Sean Chuma is a professional base jumper and stuntman. With over 4,000 base jumps under his belt, Chuma is one of the most highly experienced jumpers in the world.
What was your childhood like? Any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I was a very shy kid and didn’t talk much except to my friends. I loved to ride my bike and play outside. I climbed trees a lot and got a trampoline when I was 11. I was a gymnast starting at 10 years old so that is where I learned how to do the flips.
I was into a lot of other sports but gymnastics, skiing, and pole-vault once I was in high school. I didn’t have much of a social life because I was so busy with my sports and school. I didn’t really like school at all. I did get pretty good grades, however I had to work really hard to do that.
We moved around a lot making it hard to really grow roots into a place. I was born in Wisconsin, then moved to Kansas when I was 2, then to Oklahoma when I was 3, and then Boise, Idaho when I was 12.
I started as a ski instructor at a place called Bogus Basin in Boise when I was 14. Then I juggled school, gymnastics, skiing, skydiving, and pole vault while I was in high school. That was pretty fun but very stressful for me because I didn’t have much time for a social life.
I was well known as one of the best pole vaulters in the country at the time and as the kid in school that jumped out of planes, yet I still didn’t speak much. I had a small crew of friends that I spent a little time with but by no means was I a social butterfly.
What advice would you give your 20-year old self?
I would tell my younger self to try not to worry so much about grades in college. I think I stressed myself out a bit too much with that, thinking that it was more important than it was.
I would also tell myself to do the same thing because I turned out to be a pretty good dude in my eyes. When I was 20 I was just about to move to San Diego. I was in an awakening phase of my life. Some people were very supportive because they could see my soul coming to the surface. Others were resistant to the changes they saw in me.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In the area of BASE Jumping you often hear people say “lets go do something stupid” or “it’ll be fine, the parachute is made to open.” The truth is that we put a lot of thought, calculation, and preparation into BASE jumping. There is a lot of training that a person has to do in order to stay on the safe side of things. A lot of it comes down to making wise decisions and thinking about the group as a whole rather than thinking with the ego and being selfish.
Often times you will hear people say that it is easy. That can be true, until something goes wrong. When something goes wrong or a person has an issue while base jumping, there isn’t much time to think. There is only time to do.
These skills have to be deeply embedded into a person so they can act in a time of need. Anyone can go huck themselves off of something and if everything goes perfectly then it might be ok. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan so the jumper needs to have the experience to turn things back to their favor.
The standard is for a person to have at least 200 skydives before they go take a BASE Jump course. Most of us think that a bit more is necessary, but that is the minimum. It is wise then to take a reputable class rather than trying to learn from a friend that probably won’t get to all the important skills and information.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I felt like I had no direction in my early twenties. I had a job but I didn’t see myself being able to live that type of life forever. I knew I couldn’t do a 9-5. I would rather be homeless than have to possibly slave away for an unappreciative company. I need to be creative with my life. I became very depressed, as I had done many other times in my life. I started trying to make something happen.
I worked my way into the nightclub promotion industry. I eventually started promoting clubs and venues by setting up events and paying big money that I didn’t have. Most of them fell through because my business partner wasn’t doing things in my best interest.
I was also naive to the world of business. I was fed a dream and fell for it. I was over my head in credit card and loan payments. I had a job but couldn’t afford rent for my apartment so I kept paying the minimum payments and started living in my car. I lived in my car for 8 months in San Diego. There was no end in sight but I did find joy during those times.
I realized that many people get into trouble like this and become slaves to debt. This was no way to live. I was happy that I could visit the beach often. I could just park my car down there and get up in the morning and walk on the beach. I tried to keep focused on the good things but it was hard since all my energy was to pay the debts that I just couldn’t pay.
It was a rough time and I wasn’t the type of guy to burden others with my problem so I kept to myself. I got past it but it taught me some hard lessons. It taught me that I couldn’t depend on others to take me to the top. I had to do it myself and not ride coat tails of someone that had a vision. I learned that it can be dangerous to trust people sometimes.
I also learned that you have to keep thinking about the good things because life is good and love is the only real energy, its just that we fixate on the negative and get stuck wallowing in it.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
The drive to be something and to be free. I work very hard and always have. I feel that balancing this out by giving yourself time to rest and time to look inward and feel the universe around you is very important as well, maybe even more important.
What is your morning routine?
Wake up, check emails from all over the world. Lay in bed a little longer, get up, meditate for at least 20 min to 1 hour. After I finish doing that kind of stuff I go jump off the bridge by my house a few times. I climb up every time. An average day is 2500 vertical feet. After that is about the time my girlfriend gets off work so we chill and have dinner or go hike some more.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Meditation. I first learned about it from a class in college called Transpersonal Psychology. I have a BA in psych so I took a lot of psych classes. This one was by far the best. We had to read a book about meditation and practice for the semester. I was very interested in it and now 15 years later I still do it and feel that it is one of the most important things in my life.
People get caught up in the daily grind, but there is much more to life and our lives. There is a progression to focus on over many lifetimes. There are things to overcome and levels of wisdom to attain. Most of the time the spiritual development is dismissed as not important. I believe it is really the only thing we should really be focusing on.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I try to chill out and remember that all of this is a test and that by worrying, I am wasting my energy. It is easier said than done, but I try to remember that my whole life has seen times of clarity followed by times of confusion and sadness, or feelings of forgetting who I truly am.
“People get caught up in the daily grind, but there is much more to life and our lives.”
It happens over and over again in order to learn different things and to overcome and gain insight. Life is rough but it is much like a dream. Waking up to the reality of it all is my goal and true nature.
What’s book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
There is a book called “No Boundary” by Ken Wilber that really changed my way of thinking. It is a book that really got me interested in meditation and spirituality. I read this book in college in about 1999 or so. That year is the year that I started mediation as a life long practice.
There have been gaps in my practice but I always come back to it and I find it the most valuable and important thing in my life. I do a lot of cool stuff but I feel that working on ones spiritual development is the main thing that each of us should be focusing on.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“If its not fun It shouldn’t be done” – me and “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds” – Albert Einstein.