I’m Steve Ember. And I’m Shirley Griffith with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Imagine standing at the edge of a tall bridge. Hundreds of meters below you, river water rushes by. You take a deep breath and jump off the bridge, head first into thin air. As a reaction to such excitement and fear, the hormone adrenaline floods through your body.
There is nothing but a long rubber rope attached to your ankles, holding on to your very life. Some people call it crazy. Others say it is exciting. Whatever you may think, bungee jumping has become a popular extreme sport all over the world.
Bungee jumping is not a new activity. Men on Pentecost Island in the South Pacific have been doing land jumping for hundreds of years. The men tie long vines from plants around their ankles. They spend days building tall towers out of vines and logs. Then they jump off these structures. It takes a great deal of skill to jump correctly and safely. Land diving for them is an important cultural activity.
According to their beliefs, the first land diver was a woman. She decided to run away from her abusive husband. So, she climbed up a tall tree and tied some vines around her feet. Her husband chased after her up the tree. He reached out to grab her, but the woman jumped and the man followed. The vines saved her life, but her husband died.
Land diving has become a way in which these island men show their bravery in front of the women. People of the village sing loud songs to show their support for the brave divers. This tradition is also a way for the men to voice their troubles in public. For example, a man can discuss his marriage problems before he jumps. The villagers – including his wife - must stand and listen.
This ancient custom caught the interest of some students at Oxford University in England. In the late nineteen seventies, they formed a group called the Dangerous Sports Club. They liked to invent risky and sometimes crazy activities. They were some of the first people to test several of what are now called extreme sports. They are said to have invented modern bungee jumping.
In the spring of nineteen seventy-nine, members of the group jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England. They were attached to the bridge by a bungee cord, a long elastic rope that stretches. They were dressed in black and white clothing and held bottles of Champagne wine. The press quickly reported on their wild activities. The group soon received even more attention when they organized a bungee jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.
A man named A.J. Hackett of New Zealand later heard about this group. He decided to make the sport into a business. Mr. Hackett worked with his friend Henry van Asch who was an expert at skiing. They started developing bungee ropes and materials. Scientists at Auckland University helped them. The two men knew that people would find bungee jumping exciting and fun. And they knew people would pay money for the experience.
To show the world about bungee jumping they held a major jump in nineteen eighty-seven off of the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. They later got permission to open the first bungee jumping operation on the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Many people paid seventy-five dollars to jump off the bridge with a bungee cord attached to their ankles. Mr. Hackett worked hard to make sure the public knew how safe his materials were. He developed a method to guarantee safety called the “Bungee Code of Practice.”
Bungee jumping might seem frightening. But it is a very safe activity if you go to a well-established bungee jump company. People who work for bungee operators usually have a great deal of training and experience. They use very strong and carefully made rubber ropes. They choose a rope based on the jumper’s body weight. This is so they can manage how much the rope stretches when the person falls.
The rope attaches through a harness device tied around the jumper’s ankles. Often, operators use a body harness as well. This is so that you have twice the protection in case one harness breaks. Good bungee operators make sure all equipment is in excellent condition. They should also do several checks to make sure all ropes, harnesses and ties are correctly attached.
It is important to remember that this sport is not safe for everyone. People who have high blood pressure or a heart condition should not try jumping. People with back or knee injuries or who suffer from epilepsy should also avoid this sport. And remember, if you do not feel like experiencing it yourself, you can always watch other people jump.
Now you have jumped, bounced up and down several times on the rubber rope, and are hanging by your ankles in the middle of the air. You may be wondering what you are supposed to do now. Do not worry. The operators have different choices for getting you back to land right side up again. Often times, a bungee guide on a rope will attach to your rope and help you back up to the structure you jumped from. One extreme sports company gives a warning on its Web site. It warns that bungee jumping might lead to big smiles and deep feelings of happiness and excitement.
Since its beginnings in New Zealand, commercial bungee jumping has spread to countries everywhere. One of the highest bungee jumps in the world from a structure is near Locarno, Switzerland over the Verzasca Dam. The drop measures two hundred and twenty meters. In fact, you can see the character James Bond jump off this very bridge in the nineteen ninety-five movie “GoldenEye.” Or, there is the two hundred and sixteen meter jump from the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa. This is the highest single arch bridge in the world.
Of course, not every place has a body of water with a bridge from which you can jump. Some amusement parks offer bungee jumping from crane machinery. In the Andes Mountains of Peru, you can visit Action Valley outside the city of Cusco. Visitors can jump from a metal box that hangs from cables high up in the air. Most of these companies can sell you video recordings or photographs of your jump. This way you can prove to your family back home that you were brave enough to bungee.
Now, extreme sports companies are finding ways to make bungee jumping even more frightening. Some offer bungee jumps at night, or jumps where you fall off a structure backwards. There are also bungee jumps from flying helicopters and hot air balloons. You can also try bungee jumping for two. Some companies can harness two people together so you and a friend can experience twice the excitement. A.J. Hackett’s company even offers a sky jump off the tallest building in Macau. Just how far would you go to experience the fast rush of bungee fear?
Hosiah Mudzingwa helps run a bungee operation on the Victoria Falls bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia in Africa. He has been jumping from this one hundred and eleven meter drop for many years. From the steel bridge you can see the giant waters of Victoria Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world. Mr. Mudzingwa explains that every human being wants to feel the rush of adrenaline. He says when you bungee jump, you leave all stress and bad thinking behind. He says you come back up with a new mind.
But what does a person who is new to bungee jumping think about this sport? Tim Rooney recently traveled to Victoria Falls. He only had twenty-four hours to spend in Zimbabwe. But he made sure he found time to jump off this famous bridge towards the powerful Zambezi River. Here is what he had to say about the experience.
TIM ROONEY: “Hi, I’m Tim Rooney from Washington DC. Jumping off the bridge was one of the most spectacular, poetic moments of my life.
"The idea hadn’t really occurred to me until we got to the falls and we saw the view. I decided what better way to get to know this view than to jump into it.
"I think that the jump had more of a scary impact on my girlfriend who had to watch the whole thing. To an observer, a bungee jump looks like a terribly violent process. But the actual experience of it is one of floating. You jump and you don’t have any sensation of being tugged or falling or anything. You just are floating up and down. It is one of the most calm, wonderful things I have ever done. I recommend everybody do it.”
This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Shirley Griffith. You can read and listen to this program on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.