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‘We don't do normal'
The young duo of Chris Russell and Hamish Emerson has given Queenstown its newest and scariest adventure activity. Hamish talks to MEENAKSHI RAO about go at fear, extreme height drops and how their product is unique in the world. Excerpts from the interview:
What on earth made you think of such a scary jump and swing?
Chris and I (Hamish) spent years reconnoitring rock faces through every inch of the Wakatipu Basin, climbing, abseiling and swinging. Swinging around on the end of a rope started from a passion for freefalling and jumping off things — we’d set up swings off local bridges to create a buzz ourselves and with our mates. The idea for getting a permanent location to jump off came from mates who enjoyed the rush and thought others would too.
Is your product entirely unique or do you have similar things happening elsewhere in NZ or globally?
We were pioneers in commercial swinging with freefall. Others have copied us since, but none are set up to provide the array of jump styles which we can provide, nor do we think they have the standard of our amazing staff, hospitality and the great sense of humour.
Are there any more coming? As in new ones?
Canyon Fox is our baby for the moment. It turned a year old on February 18 last year. There’s still potential to develop this further with more drop styles, so we’re focusing on that at the moment. We will then have some fun playing with the styles ourselves before unleashing them on our customers to have some fun too.
I believe you are a maths professor. How come you ventured into this activity?
Chris was a one-time high school maths teacher. However, he’s better off in the outdoors than inside the four walls.
What is the scariest adventure activity you have gone through yourself? Where and when?
Life’s been full of different adventures in rivers, on mountains, on oceans. Scaring yourself is not always the aim, testing yourself in different environments is where the adventure is.
Can you lead me through the recce for local events, setting up of the canyon swing and fox, equipment and safety standards?
The Shotover River is really just a massive playground carved out by the forces of Nature over the millennia. Chris’ familiarity with the canyon from years of white water raft guiding down the Shotover River led us to this location. Not only is it vertical and rugged but its beautifully scenic. So, when we decided to add on the Canyon Fox, we knew that we had to do the location justice — that meant going as high as we could to use Nature’s playground to make sure we could have the maximum fun.
Doing it all safely is vital. We all want to go home to our friends and family each night. So all the equipment and safety features are designed to provide a minimum safety factor of three — that means that, based on the maximum possible load forces that can be created by using the Swing or Fox, they are then multiplied by three and it is those figures the engineers design anchors, structures and equipment with.
Can both of you talk about your personal backgrounds?
We are just normal guys from normal backgrounds, keen to have a go at doing our own thing in business and having some fun along the way.
Have you ventured into foreign locales and tie-ups for your products?
It’s all locally created — as long as the engineers we worked with could come up with the right materials and designs to deliver the experiences we wanted to create, there was no need to talk to anyone else.
What, in your opinion, could be other good or better sites for such an activity other than Queenstown?
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, and that is the key motivation for many visitors to travel so far to get here. We are simply helping them make the most of their time in Queenstown.
Which country has the most adventurous adrenaline junkies in height drop sports?
New Zealand seems remarkable for the number of different types of adventurous adrenaline experiences that use Nature as a setting — plenty of countries use theme parks to try and deliver the same adrenaline sensations but it's a bit more raw and exciting when the rugged environment provides the setting.
Do you have an opinion on Indian clients?
They are great visitors, we enjoy them. Not only are they excited about being in Queenstown, they really like pushing their limits of adrenaline. Queenstown's often a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so they seem determined to test themselves by jumping off our cliffs. Plus, they like a good bit of banter and have a great sense of humour.
Is this scarier than A J Hackett’s bungee?
It’s all up to what scares you. Anything you jump off anywhere can be scary — with our location and design, the height, the freefall sensation close to a rugged cliff face and the fear of the unknown and the torture and torment by the staff, is the ultimate challenge of jumping off something. We’re all different and it’s all about what you want out of it.
Any anecdote you would like to share in connection with your products?
Our Canyon Fox seems like a simple zipline, but with the launch boom and design of the ramp and cable, we are able to provide a dropping sensation like no other zipline — or as Kiwis call them “flying fox”— in the world, and there are literally hundreds of them to choose from. When we started testing different concepts for the Canyon Fox using water barrels as weights, we hosted a world renowned zipline designer and builder — he could not believe what we were trying to achieve and suggested a very different, less dramatic, design and concept. We chose to ignore his suggestion because, quite simply, we don’t do normal. Whilst the laws of physics — along with the desire for the preservation of life — eventually made it clear we had to modify part of our initial concept, the resultant Canyon Fox is genuinely unique to the planet.
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