…Or should that be ‘Falling to new depths’? For people driven to experience an adrenaline rush coming face to face with nature in all its gritty glory, sometimes the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it, and we need to create new, innovative variations on a theme. For example, snowboarding evolved out of skateboarding, surfing, and skiing.) Likewise, base jumping exists for people who find jumping out of an airplane not quite daring enough. Base jumping involves using a parachute to leap off both natural and man-made objects. It presents few action-packed seconds that may be the closest a mere mortal will ever get to what Buzz Lightyear called “falling with style.”
Actually it’s B.A.S.E. Jumping
The first person insane or awesome enough (take your pick) to attempt a base jump was Carl Boenish, who in 1978 successfully landed from El Capitan, a massive rock outcropping in Yosemite National Park. He and fellow base jumping pioneers created a system of different things they could jump off, with a goal of completing each type of jump. The name came from B.A.S.E. – an acronym for each jumpable surface from which the jumper will leap.
Earth (natural formations like cliffs, canyons, and gorges)
As one might imagine, this sometimes involves some sneaking around and illegal trespassing, but base jumping events are beginning to find some official sponsorship, and there are a few places where base jumping is encouraged. The Kjerag mountain in Lysefjorden, Norway is one such spot.
Signs of emerging popularity
What was once almost an exclusively illegal and underground activity is beginning to get more mainstream attention and official sponsorship. One of the largest base jumping event is Bridge Day, where as many as 800 people have 6 hours to jump off West Virginia’s New River Gorge Bridge as many times as they can.
Everyone who makes all four jumps can get assigned a base number, with Base #1 going to Phil Smith in 1981. Currently, there are around 1,800 people with official base numbers, and this doesn’t account for the hundreds of enthusiasts either trying, or not seeking recognition through official channels.
Wingsuits, a full body jumpsuit that gives the body more lift and allows for more floating away, has increased the possibilities for what a jumper can do once he or she is in the air. 2012 saw the creation of the first professional team, the World Windsuit League, that uses windsuits to do “base racing,” in which jumpers raced between two points in China.
How to base jump, and what you need
Be aware that base jumping is among the most dangerous recreational activities in the world. A 2007 study of a base jumping site in Norway found that every 1 in 2,317 jumps ended in death. Thus, it should not be attempted until you have already had a great deal of experience with skydiving. Generally, base jumping with an experienced mentor only takes places after 100 regular skydiving jumps.
Since you will be leaping from shorter distances, there’s a lot less time to deploy a parachute; there are only about 5 seconds of free-fall available. Most modern base jumpers use specialized base jumping parachutes, with a rectangular ram-air chute that allows more control over direction and speed.
Another option, particularly useful with jumps less then 300 feet, a static line that will deploy automatically is used instead. Jumping takes place facing down, using the natural aerodynamics of the body to “fly” away from the object, to avoid hitting anything on the way down.