David Blaine has seen the future.
“When [my daughter] was 5, I noticed her taking the coldest showers,” he told The Post of Dessa, 9. “Now she jumps into the freezing ocean ahead of me. She’s rising to challenges that go beyond what I did at her age. That makes me nervous.”
After all, Blaine’s been encased in ice, submerged in an aquarium for a week and strung up by his feet over Wollman Rink, to name just a few of his public stunts of physical endurance. “I’m constantly trying to push my limits,” he said. “When it’s freezing cold outside, I view the weather as a challenge.”
He’s not kidding. In February 2015 he was photographed swimming — for fun — in the Hudson River, surrounded by chunks of floating ice.
It’s been eight years since he performed one of his famed outdoor stunts, but this week, the 47-year-old returns with “Ascension”: Blaine will float some 18,000 feet, or nearly 3½ miles, into the sky carried by 52 helium-filled weather balloons.
Tethered to them with a lightweight harness running from his wrists to his shoulders, he will rise to thin air — first at 100 feet per minute, then, as oxygen becomes sparse, accelerating at five times that speed — before releasing the balloons and parachuting back to earth. It’s a stunt that has been a decade in the making and required Blaine to complete 500 airplane jumps, get licensed for hot-air balloon piloting and learn to read wind patterns. The undertaking is ground-breaking enough to have been deemed a research and development project by the FAA.
Despite the obvious risks, including hypothermia at temperatures where expelled air instantly freezes, Blaine sees “Ascension” as being different from his past stunts and feats of endurance. Citing candy-colored balloons and a gravity-defying joie de vivre, he said: “This is colorful and light. Fun and magical.”
The event will stream this week on YouTube, with the exact day and time to be determined due to weather (check Blaine’s YouTube channel for updates). Blaine will be ascending above an Arizona desert. His original plan — to soar across the Hudson River from New Jersey (where he grew up from the age of 9) to New York City (where he was born and currently lives) — was scrubbed due to expected winds that would make the flight too unpredictable.
“We won’t be doing this in my hometown,” said Blaine. “But we’ll be doing it against one of the most beautiful backdrops I’ve ever seen — and the views will be spectacular.”
“Ascension” has been percolating in Blaine’s brain since he was a kid.
As a grade-schooler, he went with his mother to see the movie “The Red Balloon” (“Le Ballon Rouge”), a French fantasy about a bullied boy rescued by a flotilla of balloons that carry him across Paris. It stuck with young Blaine. “Then, around 12 years ago, I had a friend draw sketches of me floating away,” he recalled. “It’s my dream: Grabbing a bunch of balloons and just lifting off.”
Surprisingly, he saw the animated Pixar film “Up” — another story about being carried away by balloons — only “a couple weeks ago and thought it was really great.” (James Corden did his own “Up” meets “Ascension” skit recently, with Blaine playing along.)
His daredevil ambitions are nothing new. Blaine was “born with my feet turned in; so I couldn’t run fast.” While other kids excelled at sports, he proved his mettle by walking through Brooklyn snow barefoot and winning breath-holding bets as a teenager. He was able to stay submerged in water for 3½ minutes at a time, a record originally set by Harry Houdini.
“Doing something that seems impossible is great for a kid who loves magic and loves Houdini,” he said. “But I don’t advise that anybody try this stuff.”
On the sidewalks of New York, Blaine made a name for himself as a street magician, so much so that ABC aired his first magic special in 1997, when he was just 23 years old. He pulled off his first big public stunt in 1999 when he buried himself near the West Side Highway.
It was a nod to his childhood hero, Houdini, who himself had plans for just such a challenge. “It would have been Houdini’s last stunt, but he died before he could do it. He planned on escaping within minutes,” Blaine said. I didn’t want to copy him, so I stayed down there for a week.”
Houdini’s niece, Marie, greeted Blaine as he emerged. “Congratulations,” she said. “My great-uncle would be proud.”
That went off without a hitch, but future endurance efforts weren’t always perfect — and Blaine is his own toughest critic.
A LOOK BACK AT BLAINE’S NYC ENDURANCE STUNTS
In 1999, David Blaine was entombed underground for a week at 68th Street and Riverside Drive. Harry Houdini had planned a similar stunt before his 1926 death.
Blaine was encased in a block of ice in Times Square for more than 63 hours in 2000. It took him a month to recover.
He has said he experienced halluci-nations while standing — for 35 hours — on a 100-foot-high pillar in Bryant Park in 2002.
Blaine was submerged in a globe of saline for seven days outside Lincoln Center in May 2006. He suffered kidney and liver damage.
AFP via Getty Images
Shackled into a rotating gyroscope in Times Square in November 2006, Blaine hoped to escape in 16 hours. It ended up taking 52.
Blaine dangled upside down over Central Park’s Wollman Rink for 60 hours in 2008 but critics taunted him for taking hourly upright breaks.
In 2012, Blaine stood atop a 22-foot-high pillar at Pier 54, surrounded by seven Tesla coils producing continuous electricity. It lasted 72 hours.
In 2000, for “Frozen In Time,” Blaine had himself blocked into ice for 72 hours in Times Square. The conditions were so debilitating, he recalled, “that I hallucinated for the last eight [hours]. It was terrifying. I saw faces made out of ice screaming at me. When they chainsawed me out, I started grabbing for the blades.”
Six years later, outside Lincoln Center, “Drowned Alive” began with Blaine spending seven days underwater, breathing air through a tube. It ended with the fatigued magician releasing the tube and holding his breath. After seven minutes and eight seconds, Blaine’s advisers saw him blacking out. They dived in and saved his life ahead of the record — nine minutes, eight seconds — he was going for.
“Tunnel vision kicked in and everything began to fade,” he remembered. “But I think I could have gone for another 40 seconds.”
Thinking back to his last public showing, 2012’s “Electrified” — standing 22 feet above Pier 54, he had 1 million volts of electricity swirling around him constantly — Blaine has nothing good to recall about the 73-hour challenge. Not coincidentally, it was his last public display to date.
“I got zapped at the start and the show almost ended. My feet were swelling. My Faraday suit [a metal garment designed to block the voltage] got stretched open and I was exposed to electricity,” Blaine said. “Worst of all, my 1-year-old daughter watched. After ‘Electrified’ ended, I announced that I would never again do anything that makes Dessa worry.”
Though Blaine has spent a year practicing each element that goes into the hour-or-so-long “Ascension,” he acknowledges that he’s never before done a complete run-through. With cameras strategically placed on his body and among the balloons, along with a helicopter streaming live video from alongside him, YouTube viewers will see things as Blaine sees them.
‘Tunnel vision kicked in and everything began to fade. But I think I could’ve gone for another 40 seconds’
– David Blaine, looking back on his 2006 Lincoln Center stunt, ‘Drowned Alive’
He got up to speed through low-profile practice and strategizing sessions in California and Washington. For months, his crew of pilots, skydivers, meteorologists and balloon specialists were the only ones who knew what he was working on. But nobody could guarantee that it would come to fruition.
“I never know if these things will work. There are always variables,” said Blaine, recalling that, in one of his early skydives for the project, he slammed into a fence, leaving a serious indentation in the metal barrier, along with impressive scarring on his shins. “Because of where I collided, I was able to flip over the top of the fence. A few inches lower, and my body would have taken the full impact of a high-speed hit.”
While “Ascension” is dedicated to his daughter and seems lighter than the endurance stunts that made Blaine famous — “Adults see balloons and turn into kids,” he said — it does not come without potential for peril.
Looming largest is the possibility of hypoxia: a lack of oxygen to the brain due to increasingly thin air. The higher he goes, the more susceptible he becomes.
“Hypoxia feels like being really drunk,” Blaine said. “You lose your sense of judgment and might want to keep going higher. The good news is that my crew can bring me down if they think they need to. Otherwise, I let go of the balloons and start flying back to earth before I pull my parachute.”
Necessary as the descent may be, down is not where Blaine’s head is at right now.
“I want to go where the airplanes fly,” he said. “I want to go up and become a tiny dot in the sky.”