We needed something that was light enough for the balloon to carry – it would be some bit of aeronautical engineering. Enter Oracle Red Bull Racing and their commercial arm Red Bull Advanced Technologies (RBAT). The Formula 1 engineers usually spend their time designing parts for Max Verstappen’s F1 car. Instead, they set to work designing something that matched the wooden bowl for shape but significantly shaved the weight.
Like riding on a trampoline.
At 2.6 tonnes, the carbon fibre bowl was now light enough for the balloon to carry, but riding on it was really weird. It flexed so much that when I first got on it, I ran down it on my feet and the flat was like a trampoline – not what you want as a BMX rider.
It rolled faster than concrete and wood, which was good for me as it meant I could get even more air than normal. But it was hard to get used to that spring and pop – it's such a strange feeling. After getting it as dialled as I could on the ground, it was time to raise the bar, but there was another obstacle to tackle first.
A weight on my shoulders
The team said ‘you're going to need to wear an emergency parachute’ – 2,000ft (610m) is a long way to fall without one. I was totally fine with the prospect of riding with it until it arrived. The box was so heavy that I thought it was a couple of cases of Red Bull. It weighs more than 20 percent of my own body weight.
Trying to ride with the parachute was a massive obstacle. You have to pull so much harder than I ever could have imagined. The weight isn't really spread around – it sits solely on my back. When doing flairs and flips and spins, I need to pull so much harder just to get around. I’m fighting against it the whole time and the ‘chute just wants to do its own thing.
I practised riding with it in Unit 23 skatepark and the wooden bowl but it never got any easier. I even asked my manager if I had to ride with it because I was so worried that it would stop me from landing all of my planned lines. Accepting it as an unforeseen difficulty, it was time to finally get the project off the ground (literally).
A big setback
The first time we got the bowl suspended in the air, it moved every way you can imagine. It was tilting, it was side-to-side, it was going round and round in circles. You need to learn that it rides differently on all sides and it's just so hard to get your head around.
After that first day, I was mentally exhausted and I felt sick just from the motion of it. It was a big step back and thinking ‘oh shit, is this going to be doable, especially up at 2,000 feet?’. After spending more time, I started to get a bit more used to it.
There was definitely light at the end of the tunnel and it was time to stick it beneath the hot air balloon.
Lift-off (just about)
Before we could take it to the skies, we suspended the bowl beneath the balloon in the hangar. We could only fly it six feet off the ground before the top of the balloon was touching the roof but it was the best it's ever felt. We had to spike to the hot air balloon’s canisters with nitrogen because it wasn’t going up quick enough with normal air.
The bowl still moved, but nowhere near as much as what it did underneath the crane. Knowing that it didn’t move as much as what I’d been practising on really put my mind at ease – I was saying ‘can we open the doors and fly it straight out?’
After that, we were just waiting on the weather. And sure enough, it didn't come around for a long, long time.
Riding the dream
After 11 months of waiting and multiple cancelled attempts, the day finally arrived when conditions were right. Eleven months later and after a number of cancelled attempts, conditions were finally good enough for flying.
"Up at 2,000ft (610m), it was so peaceful. I remember looking around and thinking ‘riding this little bike has got me here – just look at everything that's happened’. Riding was absolutely horrendous once again though. It was -12 degrees Celsius, the bowl moved and bounced like never before, while the parachute completely drained my energy.
Now I was up there though, I had a job to do. I didn’t want to simply session the bowl either – I had a hit list of bangers I needed to tick off, including a fakie front flip and a kick off to ice pick on the handrail. What are difficult tricks on the ground became near-impossible at altitude with the added weight of the vest and movement of the bowl underneath me.
The sun was in quite a bad spot at one point, especially when I did the front flip – the vert wall was in the shade and I couldn’t see it so it was like 180-ing into the dark. Up in the basket, they could feel it bouncing.
My drone pilot said ‘I don't know how you're riding this because it's moving up and down about four feet’. You can't see it in the footage because it looks like it's stationary, but it’s moving so much. It's insane but my dream to ride at 2,000ft became a reality.
“Waiting for 11 months made it the hardest project in my life. I had to be on standby for 11 months and there are so many trips that I missed out on. This was my sole thing that my life revolved around.”
By Red Bull