Today, you must engineer your viral video.
Today, you must engineer your viral video. (Photo: Max Kulich)

Rex Pemberton’s Plan for Viral Glory

One man’s slightly deranged quest to Bodhi his way to a must-see YouTube clip

Today, you must engineer your viral video.

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Going viral isn’t what it used to be. It’s no longer enough to simply catch something surprising on camera. (Remember “Double Rainbow”?) Today you must engineer your video, whether by training a rat to carry a slice of pizza into a subway station or using a green screen to conjure a bear chasing a snowboarder, as Australian production studio Woolshed admitted doing last July.

This fall, Aussie daredevil Rex ­Pemberton took video engineering to a new level. In 2015, when Pemberton saw ­Robbie Maddison rig his dirt bike with a pair of water skis to ride waves in Tahiti (24 million views), a totally un­reasonable idea took hold. In Pemberton’s words: “No one’s ever transitioned from a parachute to surfing!” 

So Pemberton reached out to sponsors—including Outside Television—and in September unveiled a Russian nesting doll of crazy stunts involving a helicopter, a surfboard, a para­chute, and the distinct possibility of a disastrous wipeout. Here’s how he rode his way to stardom.

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Waiting Game

Pemberton and his crew of 16 holed up at Australia’s Jarosite Reef, in Torquay, Victoria, for ten days to catch the right conditions.

Quick Exit

Pemberton jumped from a helicopter hovering at 3,500 feet, positioned more or less ­directly above the swell line. Strapped to his waist: a hefty six-foot surfboard. (It smacked him in the face on the test run.)

Aerial Maneuver

Right after he jumped, Pemberton’s parachute deployed. It was designed to glide at a maximum 30 miles per hour, the approximate speed of the ten-foot waves he was pursuing. 

Moment of Truth

Once ­tracking a swell line, Pemberton pulled a cable on his chest to cut away from the canopy while simultaneously turning 90 degrees to the side. “One wrong move and I could have gotten wrapped up in the canopy and bashed into the reef,” he says.

Sweet Victory

Against all odds, he landed on the wave and managed to ride it for 400 feet while the cameras captured every Internet-worthy second.

Jumping the Sharks

Three ways Pemberton’s stunt could’ve been even crazier

  1. A blindfold. (Not just on him, but on the helicopter pilot, too.) 
  2. Lit sticks of dynamite taped to his hands. ’Nuff said! 
  3. Sharks. The observation boat could have chummed the waters near the reef prior to the jump