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Jessie Graff becomes first woman to complete Stage 1 on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

August 31st, 2016

Jessie Graff competes on an episode of "American Ninja Warrior" on June 1, 2016.

Jessie Graff competes on an episode of “American Ninja Warrior” on June 1, 2016.(NBC)

Stuntwoman Jessie Graff made “American Ninja Warrior” history when she became the first women to complete the Stage 1 course.

The competitor took on (and won) the challenge on Monday night’s episode on the hit NBC show.

She previously became the first women to complete a city finals course two years in a row.

Watch her impressive performance below.

Wingsuit jumper live streams accidental death days after fellow daredevil dies

August 29th, 2016

Wingsuit daredevil Armin Schmieder during a Friday live stream.

Wingsuit daredevil Armin Schmieder during a Friday live stream.

Moments before plummeting to his death on Friday, wingsuit daredevil Armin Schmieder smiled and waved to fans watching a live stream of his latest jump from a Swiss mountain, saying “Today you fly with me!”

Those who viewed the Facebook live stream of Schmieder’s fateful final leap saw only a red screen, as Schmieder pocketed the cellphone he was using to stream the event. But his fans heard every horrific sound: Schmieder counting in German as he prepared to leap from the mountain in Kandersteg; the sound of intense wind whooshing by as Schmieder dropped through the air; then a scream, several thumps and the eerie, solitary sound of cow bells as Schmieder’s body came to rest on the ground.

One person watching the feed pleaded with Schmieder to “write or say something.” But no answer came.

Officers on the ground later confirmed Schmieder’s death, The Daily Mirrorreported.

The 28-year-old was an experienced jumper, but had only been flying with the wingsuit for about a year, a friend of Schmieder’s told The Daily Mirror.

It’s not yet clear if Schmieder’s death was due to an equipment malfunction or pilot error.

Schmieder’s death comes just four days after wingsuit pioneer Alexander Polli died during a freak flying accident on Monday, FOX Sports reported. Polli, jumping from a popular spot in the French Alps, was killed when he struck a tree at 5,000 feet.

Niagara Falls latest natural wonder to add zip line

August 19th, 2016

Now you can zip and zoom with the best of them over Niagara Falls.

Now you can zip and zoom with the best of them over Niagara Falls. (AP)

Niagara Falls is the latest natural wonder to add a zip line, offering honeymooners and everyone else the chance to take an adrenaline-pumping plunge toward churning mist at speeds topping 40 mph.

The elevated cable rides have evolved from a novel way to explore jungle canopies to almost necessary additions to lure tourists in the 21st century to established destinations. It’s a trend that’s exposed a rift between those who approach nature like contemplative monks and others who require an extreme, Indiana Jones-style experience.

“We can’t make these into museums,” argued Tom Benson, co-founder and chief experience officer at WildPlay Element Parks, which built the Niagara Falls zip line. “How do you take a teenager and get them away from a game console to something that is going to capture their imagination?”

The booming popularity of commercial zip lines over the past five years — there are at least 200 in the United States alone — means more people are experiencing nature in a way that would make Thoreau dizzy.

They can ride above the tree line at New River Gorge in West Virginia, over California’s Catalina Island, above lush Hawaiian landscapes and in view of Denali in Alaska.

A zip line ride in Mexico’s Copper Canyon runs more than 1 ½ miles, one in Nepal has a drop of 2,000 feet, and another in Sun City, South Africa, boasts top speeds of 100 mph.

“You feel all this air rushing past you, it’s this great almost roller coaster-esque feeling,” Quillan Brady said after riding on the new Eagle Flyer zip line at Lake George in New York’s Adirondacks. “But really, what I think makes it is looking around and seeing all this natural New York beauty.”

Niagara Falls-area resident James Bannister doesn’t quite see it that way. To him, the new zip line there amounts to a “circus midway-style attraction.”

“Every once in a while somebody comes along and says, ‘Boy, you could build another great attraction here!’ As if the falls itself wasn’t enough of an attraction,” Bannister said.

Zip line fans say it’s still possible to marvel at nature while whizzing above it at highway speeds.

At Niagara Falls, WildPlay’s Benson said his four lines angling 2,200 feet along the Canadian side of the gorge were designed to be sensitive to the local environment.

Catalina Island’s zip line makes stops for presentations at designated “eco-stations.” And riders of the Lake George zip line who were questioned after their rides said they had a new perspective on the natural wonder.

The owner of the Lake George line, Ralph Macchio Sr. (father of the “Karate Kid” actor with the same name), said he got the idea for his attraction by gazing out from atop the majestic Adirondack peaks.

“I thought, ‘Gee, if you could look at it like you were flying like a bird and get that view, that would be an Adirondack experience,'” Macchio said. “And that’s why I built the zip line.”

Skydiver successfully makes 25,000-foot jump without parachute

August 1st, 2016

July 25, 2016: Skydiver Luke Aikins signals to pilot Aaron Fitzgerald as he prepares to jump from a helicopter in Simi Valley, Calif.

July 25, 2016: Skydiver Luke Aikins signals to pilot Aaron Fitzgerald as he prepares to jump from a helicopter in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Skydiver Luke Aikens became the first person ever to jump out of a plane and into a net on the ground without utilizing a parachute Saturday.

After falling 25,000 feet through the air, which took approximately two minutes, the 42-year-old Aikens flipped on his back at the last second, hit the 100-by-100-foot net perfectly, quickly climbed out of it and walked over to hug his wife Monica.

“I’m almost levitating, it’s incredible,” the jubilant skydiver said, raising his hands over his head as his wife held their son, who dozed in her arms.

“This thing just happened! I can’t even get the words out of my mouth,” he added as he thanked the dozens of crew members who spent two years helping him prepare for the jump, including those who assembled the fishing trawler-like net and made sure it really worked.

The jump took place at the Big Sky movie ranch on the outskirts of Simi Valley, Calif. and was broadcast on the Fox network as part of a one-hour special

The stunt nearly didn’t come off as planned when Aikins revealed just before climbing into his plane that the Screen Actors Guild had ordered him to wear a parachute to ensure his safety.

Producers for the show were not immediately available to elaborate on the restriction.

He said he considered pulling out at that point because having the parachute canister on his back would make his landing in the net far more dangerous. If he had to wear it he said he wouldn’t bother to pull the ripcord anyway.

“I’m going all the way to the net, no question about it,” he said from the plane. “I’ll just have to deal with the consequences when I land of wearing the parachute on my back and what it’s going to do to my body.”

A few minutes before the jump one of the show’s hosts said the requirement had been lifted. Aikins left the plane without the chute.

He jumped with three other skydivers, each wearing parachutes. One had a camera, another trailed smoke so people on the ground could follow his descent and the third took an oxygen canister he handed off after they got to an altitude where it was no longer needed.

Then the others opened their parachutes and left him on his own.
Aikins admitted before the jump he was nervous and his mother said she was one family member who wouldn’t watch.

When his friend Chris Talley came up with the idea two years ago, Aikins acknowledged he turned it down cold.

“I kind of laugh and I say, `Ok, that’s great. I’ll help you find somebody to do it,”‘ he told The Associated Press as he trained for the jump last week.

A couple of weeks after Talley made his proposal Aikins called back and said he would do it. He’d been the backup jumper in 2012 when Felix Baumgartner became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound during a jump from 24 miles above Earth.

Aikins made his first tandem jump when he was 12, following with his first solo leap four years later. He’s been racking them up at several hundred a year ever since.

His father and grandfather were skydivers, and his wife has made 2,000 jumps. His family owns Skydive Kapowsin near Tacoma, Wash.

Aikins is also a safety and training adviser for the United States Parachute Association and is certified to teach both students and skydiving instructors. His business Para Tactics provides skydiving training to Navy Seals and other members of elite fighting forces.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Florida man using ‘hydropod’ attempting to reach Bermuda rescued at sea by US Coast Guard

April 27th, 2016

Florida Man Rescue

(US Coast Guard)

Authorities say a Florida man bidding to reach Bermuda in an inflatable bubble has been voluntarily rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney said that long-distance runner Reza Baluchi was picked up Sunday off Florida and his “hydropod” was being towed to shore.

Barney says the man set out from Pompano Beach on Saturday despite receiving an April 15 letter from the Coast Guard warning him not to depart. The Coast Guard said it had reviewed Baluchi’s plan and determined it to be unsafe.

The letter was posed by the Coast Guard on Twitter.

Baluchi tried to make a similar attempt to reach Bermuda in 2014 and had to be rescued. He was picked up that time about 70 nautical miles east of St. Augustine.

Ikea’s new chainless bike never rusts

April 20th, 2016

The new Ikea bike relies on a rust-free belt instead of chain.

The new Ikea bike relies on a rust-free belt instead of chain. (Ikea)

Dealing with a rusty bicycle chain can be a messy affair, but an innovative new bike from Ikea solves that pesky problem. The furniture retail giant recently introduced its new “Sladda” bike, which uses an oil-free and corrosion-resistant drive belt rather than a metal chain.

The drive belt is designed to last about 9,320 miles, which is about two to three times longer than a typical steel chain, according to Ikea. Moreover, the unisex Sladda bike has a “click system” that lets the rider snap on accessories, such as a basket, a bike bag rack and a towing trailer, the company said.

“Sladda is like tablet apps: You can add endless accessories to enhance ease of use,” Oskar Juhlin, director of industrial design at Veryday, a company that partnered with Ikea to make the bicycle, said in a statement. [Hyperloops, Jetpacks & More: 9 Futuristic Transit Ideas]

The new drive belt may be a boon to riders who take to their bikes even during inclement weather. Over time, steel bike chains tend to rust, particularly when they’re covered with corrosive salt that’s left on the roadways, reported.

Accumulated rust can be difficult to remove, and it can also affect the chain’s flexibility, said. But Ikea’s new bike won’t have those problems, the retailer said.

Moreover, the bike has automatic gears that are hidden in a sealed hub placed in the rear wheel, the website Core77 reported.

This year, the new urban bike won one of three Red Dot Awards, an internationally sought-after prize awarded by Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen in Essen, Germany. The bike also won the Red Dot “Best of the Best 2016” award, meaning it got the top prize in each category, Ikea reported.

“The team wanted the [bicycle] frame to be gender- and activity-neutral, yet able to transform between semi-active and relaxed riding styles,” according to the Red Dot website.

Sladda’s frame is made from aluminum, meaning it will be easy to lift and carry up and down stairs, Core77 said. The bike, which comes with either 26- or 28-inch wheels, also has two layers of lacquer that will protect the frame from mud, salt and scratches, Core77 reported. But it’s not for little kids — Ikea recommends that only people age 12 or older use it.

The bike is expected to be available beginning in August for $797, although Ikea’s loyalty members will be able to buy it for $569 for a limited time, Core77 said.

But the Sladda isn’t the only chainless bicycle out there. Gates Carbon Drive also makes a belt drive, but out of carbon fiber, according to its site.

No matter the company, though, bikes are a good way to help people get active.

“Sladda is a great alternative to the car,” Juhlin said. “It contributes to a more sustainable lifestyle and a better environment.”

Legendary SF bike path to enforce speed limit with radar guns

April 7th, 2016

Cycling family: Robin Huffman, on a trail outside of Marin County. (Courtesy: Vernon Huffman)

Cycling family: Robin Huffman, on a trail outside of Marin County. (Courtesy: Vernon Huffman)

Cyclists on one of North America’s most legendary bike paths have more to worry about than flat tires and slipped chains: Radar gun-wielding rangers on Northern California’s Mount Tamalpais will soon begin enforcing a strict 15-mile-per-hour speed limit.

The picturesque preserve in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, is seen by many as the birthplace of mountain biking, with a maze of winding routes that take cyclists through forests, atop spectacular peaks, and down paths at speeds topping 30 miles per hour. County parks officials say the speeding bikes could put hikers and horseback riders at risk.

“If trail users simply treat each other with mutual respect, we could all get along and have a great time in the woods.”

– Greg Heil, editor-in-chief of

“We don’t have good data about how often speeding is occurring on Open Space Trails and this effort will provide good data about speeding in our preserves,” Max Korten, acting assistant director of Marin County Parks, told

The first step is to gauge the problem by equipping rangers with LiDAR, a laser-style speed-tracking technology, he said. For now, they will only issue written warnings, but ticket-writing could soon follow. A citation would go on the violator’s DMV record, and fines could reach $100.

Cyclists say speed limits on bike paths are silly and unnecessary.

“Marin County Parks has deemed radar necessary to show concerned parties, mainly the ‘foot people’ that safety on the trials is priority,” said Vernon Huffman, president of Access4Bikes, a Marin County non-profit organization whose mission is the “fair and reasonable” access to the local trails. “But Marin County Parks can’t name one single past incident that radar would have prevented.”

Korten acknowledged that the trails are relatively safe, but said a reasonable speed limit could keep it that way.

“We have had a few incidents of collisions between bike riders and pedestrians or equestrians, but those incidents are relatively rare when compared with the high level of use occurring on our trails,” Korten said.

Mount Tamalpais in the late 1970s became known as the cradle of mountain biking, providing the soil and swells for some of the country’s top racers. Yet in recent decades, bikers have lamented the rise of legislation and banning of bikes from the vast majority of single-track trails in Marin County.

“If trail users simply treat each other with mutual respect, we could all get along and have a great time in the woods,” said Greg Heil, editor-in-chief of the website “There are thousands of miles of multi-use trails across the country where mountain bikers peacefully co-exist with others. Less than one percent of these trails have a posted speed limit, much less rangers with radar guns enforcing them.

“What I do see from this unfortunate waste of taxpayer dollars is that Marin continues to cement itself as one of the least mountain bike friendly locations in the nation,” he added.

Chris Edwards, editor of and an expert at the public policy-centered Cato Institute, agreed that setting speed traps for cyclists is a classic case of local government overreach.

“Park agencies are always complaining that they have a shortage of funding, but the Marin County effort to prevent mountain bikers from having fun shows that it has money to burn,” he said.

Marin County has implemented speed limit enforcement on paved bike paths since 2015 and claims that “this effort combined with a signage and education initiative lead to a significant reduction” of speed. Sheriff’s deputies in the area reportedly have issued more than 60 citations and warnings. Rangers also patrol popular off-road trails in California’s East Bay and other areas in the state are known for their ranger presence.

“Through our road and trail management plan we are considering proposals to open new trails to mountain bike use and want to have a tool to address safety concerns from hikers and equestrians regarding the potential bike use on these trails,” Korten said. “We hope that bicycle use is not deterred by this effort, but that all of our visitors including those on bicycles will be more likely to visit our preserves knowing that other users will conduct themselves in a safe manner.”

Hawaii’s big wave surf competition called off

February 15th, 2016

In this Jan. 7, 2002 file photo provided by World Surf League, Clyde Aikau, left, brother of Eddie Aikau, drops into a wave as Tony Ray, of Australia, finishes during the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave surf competition at Waimea Bay, Hawaii. (Ronen Zilbermen/World Surf League via AP, File)

In this Jan. 7, 2002 file photo provided by World Surf League, Clyde Aikau, left, brother of Eddie Aikau, drops into a wave as Tony Ray, of Australia, finishes during the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave surf competition at Waimea Bay, Hawaii. (Ronen Zilbermen/World Surf League via AP, File)

Hawaii’s big wave surf competition was called off early Wednesday when the 40-foot swells predicted failed to materialize, event spokeswoman Jodi Wilmott said.

The competition was last held six years ago, when swells met organizers’ strict minimums. The Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau event began in 1984, but there have only been eight times conditions have been ripe for the competition.

Aikau is a Native Hawaiian surfer famous for riding monster waves and saving hundreds of lives as Waimea Bay’s first official lifeguard.

The swell approaching the islands this week is being fueled in part by ongoing El Nino conditions.

The promise of the competition had drawn out throngs of spectators Wednesday morning before the event was called off. The two lane road that snakes along Oahu’s North Shore was backed up with traffic as eager spectators rode bikes or walked to the venue. Parking was nearly impossible to come by for miles from the beach.

Event spokeswoman and longtime Aikau family friend Jodi Wilmott told The Associated Press on Tuesday that surfers show up at the event to honor the legacy and generous spirit of Eddie.

“The surfers invited to this event absolutely understand the prestige of being invited,” Wilmott said. “It’s about coming together to honor the most famous big-wave rider there has ever been and to do that basically at the Mecca of surfing.”

As a lifeguard, Aikau is credited with saving hundreds of lives from the dangerous surf of Oahu’s North Shore, and he is said to have never had a fatality while on duty.

He was a guardian of the bay and any other body of water he visited, Wilmott said, and fittingly so as he was a direct descendant of a Hawaiian high priest named Hewahewa, who was given the task of watching over the Waimea Valley long before Eddie arrived.

“He really did share aloha wherever he went,” Wilmott said. “He loved to share his own spirit of what being a Hawaiian was. He played music freely and told stories of Hawaii wherever he travelled.”

Wilmott said when the surf was too big for most in Waimea Bay and the crowds cleared out, Aikau would grab his surfboard and take on the biggest waves around.

“His spirit was very caring, very accommodating, very peaceful, and when he would ride it was just a sight to behold,” she said.

Ultimately, however, Aikau gave his life to the ocean in a final attempt to save others. The 31-year-old Aikau was part of a team that was attempting to trace the route of their Polynesian ancestors from Hawaii to Tahiti aboard the traditional Hokulea canoe in 1978.

The vessel encountered rough seas and eventually capsized. Aikau took his surfboard and paddled away for help. He was never seen again, though the rest of the crew was eventually rescued.

Some of the best big-wave surfers in the world were at Waimea Bay to compete in the event, including Eddie’s brother Clyde Aikau, who is the oldest competitor at 66 years old. He’s also the only surfer to attend all of the competitions.

Another big-wave competition, Mavericks, is expected to be held on Friday in Half Moon Bay, California.

California man in wingsuit dies after jump from Arizona cliff

February 2nd, 2016

This Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016 photo provided by the Arizona Department of Public Safety shows an area of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Marble Canyon, Ariz., a rugged, desolate landscape that is hard to navigate, where a California man died while wingsuit flying among the remote cliffs on the Arizona-Utah border, authorities said.

A California man has died while wingsuit-flying among remote cliffs on the Arizona-Utah border, authorities said.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that it is devising a plan to recover the body of Mathew Kenney, 29, of Santa Cruz. It is trapped in a crevice about 600 feet below where he jumped Tuesday in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness — a rugged, desolate landscape that is hard to navigate, sheriff’s Lt. Bret Axlund said.

Kenney hit a wall after jumping with a wingsuit, but investigators said they’re not sure exactly how it happened. Once they reach his body, they will examine his equipment, Axlund said.

Patches of ice and steep terrain atop the canyon walls kept a helicopter from landing Tuesday to try to reach the body.

Wingsuit flying is one of the most extreme forms of BASE jumping — BASE being an acronym of the different platforms, “building, antenna, span and earth.” Wingsuit fliers glide frighteningly close to cliffs and trees in their suits that resemble flying squirrels. It is illegal in national parks but not in the wilderness area where Kenney jumped.

Kenney’s close friend, Matt Frohlich, said Kenney was an experienced, talented jumper who had traveled around the world. He said he was thankful for the respect and professionalism that authorities have shown Kenney’s friends and family.

“It’s a pretty big hit to the community,” he said. “It is sad.”

In an early 2015 interview with Phoenix television station KPHO, Kenney described the nervousness and anticipation that comes with BASE jumping. He and a fellow skydiving instructor had jumped from the roof of a Tempe apartment complex and spent the night in jail for trespassing, the station reported.

“We get a bad rap from everybody because there’s a lot of misunderstanding as to what we do,” Kenney told the station. “They just think we are crazy adrenaline junkies that are jumping off cliffs with primitive parachute technology, when really what we do, if practiced properly, is pretty safe and pretty cool and pretty fun.”

Kenney’s death is the first attributed to BASE jumping in the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona Strip District, which encompasses much of the far northwestern corner of the state north of the Grand Canyon, BLM spokeswoman Rachel Carnahan said. The area is popular with hikers for its slot canyons and a formation known as The Wave, a geologic formation with swirls of searing reds, oranges and yellows that fold into a bowl.

The agency is not considering any restrictions on BASE jumping as a result of Kenney’s death, Carnahan said.

“We’re constantly monitoring safety in backcountry areas,” she said. “Certainly we would take a look at the regulations and policies again if it looked like it was becoming a trend.”

Authorities in northern Arizona have had to respond to other BASE-jumping fatalities in recent years. A Norwegian man died in 2012 when a gust of wind blew him into a canyon wall and his parachute malfunctioned. The sheriff’s office said he fell about 1,000 feet onto the canyon floor near the Little Colorado River.

More recently in 2014, a Canadian man wearing a wingsuit died after trauma from a fall near the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers. His friends reported seeing him about 2,000 feet below the top of a canyon.

originally available here

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