THE HIGH LIFE
BESTFIT meets the Flying Frenchies, adventurists who star in The Free Man, a fascinating documentary that sees them partner with Olympic freestyle skier Jossi Wells. What follows is the adventure of a lifetime…
The film The Free Man features freestyle skier, Jossi Wells – how did he find the experience of working with the Flying Frenchies?
We showed him his first experience of walking on a slackline, a high line in a storm. It was so extreme, so intense for him – we did everything we could do to help him do the best he could do. We helped him a lot.
What does freedom mean to you?
To be free, to push your limits is not something easy. It’s not easy to push the ideal – you have to fight for that, you need perseverance. That work is really, really important. The over-riding thing about the Flying Frenchies is the human spirit – we give as much energy as we can to create new things and imagine new things. It’s too simple to say that being free means you can have or do what you want, it’s far more complex than that. Sometimes, when you take a lot of risk, when you expose your life, you have one choice – you have to stay alive.
Do you ever get scared?
When you work on the high line, of course you are afraid. It’s not natural to work on a line but you have to manage that with your brain – you have to manage that emotion and try to stay relaxed. It’s a really intense thing but if you can control that it sometimes feels a bit like meditation.
How did you feel when you first did it?
I can clearly remember the first time I tried it. I remembered it because we had to read the conditions very carefully. It was very stressful but it was very special.
Does anyone ever attempt to get you to stop doing what you guys do?
For sure, because you don’t take risks like this lightly. You could pay a heavy price for what you’re doing but there’s a balance. It’s not a selfish thing because when I stay alive, the stories I tell are so intense – it’s all about the power of life. I give to all the people I know and all the people I love, the power of life through the experiences I have.
How did you get into this kind of activity in the first place?
The Flying Frenchies is a human story. It’s an adventure, the whole thing has been an adventure. It has grown organically, really. As a young guy I played football and basketball but it was rock climbing that really pushed me and excited me. When I met all the Flying Frenchies, the original four, we would high line on the top of mountains. We decided to go higher, not just in terms of risk but in terms of adventure and exploring. It’s an art form. When we do something we’re like artists creating a new show.
How does your body feel when you’re walking across the high line?
The first step on a new high line in high mountains is massively stressful but after you make it, you can enjoy it. It doesn’t feel graceful because you’re trying to manage the adrenaline. When you relax, you can control your mind and control your body. The step after that initial step, the pleasure comes. You start to feel like Superman – you start to feel you can do anything. You transcend your body and your mind. In the Flying Frenchies, we take a lot of risks but we’re constantly opening something new in our minds and our body.
If you meet someone in a social situation how do you describe your job?
I tell them it’s a long story but I could probably sum it up in three words – I’m an explorer. I tell them it’s a job I absolutely love.
What sort of physical training do you do?
Physically, I just do what I love to do – climbing and mountaineering. If I enjoy what I do then that’s when you enjoy training. I run a lot too although I used to run a lot more when I was young. I don’t need to train every day.
Is there anything you wouldn’t do?
Of course, and that can be difficult too – that can be hard to accept. The fact is that you have to stay alive for the people you love. Sometimes it can be hard to make a decision but the more experienced you are, the more you know whether you should attempt something or not. We take risks but it’s not because we’re crazy and want to do – it’s exactly the opposite, we want to experience the maximum that life can offer. You have to listen to your feelings.
To what extent is the film a tribute to your friend, Tancrede Melet [Tancrede died preparing for a stunt in 2016]?
He was a great, great friend and a superhero of the Flying Frenchies. We did a lot of extreme stunts in the collective and this was shot just after the death of Tancrede and, in many ways, it showed the opposite of death – this was about the spirit of life and the spirit of adventure.
The Free Man
Directed by Toa Fraser who uses breathtaking cinematic backdrops to highlight the world of extreme sports, The Free Man is stunning and, for those who don’t like heights, vertigo inducing! Shot in New Zealand and France, the film offers a rare insight into the story of men who push themselves to the point of no return; men who quite literally stare into the abyss and who embrace the fact that any moment, at the top of a peak or on the face of a cliff, could be their last.