Buggy Rollin: Conquering Tianmen Mountain (China)
2 o'clock, China. Jean-Yves Blondeau and his avatar Buggy Rollin have just gone through one of the most fulfilling moments of their skating career… He has rolled down the side of Tianmen Mountain, a magical tropical place where the earth merges with the clouds. You think you do not know this place? If you have seen "Avatar", then these landscapes should ring your bell…
Good evening Jean-Yves, how was the project set up?
Several extreme sportspeople have succeeded one another in these mountains. Jeb Corliss (base jumper with a flying suit) flew through the famous hole of the mountain. The Chinese had to come and pick him up. Another year, a tightrope walker crossed two rocky pitons, and another time, a French climber (Alain Robert) took up a challenge.
The organization found me and proposed me the challenge. I just had to say yes! That mountain belongs to the Chinese government. At first, I should have come one month before but it was delayed. I came for the first time around the end of April-early May to see and try, and to estimate what could be done. I rolled down for the first time without any problem.
We have been preparing the show for 2 months and I have been in stand-by for one month, with the date changing every week. Throughout the month of June, I was at a standstill and it was postponed. I only knew the final date on the 8th of July.
They did not find it spectacular enough. So they complicated things with a couple of obstacles. They asked for something delirious at first. They had crazy ideas and they kept some of them, like the launch ramp and the spikes under the table for the jump.
Do you have any insurance in case of problem?
No, we did not sign any insurance paper. There must have been a team of a dozen medics at the end of the course… which I discovered only once I arrived!
Are you paid for that show in front of so many viewers?
Yes, but it is a Chinese salary. If you compare the pay with the number of hours and days of preparation spent on the field, it is derisory. We have crazy schedules, from 7AM until dark.
Above all, I get media recognition. There are 1.6 billions of inhabitants in China. When you are broadcast on national TV on a Sunday at noon, you benefit from the prime time, which is one of the rare moments when Chinese actually watch TV. The organization (and thus the government) had a huge budget and they invited a lot of journalists and TV channels.
Tell us about the location of the event…
Tianmen Mountain has a tropical climate. It is very hot and muggy. You can find the same vegetation as in "Avatar". The place does not give the feeling of being steep because the vegetation weakens the effect of verticality. It is green and abounding, unlike the Alps Mountains (France) where you find rocks mainly.
How was the shooting organized?
There were several days of shooting in fact. It is a 10-km downhill. They put the cameras at the best spots. They put scaffolds on rocky pitons with flags, they took risks! They had even arranged a hot air ballon, but it went off in exactly the opposite direction from where it should have gone because of the wind.
The preparation was long…
You have to double-check everything, all the important points. We had problems with the weather: it rained. Because of the tropical climate, it is common to have rain and sun in the same day. You can recognize the atmosphere of these Chinese paintings with rocks and fog… It is just like in "Avatar" with the clouds moving across the mountains.
During the spotting, when I would go down the road, sometimes 15 seconds after I had gone past, everything would change. Sometimes, you had the feeling that the road was hanging from the clouds. Beautiful, but it keeps on changing.
We had problems with the surface: in this mountainous place, the rocks that fall let impacts on the concrete, there are waterfalls on the road as soon as it starts raining… I set marks all along the road on the braking areas, the tangent points, the lines to avoid the holes and water spots. When you go on water, the grip changes and in some places, the concrete is green with vegetation, it gets very slippery. Even with sneakers, I almost fell as if I was on ice! When you arrive on these spots, you just slow down and you try to stay on the road.
Even if the weather was not good, you had to spot the course, check the scaffolds, and there were a couple of modifications to do. They had built me a bobsleigh track bank turn, but it lacked verticality, the whole bend had a good compression but at the moment when it goes in the air, there was no more wall!
They made a big ramp on a wall of 200 or 300 meters ending on an outside bend. And you would arrive full left at the level of the concrete blocks! And let's not forget that if it was raining, it would turn into a torrent. Then they painted it, it would not dry and it slipped even more. Lots of surprises!
When I went in the tunnel during the shooting, I slipped and I swerved progressively towards the side of the road where there was a 1 meter deep rivulet, I saw the hole arriving, I kept on slipping, and I slipped until the last 30 centimeters where I finally managed to grip. I gave myself a scare twice.
At another spot, there were lots of photographers. Going down, I went past them and I was close from continuing straight on!
Do you have any videos of your downhill?
I did not get any footage yet. I had 3 gopro on the armor: mine, a colleague's and one from a TV channel. I had to run after my equipment during the whole shooting. I am going to check on my card if I have any footages.
How did they know you?
No idea! I do not know how they found me. They must have seen videos. There is a photo from the Swiss Pass video.
There were giant posters of you everywhere…?
Yes! It was fun! At every bend ending with a 9, there was a dragon statue. And on each statue, they put up a photo of Buggy Rollin. Around the site, there were also 5 to 6*3m posters. If I manage to get one, I am going to redecorate my parents' house!
Seba had told me about that giant poster phenomenon when we had done a demo in Shanghai, a long time ago. He told me I would easily find the place! I had my moment of glory. 200 millions of viewers, it makes you dream for sure…
Will this have an impact on the future?
Everything has an impact but I hope for nothing. I am going to make the most of it as much as possible, make the most of the journalists while they are here, make funny picture, bring something different. It is exactly like when you are invited for an event… you never know the spin-offs… Moreover, Jackie Chan is starting to advertise for his movie, and the two things combined should stir things up.
In the evening, I went skating downtown, and paradoxically I was alone. You find yourself alone in your hotel room, I did not put on the armor, it was too hot! That's Buggy Rollin: being in the spotlights and invisible at the same time.
You were incognito!
That's the Buggy Rollin effect, that's the Daft Punk effect! Talking about them by the way… I had a black and blue shirt, a black tie with a golden dragon on. They loved the tie I bought in Beijing. I had kept the blue helmet with the lights. I had the mic, it was awesome. It made quite an impression.
What does the flower necklace means?
They gave it to me once I arrived downhill!
What are your next dates?
I accepted to take part in "Germany's Got Talent"! I am going to Berlin early in August. Meanwhile, I may do another TV show in Germany. To be confirmed! Then direction La Plagne and the bobsleigh track with Seba for Beton on Fire! I can't wait! Then, back to China for the World Championships of Slalom Skating in Lishui. Then, I would like to go to Calgary. We will see!
I am glad that the weekend is over, it is the kind of experience that you have the opportunity to do only once in your lifetime: I enjoyed a closed government road with the police controlling the entrance. We would enter with an official car of the government with 999 on the license plate (9 is the number of the Emperor) and the police standing at attention… it was very impressive!
A pirate free skate would be impossible to organize, unless you go through the jungle! There should not be anybody on the road, no patrols. I proposed them to do a free skate, it is concrete on the ground, it is not very pleasant, but it is an awesome experience.
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Photos : Rednet.cn, ZJJZX.cn
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