Bungee Jumping, and Revisiting Past Decisions

Next month I am off on a family vacation to New Zealand. While planning for the trip my kids discovered I used to bungee jump back in the day. When I started at university I came across the Oxford Stunt Factory, a group descended from the famous Dangerous Sports Club, and soon I was having a lot of fun doing exciting things. These exciting activities included Bungee Jumping.

Why did I decide to take my first bungee jump? I don’t know that there was a “why,” but the moment I heard about it I knew it was for me. Even though 25 years has passed since my first jump I have a clear memory of that day. Not the details of the time or location, but rather of how it felt. I was standing in a metal platform, more than 100 feet above a parking lot. It was chilly, exciting, scary and my body was full of adrenaline. What makes this style of bungee jumping particularly insane is that fact that you are really so close to the action. I had friends down below watching me and could hear them talking, wondering if I would actually jump.

Instructions were repeated, final checks were made and then the whistle was blown 3 times. This is a standard technique used to create a decision point. Most people will jump right after the 3rd whistle as planned. If they don’t, there is an even chance that they will never jump. I stepped off, fell, bounced around and then celebrated. It was awesome!

Over the course of the year I joined the bungee jump team, helping run the operation and also performing display jumps at county fairs and other events. I learned to do multiple forward or backward somersaults - with more on the rebound. We also did catapulting, or “reverse bungee”, and one time I performed a “touchdown”. This is when you adjust things just right so that you step out of the jump station, fall over 100 feet, the elastic arresting you just the right amount so you gently touch the earth. Then you fly back into the air. It is quite something to watch. To make this more fun I was handed a plastic cup full of liquid that I had to try drink. It went everywhere.

I racked up dozens and dozens of jumps, and then a strange thing happened. I realized one day that I was no longer scared or overly excited when I jumped. In fact it had become a bit ho-hum. I had learned that where bungee jumping accidents occur, it is often with quite experienced professionals. Perhaps this is because they made more jumps than others--and more dangerous ones--but I suspected it was also because they had lost their sense of fear. It had become too routine.

Because of this risk we utilized double and triple redundancy on everything but the main crane hook. If we weren’t afraid, would we be so rigorous about safety?

I remember my last jump with the OSF. it was in the summer of 1992 and I was up in the jump station at an event, chatting casually to the jump masters. As it was a show, the MC was chatting away below. Eventually I heard the whistle, I turned to the jump master and asked “what jump was I doing again?” and the reply was “2 ½” forward somersault. I jumped off into the void with no more care than stepping off the sidewalk. It was time to stop.

Sometimes you realize that circumstances have changed. The time may come to reverse a decision that in the past was correct. This was one of those moments. What circumstances have changed in your life? What decisions should be revisited?

Should I bungy jump in New Zealand next month?

Yes: the time has come for my return.

Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.