April 7, 2012

Video: When Surfing the Fence in Saint Maarten Goes Terribly Wrong

Danger sign at St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport.
Danger sign at St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport. (Photo by Justin Schlechter)
Sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea and the business end of St. Maarten’s main airport, Maho Beach has become one of the most famous plane spotting locales in the world. Its appeal reaches beyond hardcore aviation geeks like us, to all the people who still think giant flying machines floating 50 feet over their head are a sight to behold.

In addition to the promise of thrilling arrivals, as far as we know, Maho is the only publicly accessible place in the world where one can stand 50 yards behind a jet at full takeoff thrust. In a practice that has been colloquially named “surfing the fence” or “riding the fence,” thrill seekers will grab onto the airport fence behind a departing jet and hold on for dear life.

The goal, I think, is to get your legs blown out from under you while maintaining grip on the fence to achieve a brief, horizontal “flight.” This rarely happens. The first problem: It’s difficult to breathe and see with 50,000 to 100,000 lbs of hot air and dust being blown in your face. Second problem: Few people have enough hand strength to accomplish this goal.

Most of the failed attempts safely end with the fence surfer bailing and running a few yards out of the blast zone. In the video below, however, one surfer appears to suffer a head injury. If anyone has details about what happened to this woman, please let us know in the comments.

  • Jyrki Suhonen

    I wonder when the A380 is gonna visit St. Maarten?