Pretty much everyone in the suspension community has seen or heard about Andrew S. of Swingshift Sideshow and the extremely challenging face suspension he performed at the Dallas Suscon this year. Although a few people have argued that it might encourage others to attempt dangerous suspensions like these, I think it’s important for everyone to get to see the suspension through Andrew’s perspective to better understand what went into this and the risks involved. Here is his letter explaining the events leading up to the suspension and what followed from his point of view. And in his own words, he warns:
“This is a technically difficult suspension and physically demanding for many reasons, and should never be attempted.”
I’ve been hanging by my neck, starting around 1997, at 17 years old. I’ve also had many different neck injuries, one at 10 then 12 years old. First, I was in a tree with a rope and fell out with it wrapping around my neck, hanging myself in a bad way for a few seconds until it unwrapped itself. Second, I dove into shallow water from about 11 feet. Around that same time I fell from a tree head first, got a bad concussion, and was in and out of consciousness for 3-4 hours. Yup, my parents were not happy. This did a lot of lasting damage to my neck and upper-back. I’ve treated most of this with yoga and massage, and now I do occasional maintenance on these injuries.
Over 9 years ago I timed my neck hang at 10 minutes. Since then I have figured out better strap positioning, posture, pre and post exercises with appropriate stretching, and a few other things. This training and experience has allowed me to go many steps further. I can now pick up people less than 140lbs for about 5 seconds, swing around quite aggressively, and hang for longer amounts of time by only a “Neck Strap”. Most of the time I’ll do a neck hang with little to no after effects, aside from massive euphoria caused by compressing nerves around the base of the skull. Other times I’ll have pain lasting for days with bruising and rope burn from the strap. This reminds me that I am doing something that could irreversibly change my life and even end it.
I consider myself to have a good understanding of human anatomy, with professional training and 9 years of being a professional massage therapist. All of this helped me condition my body in many ways and specifically my neck. I am aware of the dangers of flesh hook suspension; I have personally done around 80, and was the head tech for around 90-100 of Kelvikta’s (my partner). I can not remember how many other times I have hung or been responsible for other people, easy 300-400 times. The people assisting me in my facial suspension have each been responsible for even more than I.
When studying human anatomy, I’m looking for ways to push the “norm” and how other people have pushed them self past the norm like yogis, monks, gymnasts, and the like. I am inspired by amputees or people with deformities that refuse to “give up” by adapting to daily life and even doing more than regular people. Now I make a living doing things I thought were impossible, or at least things I thought I could never learn to do.
When conditioning my body, I push it a little at a time slowly getting ready for the next step. Often I’ll stop an activity for months or a year to see how my body will heal or respond to different types of activities and stress. There are a few things I only do occasionally or will never do again unless I can find away to do it better, safer, or finally understand what went wrong.
The desire to hang from hooks above my collar bone started around 2004, then I had a stronger drive to hang from only above the neck. All this moved me to just hang by my face. It went from a self challenge to seeing how personal I could make the experience. I think the same pain in our limbs is not as personal as in our torso. I take pain more personally when its in my teeth (mouth), inner ear or eyes. By “personal” I mean harder to ignore or tune out, and at times the pain is demoralizing (like a bad tooth ache). I had almost no idea how I would react to hanging from points only in my face. The last 2 years I’ve looked for the best time and place to hang by my face. I wanted to involve people I was totally confident in order to make it happen in the best way possible. I bounced ideas off many different people in and out of the suspension community for a wide range of concerns and suggestions. About six month before my face suspension, I was in weekly contact with Supa, Matt Brawley, Håvve, Joe Amato, and Neil. This is when we planned on doing it at Dallas Suscon, 2011; we would all be in one place at one time with some of the best suspension practitioners.
I’ve changed the point placement, roping, rigging, and hook type, size, and amount many times, staying open to better ideas. Two major things changed on the day I hung: 1) Improved roping from Christiane with Wings of Desire and 2) The hook size and type from Håvve, Matt Brawley, Steve Truitt, Brian Decker and a few others. They all helped me step back and think about it differently than what I was set on. Skin Mechanics Steelworks’ 8in Tambourine Drop Rig was something we all agreed on, and it worked perfectly.
Every suspension I saw that weekend impressed me for one reason or another. The team work and family was like nothing I’ve been apart of before. When everyone that was involved with this suspension came together something strange came over me. Realizing that all we talked about and every thing I’ve been planning is now in motion put me in kind of a dream state. I knew I was in the care of good friends that are also skilled practitioners. The piercing room became filled with people supporting me. Three hours earlier I got to be apart of the 8 person suspension mobile and had so much fun for 30 minutes that I physically could not continue with the others. Now I had some time to rest and went into a few daydreams while I was on the table. Matt and Håvve took about 45 minutes for the placement and hook insertions; we needed everything to be in the best placement.
When I walked out to the suspension area I saw 2 rows of chairs encircling the ropes I would be connected to. I guess word got out about what I was planning on doing. I took a few photos with friends and got in place. Allen Falkner gave his only other disclaimer for the weekend (first was about Neil’s 5 single point transition). He also mentioned that Supa was the only person known to do this before me. Neil said that he declined to do it with me because of the dangers involved. Håvve stressed the point that all video and images posted on the internet be tagged with a warning to never attempt it. I gave a few words of thanks to everyone then said, “I got my hooks in. We are going to attach them to the rope… we’ll see what happens after that.”
We got the music playing, everything was connected; now it was me, my body, and the tools all moving and dancing together. Matt was on the ropes, Håvve was spotting and assisting me, and everyone else there gave me the support I needed. In a few minutes I was swinging inches above the ground. This was a completely different feeling from past suspensions and a large contrast to the one I did just hours before. I had more freedom to move all parts of my body. In most suspension positions, we can move our head around to see what is happening to the rest of our bodies and even distract ourselves if needed. With all of the hooks in my face, I had no choice but to focus on what was happening. It is hard to put into words what I was experiencing.
About 2 minutes in, I felt a stretching burn that I was unfamiliar with where my neck and ear meet, so I decided to come down. It went away when most of my weight was on the ground. I chilled out for a few minutes, trying to process everything. The emotion in the room was overwhelming. Photos and video from every angle made it even more surreal. The connection with Håvve at that moment felt timeless, and I did not feel like “me”. Surges of energy were causing me to shake, I think the adrenaline had something to do with that too. We stood up for a bit, me and Håvve hugging. He has always been an inspiration to me, he has helped me personally and professionally, has been an older brother, and helped me get to THIS moment! I let him know all of this. Then I lifted my feet off the ground again, and slowly let go of him. Now having a little more knowledge of what is going to happen, I pushed myself a little more. Swinging and spinning harder, moving and exploring different positions for longer times. What happens when I do this or try that?
After 4 more minutes in the air I felt the stretching burn again. Not knowing the long term effects of this or the other things I have not payed attention to, I came down. The song was ending too (Tool – Salival – Third Eye [Live]). I was still in a kind of a dream, now laying down for clean-up and then minor repairs with Hillary of Operafication singing her amazing opera (while suspending) was adding to this unreal event. I had 2 small rips, one on the left cheek the other made a key-hole scar between my eyebrows. Interesting.
As for the rest:
– I got what I was looking for, not really knowing what it would be.
– I was super high for the next 4 days.
– The bandages made me look like X-MEN’s Magneto or a luchador.
– I had some big emotional releases on day 3.
– There was a bunch of air under the skin for a week.
– Most of the holes healed in a week, the rest by week 2
– One area of electric nerve pain above the left eye was gone in a month.
– This is a technically difficult suspension and physically demanding, for many reasons, and should NEVER be attempted.
I am looking forward to the next one. Knowing more, we can improve a hand full of things. I’m interested on what I’ll learn from that one too.
Thank you so much for writing this for us Andrew. It was a beautiful moment, and I feel so fortunate to have been there. It’s wonderful to see what all led up to this, and how much time you put into making this happen.