought about this a lot, for me it is the challenge. This is why I like to attempt open new jumps, it is for the challenge that I face. It is always more of a challenge if your the first to jump from a location. 

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Is there a jump that stands out as more memorable than others, and if so why?

Quite a few jumps stand out, but for different reasons. Perhaps our engagement jump stands out the most, for so many reasons! I am currently writing a blog post about it, as there is a lot to mention, but to sum it up: I proposed to Ewa on table mountain, she said yes and we jumped off, we flew together. Opened our parachutes. Then Ewa had a bad landing and de-gloved her shin to the bone. I carried her off the mountain for two hours. She spent the night in the hospital after surgery, and to top it all off I lost the engagement ring. Despite the ordeal she stills says it was the best trip ever!

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Recognizing the high risk nature of base jumping and wingsuit flying, have you had an experience or a close call which made you question what you do?

There have been close calls, I think if you spend a lot of time in this sport it is going to happen. Though there have been close calls, I never had an injury. It is more the accidents and fatalities you see of other people that make me question if I will do it forever. 

Are you working on any long term projects at the moment, and do you have any goals for the future with base jumping or wingsuit flying?

There are too many projects to mention. Every time I finish one project it leads to another, like stepping stone to bigger things. I have got a few interesting jumping and climbing trips coming up to Greenland, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Oman. My main goal that I have been working on for three years now is climbing the six great North Faces of the Alps and then jumping from them all. I have three left to complete, so hopefully I will finish them soon!

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For more from Tim Howell click here or @tim_howell_adventure

For more on his main sponsor Jöttnar click here

Photography credit: Hamish Frost (@hamishfrost ), Ben Read (@benreadphoto and here), Zak O’leary.