Flow Interview – Chris ‘Douggs’ McDougall – World Record Holder – Base Jumper – Skydiver
When we went in search of the ultimate base jumper and skydiver, we expected to find someone extraordinary – someone who was used to pushing the limits and had the ability to freeze time. When we finally hooked up with Chris Douggs (Douggs) he was everything we had been looking for and more. Douggs’ wealth of experience is nothing short of outstanding.
Douggs has felt flow frequently, in multiple arenas, and when he is not pretending to be Superman he is a motivational speaker, TV presenter, commentator, author, film maker, and stunt man. Douggs is one of the world’s most experienced BASE jumpers, respected both inside and outside the sport. He is a World Champion, World Record holder, and completed well over 3200 BASE jumps and 7000 skydives across more than 42 countries.
His list of achievements and highlights include:
2014 World Wingsuit League, China
– 2013 World Record for most base jumpers jumping indoors
– 2013 First ever BASE jumps in Kuwait from Al Hamra Tower
– 2013 1st place in World Extreme Base Championships, Spain
– 2013 1st place in Accuracy Competitions in both Turkey & China
-2012 World first night human slingshot, Dubai
– 2011 World BASE Championships, 2nd place
-2008 UK ProBase British Open : Overall Champion
– 2003/04 BASE jumping World Champion: 1st place Aerobatics, 1st place Team, 1st place overall
– Many expeditions throughout remote parts of the world including, Baffin Island, China, Norway, New Zealand & 37 other countries
-1998-2003 6 time Australian National Skydiving Champion in 4 way and 8 way RW
– 2001- 2003 Australian team member for World Championships – 2002 World Record: 300 way skydive – 12 Gold medals in various state events – and much more.
As you can imagine, our interview with Douggs was very insightful, and he enlightens us on how he finds flow in base jumping and skydiving:
Chris: In skydiving and base jumping it, I’ve called it ‘the zone,’ but I’ve never heard the actual technical term for flow before.
Cameron: Yeah, yeah. It called different things. Jazz musicians call it ‘being in the pocket’. Different people have different names for it, but everyone knows it when you talk about it. You know, it’s that moment where we’re completely engulfed and everything’s just at one, we’re highly connected and time seems to pause, but then you come out of it and time forwards winds, and you’re like “Oh my God, what just happened?”
Chris: I’ve written a number of articles about the feeling. There’s no past, no future, there just this present. I call it the now.
It’s an incredible feeling. And once you submit to it, when you’re shaking on the edge or whatever, and then you commit and submit and take those three deep breaths then everything goes still and quiet, and then that beautiful silence that first second is just incredible…and then off we go, and then that’s when you hit it.
Cameron: How did you get into base jumping and skydiving?
Chris: Base jumping has been the best thing ever for me because it allowed me to take everything I’ve learnt in jumping and take it to ordinary life, which has resulted in endless possibilities; there no negatives, only positives. There’s only the cup always half full now. I think that’s the right one. [laughs] Do you know what I mean? Like, I was lucky I got into base jumping super early and found it, and it just blew me away. I mean, on my first skydive I still blacked out for over five seconds, you know, so my brain wasn’t able to process that information at all.
But then I was intrigued by that, went straight back up and did another one. I’ve never been able to get that sensation again, except for the closest I ever got was when we did a human slingshot a couple of years ago in Dubai, and there’s a video online about it, but we were shooting out so fast that I think we were doing zero to 200 in about a second, about 6-7 Gs, I was able to process the information, but I was almost on my limit of processing it, it was interesting. It’s the only time I got that sensation (complete shut off) back since my first skydive.
I think it’s called sensory overload. It’s where your brain is just receiving too much information and it shuts down. But yeah, you never get it back really, so it’s interesting. I’ve always been intrigued from day one about it all.
Cameron: How do you feel when you experience flow?
Chris: Just when you see I’m in a really good state of flow I generally smile [laughs] because I’m actually really relaxed. So, that jump, (where I was smiling) it took us five jumps that day to get to that point.
(When in flow) You can just see more, so I see things off in the distance, the cameraman sitting there, and I saw 15 seconds flying past at about 200 Ks/hour, and I smiled at him as I went past super casually. So, that everything sort of is almost happy. [laughs] Like, in this calm trance-like state, but like The Matrix, you know, like “Sh**, it’s actually moving fast” but you’ve just made it all stand still. That when I really enjoy it, because everyone like “Oh wow, you must get this big adrenaline rush when you do this!” and I’m like “I don t actually.”[laughs] I get really, really calm and really tranquil.
I was just doing some stuff out of my comfort zone this last week, and sh** moving fast still, but when we get comfortable then everything just slows down and it’s just poetic almost; it beautiful.
You almost feel invincible, that’s a good word for it. You’re just on another level to everyone and everything around you. I mean, that animal instinct, that’s what animals get. They’re always in flow [laughs].
Another way to explain it is, when we jump off a waterfall and jump in snow, you hit that microsecond of a point where everything stops, and if you’re in flow, which I generally am, you’d stop for a lot longer than a microsecond. You’re falling at the same speed as the water droplets, or the same speed as the snow, and whilst it’s only a microsecond you can make it last for seconds, and then it speeds up really quick! It’s exactly like the movies basically.
I mean, that’s what The Matrix did, The Matrix put flow into cinema, in my opinion. I always use The Matrix as my way to try and explain it best to the layman, because it shows it clearly on cinema how it all works.
Cameron: What are the barriers to achieving the flow state?
Chris: In traffic (driving)…I can miss, I can swirve and miss and do whatever, I just process that information really, really f**king quickly. One that really stands out, my cousin a very good motorbike rider, and we did this trail riding super fast, super thin and I couldn’t find flow. It was the first time when I was like “Mother f**ker! I can t keep up with my cousin!”
When he’s riding a bike he’s in flow for sure, but I couldn’t get there because I’m not good enough on a bike. That was the first time I really understood that I wasn’t invincible, and I can’t always find flow. Do you know what I mean? Because you walk around just feeling not better than everyone else, just like, you f**king own it all the time, you know, and that what makes a champion as well; you’ve got to be able to own it. Confidence and arrogance is a fine line, but you’ve got to walk that line all the time, you know. More arrogant when you’re younger, more confident when you’re older [laughs].
Cameron: What preparation helps you get into flow?
Chris: For me, training and visualisation for sure. I mean, I jump all the time, and I’m doing extreme sports all the time. When I’m speed flying, I’m absolutely in flow, but not while I’m on skis, because I’m a sh** skier; as soon as I take off I can’t do anything. But training for sure. And I think over time being in mountainous environment and an ocean environment so much your body adapts. Do you know a guy called Dean Potter?
Chris: He’s a very advanced climber. He’s a good friend of mine now, and is a mountain man, you know, because he can adapt, he’s done so much time in the mountains that it’s second nature for him. He doesn’t use ropes pretty much ever. He can just climb mountains because he put himself in that situation. Same as the watermen, your Laird Hamiltons and stuff like that. If I put myself in a situation long enough then the more I adapt. I do seminars on aerobatics in base, and use what I’ve learnt from doing hardcore aerobatics. From 450 feet doing four or five flips or whatever, starting from single flips, learning and then pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, and getting to a point where for us we have to, I have to accept my own limitations way earlier than I would like because I don’t want to die, so I don’t run at 100% ever really.
But, what I’ve learnt was that coming back from say doing four-five flips on a jump to doing one flip on a jump opens the world up way more. So, you sort of need to push yourself that harder and see with blinkers on, to then pull back and be able to see the world with open eyes. That’s really interesting, and it’s very hard to tell a 20-year old kid to do that because they just want to go crazy. But after coming full circle I don’t generally do all the big flips anymore, I just do the slow rotating ones. I’d be upside down, waving at people in a restaurant off a building or something, because I’m in the flow. But being able to do heaps of flips first has helped me reach that perspective. So, now my brain expects me to do all that stuff, and then when I lay it back a bit then the brain like “Oh yeah, this is much cooler!” [laughs] So, I teach people to not fly with blinkers on with everything they’re doing, to work themselves up to it and not rush into it. Then when you pull back you’re good. But on the other spectrum of that, I’ve lost a friend last year from pushing, pushing, pushing; their 100% performance became a normal percent. My normal performance is 30-50 percent now, just because I’ve lost so many friends and I’m having such a great life. But these guys are pushing so hard, their normal becomes 100%. And you almost need 100% sometimes, because we’re not perfect humans, so when these guys need an extra spike they didn’t have it and died from it.
So, I try and teach that a lot as well, because yeah, running at 100% all the time, that’s not good for our sport. It’s not surfing where you can sort of get away with it, or skating where you’ll break your ankle or something we generally die. So, whilst our sport is actually one of the safest extreme sports out there, when it goes wrong we die, it’s very simple. It’s not a broken ankle or things like that, so it’s a real tricky one for helping others with that.
Cameron: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s powerful what makes the skydiving such an amazing sport for flow, when you think about it. You know, the consequences are so high when you’re pushing it that you’re almost forced into a state of flow. Your senses engage, the mind has to shut off because it just can’t compute everything that’s going on and make those decisions that you need to make, and you’re forced into it. What do you do just before you jump off? You mentioned earlier, you said you take a couple of deep breaths and you kind of sit there.
Chris: Yeah. Like, off a cliff. Planes are different because it’s so noisy and you’ve got to go at the same time, but from a cliff I’ll gear up. These days I’ll just, well, obviously I’ve got a lot of jumps, so it definitely has evolved. I’m always scared, that’s one key; I’m always making sure I stay scared. That’s one of the key aspects to getting into flow I reckon as well, don’t be overconfident with everything. Then I’ll gear up and I’ll prep myself on everything. So, the weather, my skill level, my gut feeling that day, the object that I’m jumping off. Sometimes I’ll walk away as well, and sometimes I won’t jump stuff that my students jump. You know, I have my own little my own path.
But then once I’m geared up I’ll double-check, triple-check everything, make sure I’m cool, and then that way when I go to the edge the only thing I’m scared of is being scared. That’s a key for me as well, because then your mind doesn’t have to think about anything else, it can channel in and focus. And then when it’s time to go, generally I’ll be freaking out, but you’ve got to turn that negative fear into a positive fear. That’s when I’ll take three (deep breaths) because you’re going to do it anyway [laughs], so you might as well do it correctly. You know, if it gets too much I’d walk away and stuff, but I understand my body and my consciousness.
So yeah, when it is time to go I’ll basically calm down, take three deep breaths, and on the third breath or fourth breath or whatever I’ll generally just head off. And that way just before you go you’re completely calm, very tranquil, and about to throw yourself into the unknown. But, I mean, if it’s the unknown then that’s another ball game; I do know the outcome could be bad, but it’s a calculated risk, so it’s a very small chance as such, but it could definitely still happen on any jump I’m no more special than anyone else. But once you put yourself in that position and you go then it’s on, and then you’re just hyperaware of everything.
I’ll always put myself in uncomfortable positions. Like, just recently I was doing this seminar in front of 120 legends of the sport, and then putting myself up to do a song actually at the talent night in front of the same people. [laughs] They saw me physically shaking with the lyrics, you know, and I still put myself there even though it was f**king terrifying.
But, you know, I like doing that. The song was a good one because I was so nervous and my voice was so sh**ful, and then by the end I’ve got the whole crowd clapping and singing with me because I’d entered flow basically in a different environment and just went into rockstar mode without the talent by the way. By the end I was good, and then afterwards I’m like f**king freaking out again, but I’d hit that for about a minute of that song, I hit the flow basically. The same thing happens with the talks as well, I start out nervous. Dean Potter actually helped me, I try to do as much motivational speaking as I can now to overcome one of my biggest fears, and he said “Just learn the first two sentences.” [laughs] “Just memorise the first two sentences. You ve got to start, and the rest will just pick up in your state of flow basically.”
We would like to thank Douggs for his time and insight. We look forward to following and helping Douggs in his future expeditions. Thank you also, for taking the time to read this post.