Bungy jumping has captured the world's imagination. Thrill-seekers and adrenalin junkies everywhere clamber to the top of bridges, cranes and towers, and throw themselves over the edge. Attached with cord rope to whatever they're jumping off, they plummet to the ground, experiencing feelings of heightened elation along the way. But for others, the bungy jump is a rite of passage, an opportunity to prove that demons can be faced up to, and that fears can be conquered.
The Origins of Bungy Jumping
Bungy jumping evolved from the manhood ritual of Pentecost Island in Vanuata, Oceania. The ritual, called N'Gol, sees young men jump off 35-metre-high towers, attached to the top with vines that are tied around their feet.
Platforms of woven leaves and branches are built into the tower. Then liana vines, soaked in water due to the wet season and therefore very elastic, are shredded at one end and tied to the tower at the other. Men and boys, some as young as seven years, climb the tower and leap from the platforms in a show of strength and bravery. The jump acts as a statement to women that the men can never be tricked again. It is also a fertility rite; for as the vines stretch, the jumper curls his head under his shoulders, letting his shoulders touch the ground, making the earth fertile for the following year's yam crop.
But the mere telling of the story of the N'Gol cannot fully portray the extraordinary emotional power of this event. No picture can capture the feel of dozens of villagers dancing and stomping the earth during the entire ceremony. And words cannot fully express the awe of sitting beneath the tower and listening to the diver's last words before he jumps - for he knows they may truly be his last words if the vines break, or prove too long.
The Origins of Modern Day Bungy Jumping
In 1986 the New Zealander A J Hackett saw a video recording of some young English thrill-seekers called the 'Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club' doing a couple of jumps in England in the late 1970s. Hackett's imagination was fired and he set about developing a safe, standardised method of jumping. Chris Sigglekow, a friend of Hackett, and Hackett himself, decided on the following rule; that only if a method proved to be consistently workable would they continue to pursue it.
Using local bridges in the North Island of New Zealand as testing platforms, they measured the height of the bridge, the size of the cord and the weight of the person, and began to test how predictable they could make the act of bungy jumping. After three years of testing they figured that they had the parameters nailed down.
In 1987 Hackett went skiing in France, and succumbed to temptation. He found himself a bridge near Annecy called the Ponts de la Caille, that spanned a 147-metre-deep gorge, and jumped off it using his new bungy cord
This began a series of spectacular and extreme jumps around Tignes in France, including one from a gondola 91 metres up.
The Famous Eiffel Tower Jump
Then in June 1987 Hackett went to Paris to do the jump that really grabbed the world's attention, showing in the process that the cord system really worked and that it was safe. He jumped off the Eiffel Tower.
The experience was unreal, and ever since I have committed all of my energies to making sure that everyone has the chance to feel what I felt with that jump - that I had pushed beyond and extended my personal limits
- A J Hackett
In 1988 he opened the first A J Hackett Bungy jump site in Ohakune, New Zealand, a refurbished, disused rail viaduct at a height of 50 metres (175 feet).
Preparing to Jump
The first thing to be done is the weigh-in. Each person must be weighed as this determines how the bungy is adjusted, so that everyone, regardless of his or her weight, falls the same distance. Your weight is written in ink on your hand and you are given a card containing these details. You give this card to the operator.
When your name is called, you climb over the guardrails of the launch pad and sit on a specially built platform, where your legs are bandaged and strapped together.
The bungy, which is quite thick and made up of a series of elastic strands all tied together, is then attached to the strapping. You then make your way to the jumping–off point.
The best way to propel yourself off the launch pad is to imagine you are going to do a belly flop into a swimming pool. The further out you dive, the better the jump will be.
The speed of the fall is incredible. In five seconds you reach 116kph (70mph). Eventually the bungy takes over and sends you shooting back up towards the structure you dived from.
Going up is just as exciting as the fall, as you are swinging around, upside down, travelling extremely quickly without really knowing where you are.
You then plummet down again, almost as fast as the first time. This happens five or six times. Eventually you end up hanging upside down about seven metres (25 feet) from the ground. After being lowered down to the receiving area, you are released from the bungy.
Once back on the ground the feeling of euphoria is amazing. Nowadays, bungy jumping sites are set up all around the world. So, go on, be brave. Have a go.