Bungee Jumping

The Basics of Bungee Jumping

James Bond was certainly no stranger to finding creative ways to infiltrate an enemies’ hideout, but this chemical weapons facility, built alongside a towering mountain gorge, was one of the most secure he’d ever encountered. To get into this base undetected, he needed to try something that no one else would dare to attempt. This time, Bond would have to take it to the extreme.

When Goldeneye was released in 1995, after a five-year hiatus, the filmmakers knew they had to bring it up a notch. Having tackled just about every traditional stunt known to man, Bond would have to venture into the world of extreme sports.

Let me confess right up front, this article was a struggle. Let’s face it; what does it really take to learn how to bungee jump? You just need to show up, hand your money over, and then kiss your ass good-bye! Pure and simple!

Then what are we going to talk about in this chapter? We’ll look at the history of bungee jumping. We’ll give you an introduction to the different types of jumps, including crane and tower jumps, bridge jumps, and balloon jumps. We’ll talk about the equipment; the bungee cord and the harnesses. We’ll review the safety factor of bungee jumping, and a little bit about skills that can be applied, and tricks than have been done.

What is Bungee Jumping?

Bungee jumping is the sport of jumping from extreme heights while attached to an elastic cord from a high platform. The bungee cords allow the jumper to free-fall toward the Earth, and then snap the jumper back up before he hits the ground. It’s the modern-day answer to the primal urge to experience the intense rush of adrenaline. There’s something about forcing your body to do what’s against gut-level human nature, and something stimulating about walking away from a near-death experience intense feeling of being invincible.

The History of Bungee Jumping

According to legend, a woman from the South Pacific invented bungee jumping while getting the better of her man. One of the island natives was mistreating his wife, so she ran away and climbed up into a high banyan tree. When he found her, he climbed up after her. While he was climbing, she tied some vines around her ankles, so when he reached the top and tried to grab her, she jumped–and he jumped with her. The vines saved her from reaching the ground, and he fell to his death. The men in the village then began practicing diving out of the trees with vines attached to their feet, so that no woman should ever get the best of a man again.

Years later, people would adopt this concept and add a few high-tech features. On April Fool’s Day in 1979, the Oxford ‘Dangerous Sports Club’ attached themselves to elastic bungee cords and jumped off the 245 ft. Clifton Bridge in Bristol, England. The same group would later jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in California, and then from the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado in 1980.

Throughout the ’80s and into the early ’90s, bungee jumping had moved further and further into the mainstream, right up to 1995 with the record-breaking bungee jump in the film Goldeneye. Today, commercial bungee jumping sites can be found all over the world.

Types of Bungee Jumps

There are four basic types of bungee jumping, or rather, bungee platforms that you can jump off of; these four include cranes, towers, bridges, and even hot-air balloons.

A crane jump is probably the most common type of bungee jump. A cage is suspended from the cable attached to the boom of the crane. The jumper enters the cage as it sits on the ground, is hooked into his harness and safety hooks, and then the crane lifts the cage and the jumper into the air to the desired height. With the cage at the proper height, the jumper jumps. Once the jump is completed, the crane lowers the jumper to the ground, where the ground crew unhooks him. The cage is then lowered to the ground, and is ready for the next jumper. Since this type of jump is the simplest and easiest to set up, it’s become relatively common to find a crane jump in highly populated or touristy areas.

The next type of a jump is done off a tower. A tower jump simply refers to jumping from any man-made stationary platform, varying in height, structure, and the jumping methods that can be used. Next is the bridge jump. Since bridges can be found most anywhere, this would make them the most readily available platforms. However, it’s illegal to bungee jump off bridges in most parts of the United States, except in cases where the bungee operators have obtained special permission, or actually own the bridge.

The common question asked of tower and bridge jumping is, “How do you get the jumper off of the cord after the jump?” There are essentially two ways to free the jumper; you can raise him back up, or you can lower him all the way down. Considerable manpower is required to raise the jumper back up to the platform, so this is done either a by a motorized pulley system, or a pulley system with a several people pulling. Otherwise, the jumper has to be lowered to the ground, and the bungee cord is then disconnected from either the jumper or the bridge.

The last type of jump is from a hot-air balloon. Balloons became popular as bungee platforms as authorities began to ban the use of bridges. Of course, it wasn’t long until the FAA stepped in and began to regulate the use of balloons for bungee jumping as well. So, in the interest of safety and trying to work within FAA regulations, you can bungee jump off a tethered balloon.

A tethered hot-air balloon refers to a balloon that is attached to the ground by cables so the wind can’t carry the balloon away, making this a safe option for the jumper. A hot air balloon, by its nature, will travel with the wind, so even as the balloon lands, it’s still moving forward, giving the jumper a pretty rough landing. Stabilizing the balloon solves this problem. Once the jump is completed, pulling down on the cable will lower the balloon, along with the jumper, to the ground so the ground crew can safely unhook him. When the balloon settles to the ground, the next jumper is hooked up, and off they go.

Equipment

Since we already have gravity and courage, and something high to jump from, the only other components needed for bungee jumping are a bungee cord and harness. Bungee cords are made from multiple strands of rubber that are woven tightly together. They are manufactured in many sizes and strengths, with most cords ranging between 3/8-inch to 1-inch in diameter. Some bungee sites use only one cord, while some will use up to five or six cords bundled together. Military specifications will require sites to use one cord per every 50 lbs. of the jumper’s body weight to achieve the desired stretch. At the Goldeneye site, the Trekking Team will give you a 2-foot length of old bungee cord as a souvenir. It’s thick enough that you could just about get your fingers around it.

The next thing you need is a harness. There are basically two types of harnesses: the full-body harness or the ankle harness. The full-body harness comes in a one-piece, or a two-piece system, which is connected by short straps that hold the two pieces together. The top piece is worn around the armpits and shoulders and around the back like you’re wearing a vest, while the bottom piece is worn around the waist and crotch area as if you were wearing a pair of shorts. The bungee cord is then attached in the front to both harnesses. The ankle harness simply fits around your ankles, and can cover as little as a few inches of the ankle, or as much as the entire area between the ankle and knee.

Safety

The next question the potential jumper usually asks is, “How safe is bungee jumping?” Of the millions of jumps that have been done worldwide, there have been relatively few injuries or deaths, and these are rarely attributed to professional, commercial bungee operations, rather to renegade adrenaline junkies trying out new stunts. Minor injuries are very rare as well. These types of injuries would include getting your fingers and skin between metal links or solid parts of the equipment, or a jumper getting hit with the cord, rope, or other hardware. There are usually protective coverings over the joints and padding over the hard parts that are close to the jumper and will protect you from any injury. By using common sense, listening to your instructor and following the instructions, even minor injuries will be rare or nonexistent.

Tricks and Stunts

Of the injuries that do occur, most happen while doing the types of stunts that are generally frowned upon by commercial operators. Here are a few examples:

One type of jump that’s generally regarded as dangerous is the water dunk. You’ve probably seen this one before. Usually off of a suspension bridge, the jumper leaps off the bridge, and the length of the bungee cord is just long enough so that the jumper can submerge his head briefly before he is snapped back. The problem with this stunt is that depending on the jumper’s weight and the depth of the water, the margin for error can be very small. You will see very few commercial sites offering these types of jumps.

In the negative jump, instead of the jumper jumping out of the crane to the ground, the jumper starts at the ground with the bungee cord stretched tight, and then the jumper is released and hurdled upward. The problem with this jump is that it’s very difficult to judge how much energy is being stored in the cords, so it’s tough to know for sure how far the jumper will be hurdled. If he’s hurdled too far, that means he’s going straight into the cage, headfirst.

The sandbag involves a jumper who jumps while hugging a large bag of sand (or other weighted object). The jumper leaps from the platform holding the sandbag, and with the added weight of the sand bag, he’s pulled down further than his weight would normally take him. When the cord has reached full extension, the jumper drops the sandbag, causing him to rebound higher than the original platform. This is another kind of a jump that really isn’t recommended, because the path of the jumper is difficult to predict, and the jumper could potentially come back up and hit the platform.

So, is there any skill involved in bungee jumping? Do you just close your eyes and jump forward, or is there some style that you can bring to your jump? Each commercial site is different, and depending the platform you’re jumping from and the equipment you’re using, each site may have their own rules as to the style of the jump that a first-timer should attempt. Some sites will instruct you to jump face forward, others might tell you to go backwards. Some will say to jump feet first, and others will say to jump head first. The instructor will always tell you what style is best for that site, but if there’s something you have in mind, feel free to ask.

Flipping Out

Of course you can always try a flip. When doing flips, you will find that the placement of the cord is very important depending on what style of jump you’re trying to do. You need to hold the cord to the side so that you’re clear of the cord while doing your turns. If you’re jumping for the first time, it’s probably not the time to try flips, as these take a little practice. Save the flips until you’ve done at least one successful jump.

Another type of jump that is considered safe and done at many commercial sites, is the tandem jump. This is when two people are harnessed together and attached to the bungee cords as if they were one person. Because the equipment has been set up to handle an additional load, the risk in doing a tandem jump is minimal.

And that concludes this chapter on bungee jumping.

If there was ever a James Bond experience than you and I can partake in, this must be one of the most adrenaline inducing of all. And once you’ve conquered the world of bungee jumping for yourself, you’ll feel one step closer to feeling that there’s nothing James Bond can do that you can’t do.

Good luck, and hold on for your life!

Comments

  1. Dear Sir
    Good day
    I want to set up a Bunjee club in Bangladesh. Please tell me what all help you can give me in terms of technology, equipment and material and training.
    We can go for some agreement as partnership or I can just pay for this to you. Please send me a quotation mentioning the approx cost and the time .
    Regards
    FERDOUS

    • Hi Ferdous,

      That’s not something we’re in the business of right now. Head Of Section wrote the original text to the Bungee Jumping podcast and I am happy to forward this request on to him when his secret mission is over. For the time being, though, I don’t have any good information to pass on to you.

      Thanks,
      Jamie

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