When it comes to the intense and electrifying recreation of parachuting, it isn’t always possible to find a plane, or the money to rent a plane, that will bring you up to the right altitude and let you jump from it. The free-fall from such heights can be described as exhilarating, spiritual, and rejuvenating, but sometimes people want a more immediate thrill, and sometimes something with just a little more risk.
This is where base jumping comes into play. The idea of free-falling from an airplane appears to have, somewhere along the way, lost its appeal to the more die-hard adrenaline junkies, and base jumping came into being.
Base jumping is a recreational activity where a person straps a parachute to his or her back, just as though they were going to skydive, and instead leaps from a tall structure, or cliff, for example. There are practically no limits any longer to what base jumpers will leap from, but the most popular choices remain bridges, buildings, antennae arrays, and cliffs.
Base jumping offers plenty of exhilaration and adrenaline-inducing excitement, and it also comes with risks that are both common to skydiving, and others that are unique to base jumping itself. Whenever a person leaps into the air and falls hundreds or even thousands of feet to the ground below, there are a number of things that can go wrong. Fortunately, parachutes have residual backup chutes in case the primary fails for some reason. In base jumping, there is significantly less time to make corrections in the event of a catastrophic failure.
Also, wind currents that are common around major structures, such as buildings and bridges, can pose some risks to the base jumper, by threatening to push him or her toward the structure, rather than away from it. It is akin to swimming in the ocean near a rocky ledge. The currents can drive even the strongest and most experience swimmer into the rocks, causing serious injury or death.
For base jumpers, part of the thrill is in the risk, but there are many things that experienced base jumpers do before a jump that helps to minimize the risk to themselves and others. For those looking for a thrill and relatively easy access to many base jumping points, base jumping offers a quick thrill and a lifetime of memories that one can share with his or her loved ones and friends.
Beginning to learn how to base jump requires some special instruction from experience skydiving and base jumping professionals. There is a technique to guiding oneself to the ground as well as in the actual landing. Base jumping isn’t for the timid or faint of heart, but is more geared toward those thrill seekers who seem unable to get enough excitement.
Hazards and Dangers
As one can imagine, there are many hazards and dangers that are inherent to base jumping. Wind is a difficult factor to predict, especially when presented around major objects and obstacles, such as buildings, bridges, and around cliffs. Even when wind appears to move in one steady direction from the top of the structure one wishes to jump from, it can be completely different along the path down to the ground.
Several people have died throughout the years from base jumping and many of them have suffered their fate due to a lack of preparation, being in a rush, and basically not taking into full account the factor of the wind direction. When jumping from a tall building, for example, one could find themselves being pushed into and slammed against the building before they have a chance to open their chute. This can also occur after the chute is opened, causing the lines to tangle.
Another common hazard are cable lines or electrical lines. This is especially true of jumping from antennae arrays. Cables that support these tall structures can extend out several hundred feet and while they may not seem to pose much of a threat to the base jumper initially, if the wind drives the base jumper slightly off course, then the cables can become a major factor in their safe landing.
Of course, the dangers that base jumping pose is not limited to merely physical ones. There are many legal issue to consider when planning or attempting a base jump. Most base jumping activities, at least in major cities, is considered illegal and the result can be arrest, prosecution, possible fines and jail time.
Equipment Needed for Base Jumping
There isn’t a great deal needed for base jumping, but experience is perhaps the most important piece of ‘equipment’ that anyone should possess, long before he or she ever attempts a base jump in the first place. Watching experienced base jumpers makes the sport, or activity, seem simple. It is not.
Aside from the obvious, a parachute especially designed for base jumping (meaning, designed for low altitude jumps), there are many smaller pieces of equipment that could come in handy, especially for evaluation purposes.
Special wind monitoring equipment is one of the most crucial for successful jumps. By carefully gauging the wind, direction, and currents that the wind follows in and around the target jumping platform, an experienced base jumper can determine his or her jump time and path, or whether the jump should even be attempted.
Climbers who seek to successfully summit Mount Everest perform a number of weather readings and tests to gauge whether or not the time is right to make an assault on the summit. No experience climber would ever blindly walk into the unknown when the slightest miscalculation can cost him or her, or one of the people to whom they are charged with safety, is at stake. Base jumping is no different, though far too many inexperienced base jumpers simply climb to the peak of their jump site and take their chances.
Many times, these jumps are successful, but every so often, a base jump ends in tragedy when it didn’t have to.
What Does It Take to Learn to Base Jump?
Unfortunately, for the avid enthusiast who wishes to head out today and learn to base jump, the entire sport or activity requires many years of experience. Most base jumpers have a history of skydiving, having logged in hundreds of successful jumps from airplanes before they take on their first base jump. The reason for this is that in base jumping, there is far less time to make adjustments to changing or unexpected conditions than there is in skydiving.
While skydiving, a person free falls for anywhere from one to three minutes. Some dives begin at an altitude of 15,000 (fifteen thousand) feet. Base jumping can originate from an altitude as low as 300 feet, though this is highly discouraged due to the extreme lack of time to make corrections should something go wrong.
Some base jumpers deploy their chute as soon as their feet leave the solid surface or platform while others prefer to experience the free fall for a few seconds before deploying the chute.
How to Start the Base Jumping Experience
The first thing that anyone should do if he or she is interested in diving into the world of base jumping is to contact a local skydiving professional to begin their lessons. Most skydiving centers do not require the individual to own any necessary equipment of their own as they provide it for their clients.
If you have never jumped from a perfectly safe airplane while cruising along at a high altitude, then you may want to consider a tandem skydive jump first, to gauge whether this is an activity that you truly want to take part in. Tandem jumps require only minimal training in landing, but solo skydiving jumps will require training in pulling the ripcord on the chute, how to manage the backup chute should something go wrong with the primary one, how to maneuver the parachute once open to guide yourself to the proper landing point, and how to successfully land without injury.
Once you perform a solo dive, you will realize just how much there is to learn and how much practice it takes to successfully jump from an airplane. The factors that make skydiving such a wonderful experience and a great way to learn –being in the open with plenty of room to maneuver, for example- is completely the opposite of base jumping.
In skydiving, you have many seconds, even minutes, to absorb the surroundings, a wide open expanse of space in which to make mistakes in the turning of the chute, and usually an open field or waterway in which to land. Even if you’re off the mark by several hundred feet, you are generally safe. Also, in skydiving, under the direction of experienced professional skydivers, you are not placed in any hazardous situation, such as trees or power lines.
In base jumping, there is no room for error and any mistake can be fatal. Most skydiving instructors will discourage the act of base jumping, not only for the issues of safety that have been presented here, but also for the legal aspects. Due to its dangers, most states and countries have laws that prohibit base jumping. But learning to skydive and doing enough dives to master the art from beginning to end is the best way to have success and fun base jumping.
Where to Jump
If you are looking for places to jump, the best way to find the ideal locations is to locate other base jumpers throughout your region, or country. There are usually many forums on which people post their jumps and discuss the sport. You will likely find many base jumpers who are willing to help you take your first steps into this adrenaline rush of a sport, though they will make sure that you have considerable experience skydiving first.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why base jump in the first place?
People who have never performed a base jump and only hear about the dangers, usually after a fatality is reported in the news, wonder what the excitement is all about. For the most part, it’s about the speed and the thrill of leaping from heights and having only moments to safely navigate one’s way to the ground below.
It can be compared to the thrill that some people get when they speed down a narrow road in a sports car. Putting other people at risk, however, should be the last thing anyone should do when base jumping.
I’m afraid of heights. Is base jumping for me?
The answer to this question is simple. It depends. Some people who are afraid of heights have gone skydiving and loved it, and ultimately led to base jumping. Others simply can never overcome their inherent fears. The only way to know is to try a tandem skydive jump and find out if that’s something for you.
While base jumping is illegal in many locations, it’s important to note that this site does not condone any illegal activities in any way, shape, or form. For locations in which base jumping is legal, it is such an intense and dangerous activity that one should seriously partake in a number of solo skydives before ever attempting a base jump.