Jumping To a Conclusion

7 05 2008


The Zambezi in the fall.


You may call me a coward if you wish, but I believe that certain death should only be flirted with, at most, once every other day.


It is for this reason that during a visit to Victoria Falls I decided I would either partake in the “World’s Most Dangerous One Day Commercial Rafting” or “The World’s Highest Commercial Bungee Jump”, but not both. In the end, I opted for Grade V rafting on the crocodile-infested Zambezi River (*drowning optional) and merely photographing people flinging themselves off the bridge connecting Zimbabwe and Zambia bound only by large fraying elastic bands around their ankles (*detached retinas extra).


Bungee jumping has become a phenomenon that seems to be offered by every exotically-located suspension bridge in the world. If there’s no bridge available, operators build platforms on the sides of cliffs, erect construction cranes in fair gounds, hire helicopters and hot air balloons, rent room from space needle observation decks…and in one hotel in Vienna, even created a platform at the apex of a glass pyramid over the shallow swimming pool.


Bungee jumping was invented in the 1970s by a group of English adventurers who called themselves the “Dangerous Sports Club”. They were inspired by the land divers of Vanuatu who fling themselves from bamboo towers with only vines wrapped around their ankles. The allure of dislocating both legs for fun was obviously a strong one but being sissies, they opted for something a little more forgiving and safer than vines: large elastics.


The first commercial operation was A J Hackett’s in Queenstown, New Zealand and it still ranks amongst the most successful, popular and “gotta-do-it” in the world. At the time of my visit to Victoria Falls, it was the highest commercial jump in the world at 111 metres. Today, it has been surpassed by taller ones in Macau (233 metres), Lucerne (220 metres) and Bloukrans, South Africa (216 metres) amongst others. But jumping within sight of one of the most magnificent natural wonders of the world, in the no-man’s-land between two countries while steam trains chug across the bridge above and fish eagles soar below still makes it arguably the most exotic bungee around.


Anyone with a few traveller’s cheques, properly-attached retinas and a complete lack of common sense can bungee. After handing over a wad of cash and signing a disclaimer longer than most romance novels, jumpers are weighed and the correct length of bungee is determined. Too much cord and jumpers start exploring for hidden oil reserves – head first – and too little and they’ll forever bounce like a yo-yo. Once paid, weighed and okayed they head to the launch site for a briefing and a binding and then waddle to the edge of the abyss.


Adrenalin is an incredibly addictive substance. It leaves you feeling 10-feet tall, invincible and damn sexy. It’s that rush that causes otherwise sensible people to do remarkably un-sensible things – and then buy the t-shirt to show the world just how silly they were. Generations ago, before the most dangerous thing we faced was a vicious paper cut, we tested our limits on a daily basis just to survive. Today, unless you count removing staples with your bare fingers, the only contact we have with seemingly-real danger is through adrenalin sports.


I can’t wait to bungee jump, but it must be either the highest, the most spectacular or the first….and be clear, sunny weather with a gentle breeze, and be on a day with the letter ‘c’ in it…  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008



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