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WHITE-KNUCLE RAFTING: Just watching this might be hazardous to your health.

Rated Extreme

Radical Reels Film Tour charts the insane edge of human endeavor

By Kate Jacobson

VICARIOUS LIVING doesn't get more extreme than videos of waterfall kayaking and cliff diving. And when it's time to work up a good old-fashioned adrenaline rush without the hassle or expense of a trip away, those in the know turn to the Banff Mountain Film Festival's Radical Reels Film Tour. It's been showing homebodies what they're missing since 1976.

That it isn't just a reel of shattered bones and dreams is stunning. The unrealized potential for disaster hangs in the background like glittery gold curtains, and the victory is amplified by each 50-foot drop and hairpin turn that doesn't claim any lives. They don't make it look easy. They make themselves look incredible.

Mountain biking is hard enough with 20/20 vision, but after losing the sight in his left eye, biker Bobby McMullen does it with one eye's worth of legally blind vision. He bikes by following the movement of riders in front of him, his vision supplemented by patches of bright light and a few vague colors.

Equally impressive is 15-year-old Austrian rock climber Johanna Ernst, who takes on the reigning Slovenian champion in the world climbing cup, or the pair of air-divers leaping from spectacular mountain peaks in suits that make them look like flying squirrels.

In San Francisco Bay a barge glides past the Golden Gate bridge bearing a portable skatepark, and on a powdery mountain somewhere in Japan, snowboarders do away with boot straps and launch themselves through the air with nothing but physics and balance keeping their boards on their feet.

Banff knows that mountains look their best with snowboarders and mountain bikers spinning in front of them, and since the festival is nothing if not an advertisement for the majesty of Mother Nature, the only thing more visually insane than the physical prowess is the backdrops.

An English climber stretches for a fingerhold shallower than a paper cut while the Atlantic crowds the boulders beneath him, his chalky hands securing the safety lines that are his only insurance against a long drop. He creeps up cliff faces that look smooth as glass, pushing against the wind and oblivious to scenic waters picturesque enough to be on a calendar.

The last film of the festival features breathtaking images of a 170-foot waterfall chopped with shots of a kayaker putting on a helmet, stretching out beside a riverbank misty with water droplets from the nearby behemoth and overlaid by dialogue hinting that new ground is about to be broken. A paddle pops up in salute an instant before the kayaker flows over the edge, a slow-motion plunge that folds him into the center of the roaring waterfall and out of sight before he reaches the bottom.

Radical Reels is a hodgepodge of physical and mental achievements showing the range of human daring and the world that makes wilderness extremism possible. Where there's a will there's a way, and when there's a mountain there will be someone climbing it.

THE RADICAL REELS FILM TOUR is Saturday, Sept. 25, at 7pm at UCSC Classroom Unit 2 (above the Bay Tree Bookstore), UCSC. Tickets are $10 general/$5 students, available at Pacific Edge Climbing Gym, Sprockets, UCSC Recreation or

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