Carl Boenish simply never believed that jumping off cliffs should be impossible. So, in 1978, the California native strapped a parachute on his back and, with a crew of friends, started diving off buildings, antennae, spans, and earth—the sport known today as BASE jumping.
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It had been attempted before, but the results weren’t pretty. “There were a few guys who tried it in 1966 with round parachutes—they got very, very injured,” says Marah Strauch, whose new film, Sunshine Superman, explores Boenish’s life in and out of the sport. “But Carl and his friends jumped off the cliff using square canopies. They were able to get themselves away from the wall, which is incredibly important.”
For more than a year, she says, “they did tests off bridges, figuring out things like how long it would take for a parachute to open and how to make sure the skydiving equipment would open in time and be as safe as possible.”
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Even more remarkable, Boenish, a cinematographer himself, was filming the whole time—footage that’s used in the documentary. “The first jump, he didn’t jump—he filmed,” Strauch says. “He was on a ladder filming as the jumpers came off the cliff.”
Danger finally caught up with Boenish—he died in a BASE jump in Norway in 1984—but Strauch is still in awe. “Carl created this activity—previously it was just a one-off stunt,” she says. “If somebody can BASE jump, what can I do in my own life? It inspires me to go out and do other things.”