The spectacular record-breaking feats of Ryan Luney need to be seen to be believed, which is why I was fortunate to be standing a few feet away from the Carrickfergus man as he projected a huge plume of fire into the air while flipping himself through a 360 degree turn.
The News Letter caught up with the 22-year-old adrenalin junkie in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter last week as the grey skies provided a striking backdrop for an intimate stunt show.
Flipping oneself over backwards from a standing start is a tough enough ask for most, but Ryan has perfected the trick, adding firebreathing into the equation to make even more of a spectacle.
He explained how his journey took him from performing for money in Carrick Grammar School to breaking three Guinness World Records.
“It all came about through parkour (jumping, climbing and running over obstacles – normally in built up city areas),” he said.
“I’ve been able to do a backflip since I was about eight years old.
“I didn’t know what parkour was until I was about 13.
“In 2009 my friend said to me I should try it.
“I remember at school I used to get paid to do backflips.
“I got asked all the time and I got sick of doing it on demand.
“I didn’t want to do so people egged me on by offering me money.”
Through parkour Ryan got a taste for firebreathing, but only in the figurative sense: “The taste of paraffin is horrible and it’s hard to get rid of. That’s the worst part.”
Firebreathing involves holding a quantity of paraffin oil in one’s mouth and using it to project a ball of fire from a handheld firestick which acts like a huge match.
Along with his friend Leon Parsons, Ryan often puts on charity performances involving firebreathing and some of their parkour moves.
Of parkour he said: “We don’t just go out and throw ourselves about. A lot of training goes into it.
“Once you feel confident enough you move to grass and then progress onto concrete. It does take time.”
It was after watching an episode of cult US television show Jackass that Ryan got the idea to combine his parkour skills with firebreathing, which in turn led him to the Guinness World Record attempt.
He said: “It hadn’t been done before so they (Guinness World Records) set me the target of doing six backflips in a minute while breathing fire.
“I managed to do 14.
“My technique was to take a big gulp (of the paraffin) and do two breaths (of fire) per gulp.
“It was like drink, backflip, breath, land, backflip, breath, land, drink, and then another two flips, drink, another two, and so on, and so son.
“My girlfriend kept topping up the paraffin.
“It’s all a bit of blur. There were bits of paraffin going down my throat.
“Afterwards I had to make myself sick.”
Since setting the world record on October 1, 2017 Ryan is focused on breaking it: “I’ve been invited to Italy to try to beat my record. I’m going to try three breaths per gulp so I’ll be taking bigger gulps.
“The bit that takes the longest is the drinking.”
Ryan also holds two other Guinness World Records – one for longest reverse vault which he set on June 22, 2016 (4.06m / 14ft 3.8in) and the other for lowest standing back somersault set on June 23, 2017 (26.5cm).
Ryan, who is also the drummer in a band called Chicago Typewriter, explained: “The reverse vault is a parkour move where I use my hands to launch myself off an obstacle, do a 360 degree spin and land. I managed to get over 14 foot.
“The lowest standing back somersault means I have to do a backwards flip over and get my head as close to the ground as possible.
“It’s easier to hunker down when you’re doing a backflip, but this had to be standing up.
“My head was just over 26 centimetres off the ground.”
Asked if he ever got scared when breathing fire or doing parkour, he said: “I’m not scared of firebreathing any more.
“When you start the flame is so close, it’s terrifying.
“But you get used to it and it becomes second nature.
“I would love to do firebreathing inside because the wind isn’t a factor.
“If the wind changes direction it can blow the fire straight into you face.
“But the problem with being indoors the floor becomes too slippy because of the spray of paraffin.
“And then there’s the issue of setting of smoke detectors.”
He added: “When it comes to parkour I do get scared. Especially jumping off buildings. That why I don’t do it that much.
“I do get scared of doing things on the ground as well.
“We do have fear but it’s pushing the boundaries of what the human body can do that makes us try it.”
Of his injuries he said: “Burnwise I haven’t got any serious burns.
“I’ve been stupid and tried to spin myself around while firebreathing to see what would happen.
“I singed my eyebrow, but that was the height of it.
“Parkour wise I broke my collar bone in 2010.
“I got cocky and thought I could do something I couldn’t do.”
He commented: “Having three Guinness World Records honestly means a lot to me, and it tells me that I can accomplish anything that I put my mind to, and that there are no limits to what anyone can do.
“It keeps my drive up to accomplish more in my life and try more and more things every single day. I won’t stop at three when it comes to Guinness World Records.”
While Ryan may pursue extremely dangerous hobbies, firebreathing and parkour are incredibly cheap to pursue.
“The paraffin is only £7 then it was £20 for both of the fire sticks,” said Ryan.
“For the parkour, the only thing I need is the sweat gear which I get from my sponsor – Norml Brand. A lot of people know Norml Brand through me and a lot of people know me through Norml Brand so it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.
“The parkour videos we do and post onto YouTube and Instagram. We do it to try to get big that way, but just like the firebreathing it’s pretty much just a hobby. Even the most famous free runners (parkour athletes) aren’t worth any money.”