We spoke to the Russian daredevils who climbed the Shanghai Tower

By Ned Kelly, February 17, 2014

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Vadim Makhorov and Vitaly Raskalov blew up the internet last week when they posted a video of themselves climbing to the top of the world's second tallest building, the Shanghai Tower. We spoke to Vitaly about how it went down.

THAT'S: How long did you plan this event for?
Vitaly Raskalov: We started to plan it maybe six months ago. We just knew about Shanghai Tower, we knew about it being the second tallest building in the world and so me and Vadim [Makhorov] thought we’d go to China for one month and try and climb the Tower.

At first we went to Hong Kong. We stayed in Hong Kong for two weeks. After Hong Kong we went to Guangzhou. From Guangzhou flew to Shanghai, and in Shanghai we waited for Chinese New Year. We spent one day scoping out the site, looked at the cameras, looked at the security.

Were you surprised at the lack of security? 
Oh yeah, really surprised. But we knew about Chinese New Year. We knew at this time that nobody worked. The crane operators don’t work, the security don’t come out. It was very simple. We were really surprised.

How long did it take to reach the top? 
From the ground to the top I think one hour and thirty minutes to get on the 121st floor by foot. We got to the crane at around midnight.

The Chinese government sent a message to the Russian Embassy seeking our real names. Me and Vadim are banned from China for 20 years I think, maybe for all time.

And you were up there for 18 hours, right?
Yeah we slept up there, waiting for better weather. We just slept in the crane.

Were you worried anybody would come up and find you?
No. We weren’t worried. We knew there was nobody in the construction building. We knew about New Year. We didn’t worry.

What is the feeling you get when you are at the top of a building like the Shanghai Tower?
Simple. Feeling free.

Did any security guards see you on the way out at all?
No. Nobody. It was only security there, and security just look at their screens.

We’re assuming you left the country before you released the video?
No, no, no. After. We left the country after we released the video.

Yes. We were in the country two days more. We took a risk there. Really risky.

Yeah… Have you been contacted by the Chinese authorities at all? 
Yes, the Chinese government tried to block us [from entering the country again]. They sent a message to the Russian Embassy seeking the real name of these guys. Me and Vadim are banned from China for 20 years I think, maybe for all time.

Does that upset you?
It has not upset me. I’m not Russian. China sent a message to Russia, but I’m not a Russian citizen. The Russian government don’t know who I am.

So these aren’t you real names?
Yeah, these are pseudonyms.

And what nationality are you – can you tell me that or is it a secret?
It’s not a secret. Ukrainian.

Both of you?
No, Vadim’s from Russia. So for Vadim maybe it’s a problem. But for me, Ukraine and China have a very difficult partnership. And now in Ukraine, it doesn’t matter what is happening in China. In Ukraine now, you know, its demonstrations…

Yeah, I guess you are the least of its worries. So when did you start climbing buildings?
Four years ago in Moscow. Me and Vadim have the same story. We just bought cameras and started taking pictures from the ground. And some of my friends would climb on roofs. And I thought from the roofs I could take good pictures. And from this, that’s how it all started.

Aside from the Shanghai Tower, what is the favourite place you have climbed?
The Great Pyramids of Giza, in Cairo. Next, Moscow State University. And then Russky Island Bridge in Vladivostok. Those were my favorite places.

We’ll go to the USA in the summer. In the USA we think we’ll make something even better, even bigger than the Shanghai Tower.

Were you surprised at quite how popular the Shanghai Tower video has become?
Yeah I was surprised. Really surprised. Every hour on my email - 10, 20, 50 emails: ‘Oh, wow, you guys are amazing.’ And lot of attention from the press. But it’s normal for us. After climbing the Giza Pyramids, the same situation – CNN, ABC called us asking about an interview.

So what are you guys gonna do next - how much can you tell us?
We’ll next go to Japan, South Korea. After that we’ll go to the USA in the summer. In the USA we think we’ll make something even better, even bigger than the Shanghai Tower. In the USA it is actually very dangerous to do this; after 9/11 police maybe think you are a terrorist. And after the USA we will go to Australia. We are just chasing the dream and always looking to go to the next highest point to see the things no one else gets to see. 

So you have big plans?
Yes of course. We want to keep going until we have mastered every city. We want to make a documentary film about rooftopping. We think we’ll start it in the summer in Canada and the USA.

How do you make the money to support all this?
We sell pictures to media like you.

Yes you do. The rooftopping community, are they supportive of you?
The biggest rooftoppers’ community is in Russia. After, the second country is the Ukraine.

And why do you think it is popular in these countries?
No security in Russia and Ukraine.

On final question. What do your mothers say about what you do?
My parents say, ‘Awesome!’ Really, it’s true. It’s my work - and I love this work.

[Images via On The Roofs]

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