Monday, March 30, 2009 Updated: March 31, 8:40 PM ET
Thacker: 'Can we go 400 feet?!'
Paul Thacker was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport this morning preparing to board a plane for Chicago. Thacker was in particularly good spirits tooclearly, he's still riding high from his new world record distance jump of 301.5 feet in Brainerd, Minn., Thursday.
Though mighty pleased with his latest world record huck, Thackerwe had to asksays he's not finished with this distance jumping stuff either. "Absolutely not," he said via cell phone. "We were still on the landing after measuring the distance out and the crew and I are looking at each other, like, 'OK, what do we do now?! Can we go 400 feet?!'"
"And I think we can..."
ESPN Action Sports: First off, congrats. PAUL THACKER: "Thanks. It's been a long time coming. A lot of hard work and effort by a lot of different people and it's finally paid off. But now I'm very much ready to put my snowmobile away and get on my dirtbike; it's pretty much been non-stop pinned since November."
So the weather was, er, crappy once again?
"Yeah, we're getting kind of used to it now. I've never done one of these jumps when it isn't crappy weather. And then usually the very next day it's bluebird and that was the case this time too. Flags weren't even rustling it was so calm and clear."
This is not your final act at the distance game?
"No way. Just the set up and the stuff we learned from this jump, there's no doubt in my mind that we can go bigger."
Will your next distance sled be nuclear powered or how's that going to work?
"I'm still using a 600 and they make 800s and 1000s and we could get the sled up around 100 miles an hour fairly easily. The difference being between how the stuff flies and the wind resistance with a bigger sled. But we experimented with some aerodynamic mods and it worked out well this time."
So you were wearing a plastic speed skiing suit or what?
"Not quite. But for the kind of sled I use it made a huge difference. I was able to go as far as the [moto] bike guys go going one or two miles an hour slower on the in-run than they had. Granted, the ramp's a little less poppy than the ramps that [Ryan] Capes and Maddo [Robbie Maddison] use."
What mods of the aerodynamic nature did you make?
"We put a big windshield on the sled, for one. The Polaris engineer guys were saying that in a wind tunnel they can make six or seven miles an hour faster with the taller windshields rather than the little ones the sleds normally come with. So the guys at Bikeman [Performance] found a mid-'80s Arctic Cat windshield, cut it to form and it actually worked really good."
Note the extra-tall windshield, nose cone and other NASA-style mods on Thacker's sled.
Looking good no doubt too?
"It definitely made a big difference with how the sled flew compared to last year [271 feet] and the year before [245 feet]. It did what I wanted it to, and much easier. That obviously made a pretty big difference. I just wanted it to fly a little better, more like an airplane, so we basically did some aircraft-style modificationsthe windshield, nose coneand it worked great."
And how did she fly?
"It basically did exactly what I wanted it to do: Fly straight and predictably. You're still hitting the ramp at 90 miles an hour so there's some level of unpredictability; you're still hitting the ramp with unbelievable force. I wish I had a G force meter on the sled with me, because my body aches now, still, four days later. Shoulders, elbows, back, everything. And then you come down pretty hard on the landing as well."
Right. The landing. Explain?
"It was a little bit taller than the ones we've built before. But I couldn't have asked for a better landing. Joe Duncan and that whole crew that put it together did a very solid job. We're already looking at photos thinking, 'OK, how much bigger is it going to have to be to go 400 feet?'"
So there's the landinghuge pile of snow, steep transitionbut how were your landings on the landing?
"I landed pretty much all the jump attempts right on the money. The wind was sort of half cross, half tail, so it would blow me to the left. But we compensated for it, pointing the ramp at the right side of the landing and then I'd land right in the middle. So we had it dialed. The impact was pretty hard, it was a jolt, but your adrenaline's pumping so much that you barely feel it; until after."
You've targeted 300 feet for years now and it's taken years to safely build up to that distance. Explain the progression.
"When we started doing unofficial stuff in the mountains, way back when, 300 feet was always the magic number. It was the holy grail. Because everyone can relate to it because people know the size of a football field. The general public can relate to that number. But it's definitely been a learning process everytime we've done itthe landings, the take-off ramp, the overall approach. And this time was no different. Fox Shox built me some shocks specifically stiff for hitting the ramp at high speed and then handling the landing, because otherwise you're trying to manage those forces with your body."
"Realistically it would've been difficult to reach the goal [of 300 feet] the first time we tried it seriously, in 2007. We weren't ready then. But we've learned. And basically we've progressed just the like dirt bike guys. I think it took Capes four or five years to get past the 300 foot mark after first trying to do it."
So you're hitting the ramp at nearly 90 miles an hour. How do you manage the competing forces involved there?
"That's one of the things that's hard to explain. It's kind of instinctual. Anyone who jumps anything, it's something that you just learn and you can anticipate how the machine's gonna fly based on how steep the ramp is and how fast you're going. Your mind and instincts are telling you when to hit the gas, when to chop the brake in the air. It's just instinct. I don't really know. You're just doing it automatically."
Braking in mid-air?
"Absolutely. Because the brake brings the front of the sled down. And it's one of two things: I'm carrying the speed all the way through and off the ramp. I definitely need to carry my speed all the way through the end of the ramp. So that sled is absolutely pinned until I get completely off the ramp. And then I totally let off the gas for a split second. So that slows the track rotation and, like an engine brake, brings your nose down. And then it's a combination of gas and brake, not too nose-high and not too nose-low, and the little bit of gas and little bit of brake keeps the sled level everytime you jump."
"Yes"laughter"there is a lot of stuff going on. And, like I said, there's no instruction booklet or manual for this stuff. It's experience, trial and error, and crashing a half-dozen or dozen times and then figuring out what you did wrong and getting back on it and getting it right the next time."
This is your third world record jumpand most satisfying no doubt?
"Absolutely. Everytime we've done one, 300 has been the goal for me personally. And it's all finally come together. The second to the last jump [Thursday] was 283 feet and we measured it and I was like, 'Nice work guys, we just broke the world record.' But then we went back to work. There was no celebration, champagne popping, nothing, because 300 was the goal. So there was going to be no satisfaction at just breaking the record."
So you went 245 feet in '07 and then 271 last yearand both times Ross Mercer came back and out-jumped you shortly thereafter. Have you arranged for him to be deposited on a deserted island now?
"Yeah, I wish. Ross countered my 245 with 263, and then he did the jump in Sweden last year after mine that was 277, I think."
So you guys are tight?
"I talked with Ross after this one and he congratulated me. We're friends. It's nobody trying to one up one another, it's both guys doing what they're good at. And we're just pawns in the energy drink war and trying to take advantage of it."
Who will have the last word?
"The first one we knew that Red Bull was going for it. And we purposefully did it before them when realistically we could've done it after them. And Ross' jump last year was a private attempt for a company in Sweden, but they didn't want to pay any money so I declined. But, obviously, the first to 300 was a big goal for me personally and I can only imagine that there's something in the works for Ross too. I have no doubt he's capable of going well over 300 as well."
What did he say to you?
"He congratulated me and was stoked. You know, he's one of the few guys who can actually relate to how gnarly and scary it is. So we're going to get together at some point here and ride, have some adult beverages and hang out and take it up further."
So are you going to Cabo or what?
"I've actually been looking at vacation packages for Cabo for the rest of the week. But I guess I have to hang out this week since the footage has been blasted out to all the TV stations and there might be some commitments in that regard. But there's definitely some beach time in my immediate future. And I really want to get my dirtbike out. Time for a change of scenery."
How important is your crewguys who've been with you on this whole distance-jumping journeyin the making of safe and successful jumps?
"Hugely important. We've put together a team over the last few years and they've been there for me; second to none. They're looking out for my safety, and that's something I need because sometimes I just see the goal and not necessarily the risk. They're like, 'Dude, slow down, not today, you're not jumping today.' Joe Duncan said that to me one of the days, and then I snap back into reality, like, 'You're right. What was I thinking?' That day the wind blowing from two miles an hour up to 40 and I was pretty much prepared to just go. But the people around me, the safety crew, they're just like, 'No.'"
Any get-offs in the jumps leading up to 301?
"No issues this year at all. ... And now we've got the set up and map for going forward. Now if we want to do a show with a 300 foot jump, we can do it. We know how to do it."
And that's what you're going to do?
"It's definitely a cool thing in person. And I want to bring it to the public. And I would be down to jump 300 feet as many times as I need to."
"I was watching ESPN the other day and I heard about this fellow, Shane [McConkey], who just passed away. I've never met him but I know he's super gnarly. They had someone on for an interview talking about the risks involved with BASE jumping and the incidence of death. This person was saying that a lot of people can't understand why they do it. But also that some people are fortunate enough in life to find the thing that's so important to them that it is worth risking everything for. And that's my deal with this too. It's what I love to do. And it's been a cool ride, and we're not finished."