In analogy with a skydiver, a culture has developed an extreme sport called "tornado-surfing". Essentially, a thrillseeker hunts down supercells that might create tornadoes and lets themselves be sucked in by one. The goal is to stay airborne as long as possible while surviving the winds and debris. The ultimate thrill is surviving an F5, the strongest tornado possible.

Obviously, this requires specialized gear and probably a supporting team. What would someone surfing a tornado use to protect themselves, both against the extreme winds, the debris flying around in the tornado and the inevitable landing?

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    $\begingroup$ Not an expert, but I'd imagine that anything strong enough to protect you from 250+ mph debris would be too heavy to be taken into the air. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2015 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ The trick is to locate the eye... $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Dec 13, 2015 at 2:02
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    $\begingroup$ Blown, not "sucked". $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Dec 13, 2015 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ The strength and stability of the person will need extra support... Some sort of hydraulic rods to keep the wingsuit extended in such high speed crossing winds... the suit will need to be very strong light weight material.. like carbon fiber to defend against some debrees and withstand wind speed $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2018 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ The experience for the skydiver would be about the same as standing on the top of the empire state building and then jumping down the elevator shaft at the very moment demolition explosives destroy the entire building. He would see nothing but darkness while he is pelted with debris until he experiences the sudden stop that kills him. When they recover his body they will use a small bag and a spoon. $\endgroup$
    – Reactgular
    Aug 17, 2018 at 16:24

4 Answers 4


I imagine this would be like using a wingsuit with the addition of:

  • GPS tracking (once in the suit & one in the helmet)
  • Full helmet & enhanced neck support
  • Oxygen tank (integrates with the helmet) to keep breathing in those high speed winds

In the near future the helmet would be upgraded to one with a HUD which displays realtime tracking of dangerous debris (through a colour scale) based upon the expected fly path. The debris would be tracked by mobile ground stations (SUV with some serious radar capabilities).

The landing would be the trickiest part. They could go for:

  • Riding it out (to set a duration records)
  • Aim for the eye when an suited shelter is available in it (with a parachute or crushable landing)
  • Take a short dip in it and then release a balloon to be air lifted out of it.
  • $\begingroup$ Parachute would be suicide (more so than without one) you will quickly pickup the lateral velocity of the winds and hit the ground, sideways at a few hundred miles an hour. $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Aug 17, 2018 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ Over sea the way to stop is to dive deep into the ocean. $\endgroup$
    – user3106
    Aug 17, 2018 at 14:19

To be able to surf/survive a tornado, you must be able to have the consistency of tank but light enough for a human to carry.

I'm going to assume this extreme sport always gets you in trouble or puts the surfer in the worst case scenario.

Here are the essentials every tornado surfer will have. First and most important every surfer needs a parachute. Of course this can't just be any parachute since normal material can be shredded by debris flying at over 200 MPH. That's why this parachute is made and engineered to work using Cuban Fiber, a lightweight fiber that's stronger than steel. Of course the bag concealing will also be made of the same material. (This could also be used to be "wings" on the suite like in @Ahriman answer).

Now of course you want something to protect your body from all this debris also! Lucking there is a new class of magnesium-alloy that is one of the strongest metals ever produced that is less dense than water! So this lightweight solution of body armor will be perfect to stack on.

In this suite will have to be small oxygen tanks like in @Ahriman answer. These will be small enough to just last the duration of the ride, nothing huge like when scuba diving. The surfer can't get suffocated from the wind! (try putting your head out the window going down the highway, even that's tough to breath!)

Of course under the armor would need to be some extreme cushioning like Sorbothane, which can help protect from fire and such also, and probably a neck brace and sorts like that for impacts. (Human bodies are too squishy).

Possible facts - Anything over 12m/s is pretty dangerous when falling. The sudden stop is what kills. So here are some techniques to survive a fall.

Scenario 1 (Launched High & possibly far)
This is the best scenario a tornado surfer would want to be in. This gives the person plenty of time to react to what is going and will allow them to use their parachute to float down safely. Assuming projectiles don't come from the tornado and snag the parachute, it will become an easy ride. If the parachute does get grabbed, the wings on the suite can slow the descent hopefully to safe speed.

Scenario 2 (Launched low & and fast)
Coming out of the bottom part of the tornado, launched like a human missile, only hopes and prayers will help you here. The surfer is now faced with great danger, tons of things to collide with. Only the protective gear will save them now. Hoping the body armor can withstand colliding or being pushed through walls and cars or slammed into metal structures. And the cushioning underneath can absorb the impact!

Scenario 3 (Launched midrange)
Any experienced good surfer will be able to react using their body suit to glide out and possible up depending the wind. From there they can get their parachute deployed to slow their decent. Even though this would be a rough landing, they will survive to surf again!

Scenario 4 (Anything slow)
High up, mid range is no problem for these guys at low speed. It's like surfing a 4 foot wave in the ocean for professional water surfers. Low range is where it still can be dangerous, but with the proper gear and the perfect falling techniques, these guys have come into much worse!

All in all this is not a sport for the fearful, also not a sport for the unhealthy. This is a high class high energy, highly dangerous sport that only few and brave and (stupid?) every attempt.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd love to see some ballistic tests for the magnesium-alloy foam. I don't doubt its strength, I'm just interested in seeing some of it get shot! (Maybe we should ask Taofledermaus?) $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2015 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s - Yea! I would too, this stuff is pretty new. There wasn't much I could dig up on it honestly, but it sounds like some good stuff. I'm sure the military has already been pushing it's limits all this year. Can't wait to see some hard data. $\endgroup$
    – Timmy
    Dec 14, 2015 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Reminds me of that super-foam someone developed a few years back. Lowest density solid ever produced and virtually heat-proof, weighing in at a record $160 g/{m^3}$. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2015 at 15:13

Body armor and a parachute to compensate for the added weight.

The extreme athlete needs an assistant who pilots the two-seat jet into proximity of the funnel, up near the cloud level. At the critical moment, the athlete ejects and once clear of the plane, opens the parachute.

If everything is timed perfectly, the athlete gets spun around in the heights where debris is less common, then floats down to earth when the funnel abates. If things go wrong... that is what the armor is for. ...and the second, backup parachute.

Landing is an issue, if the parachutes fail, so the faint-at-heart only surf water spouts.


I agree with wingsuit for flying, and body armor for protection. For landing (or debris emergencies), I propose personal airbags.

We already have "airbag vests" for motorcyclists (google them). you will need a bigger version, with mutliple airbags, like what Mars Exploration Rover and Mars Pathfinder used for their landing. The idea is to form a ball 3-5 meters in diameter around the surfer.

There is a nontrivual issue of when and how to trigger the airbags. Surfer can be knocked out. Parachutes have emergency trigger based on altitude, but I suspect it will not work well in a tornado (which involve lots of pressure differences). Ground crew might not be able to track the surfer, or might be disabled by the tornado.

So I propose that airbags are triggered by a dead-man switch: surfer holds down a button down when he goes in, and when he released it, the airbags are deployed. You can also allow remote activation by ground crew (who monitor the position of the surfer by triangulating his beacon). You can also have an GPS unit that triggers the airbags once surfer goes below certain altitude, or is heading towards earth. But I am not sure if GPS is fast enough.


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