Freefalling Chuck B delivers a healthy dose of inspiration

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It started with a slab of Red Bull and a company cap. 

That was the beginning of Wakatipu-based extreme sportsman Chuck Berry’s long-running association with the energy drink company in the 1990s. 

As he tells it, the thrill-seeking aviator and former Air New Zealand aircraft engineer popped into their Auckland office one day and showed them some footage of his skydiving escapades and walked out with a hat and some free product. 

“That’s how your relationship starts,” Berry tells me. 

“Then I was constantly out doing different kinds of stunts and jumps and got a few things on TV and it went from there.” 

By 1999 he was a fully-fledged Red Bull athlete with the world and, er, skies, at his feet. The relationship endures 13 years later and sees Berry get the call-up on a regular basis to head overseas and perform awe-inspiring feats at festivals, sports events and the openings of tall buildings. 

He’s a special Queenstowner and Kiwi who embodies a healthy dose of the have-a-go attitude that possesses many of the people in this part of the world, the adventure tourism capital. 

Adventure tourism is where Berry’s love affair with the Wakatipu started – he says a tandem skydiving outfit now known as NZONE conned him out of his much more lucrative Air NZ engineering job in Christchurch and he moved here to work as a freefall cameraman, filming customer videos. 

I doubt he took much convincing to shift although Berry – who has cheated death on a few occasions – says he’s always stuck to some lessons he learned at Air NZ. 

“I learnt a huge amount about the aviation industry, particularly the philosophy of being 100 per cent safe,” Berry says.

“You do a job once and you do it properly – and that’s the only level of professionalism you can afford to buy into being an aircraft engineer. 

“I’ve managed to carry that same philosophy into all the rest of the stuff that I do.” 

Obviously. He’s survived several decades of aviation thrill-seeking and a few very close calls. 

Make no mistake: what he does might seem crazy but Berry is a meticulous planner and very calculated when it comes to risk. 

“I’m used to being in a position where you have to perform or die,” he says. 

“You do learn a hell of a lot about how to save yourself and particularly how to operate at times of extreme pressure. I really enjoy it. 

“Some people go to pieces and some people shine – I like to think I can handle myself pretty well in those situations.” 

But it’s not all about the personal kicks for Berry, who says he gets off as much on seeing others inspired to live their dreams as he does from his own exploits. 

Berry cherishes the memories of his tandem skydiving days. 

“It’s fantastic when you look in people’s eyes and see the sparkle that they get. They realise they can do anything they can dream of,” Berry says. 

“Like the other adventure pursuits in town, it’s like you’re delivering people the confidence to get out there.” 

In another string to his bow, Berry has done stints as a motivational speaker on the conference circuit where he discusses everything from recovering after breaking his neck in a motorcycle accident to how and why he does what he does for a living. 

Berry will be calling on those public speaking skills when he delivers an opening address for the Adventure Film Festival tomorrow night at Reading Cinemas where his new flick Airborne: The Life of Chuck Berry will screen. 

Don’t miss the chance to hear from him and see his documentary – inspiration guaranteed.