As I slipped under the railing onto the platform, my insides lurched. ?Hop to the edge,? the instructor said, ?and don?t look down.? I eased my toes over the edge of the platform, and instinctively looked down, at the trickle of water on the dry riverbed 65m below. What was I doing here? Was I insane thinking it would actually be fun to throw myself off a bridge with nothing but an elasticised cord attached to my ankles?
The jump instructor fed my rope over the edge, and I felt its weight pull around my ankles as it fell. I focussed on the opposite bridge, trying desperately to still my mind and my pounding heart. A voice was screaming in my head: "You know you could die, but you probably won't, but you don't know if...."
Somewhere near me the instructor yelled: "Jumper ready and counting!" I tried to suppress the wild panic that had gripped my body. There was no turning back now. ?Five?four?three?two?one?? This was it. "BUNGEEEEEE!"
I leaped off the platform, hurtling belly down, arms out towards the ground. Pure animal fear ripped through every part of me for the first three seconds of the fall. By the time I reached the bungee rope?s limit, the sheer terror had been replaced by exhilaration. I felt the cord tighten around my ankles instants before I flipped and started on the rebound towards the bridge. I took the second drop and second rebound, and then once more before swinging to a stop.
Back on the bridge, the adrenalin was still surging through my body like electrical currents. I was amped for another jump ? this time it would be a tandem bungee swing. Face Adrenalin innovated this form of bungee, where jumpers are harnessed around the waist instead of the ankles, jump feet first, and swing between two bridges.
As newly initiated bungee jumpers, my partner and I thought the bungee swing would be about as scary as strolling through the park on a Sunday afternoon, especially since we would be strapped together (the illogical theory of security in numbers kicked in at this point). But as the jump instructor fastened the harnesses and checked the ropes, a new knot of fear began to form in my chest.
Again, the instructor talked us through each step in the jump preparations, and with each sentence, the panic swelled. Before we knew it, we were standing on the edge of the platform for the second time, toes wiggling over the edge, eyes firmly glued to the opposite bridge, smiling and trying to look casual.
As the countdown began, I wondered if we would ever get any better at fear. At the signal we stepped off into the big empty, and gravity sucked the combined weight of our bodies towards the ground at double speed. As the bungee cord kicked in, we knew that we were addicted to the thrill of the fall, and the smooth pendulum swing between two bridges.
So, why would anyone want to jump off of bridge with a rope attached around their ankles or their waist, not once but twice in a single day? Cheap thrills? Not likely ? corny amusement park rides are a sufficient source for this form of entertainment. Insanity? Yes, probably.
For me, the driving force that pushed me over the edge of the bridge was the knowledge that I was conquering my own fear. Standing on the edge of a 65m drop, there was nowhere to hide, and no choice but to jump. And the moment that I did, I realised that somewhere in the deepest, darkest part of me was the power to overcome even the most daunting and scary situations ? a truly liberating experience.
Whatever their reasons, people have been flinging themselves off bridges, towers and cranes with nothing but an elasticised rope attached to prevent them from slamming into the ground since the mid 80s. How and where did this improbable activity begin?
The first reports of ?bungee jumping? came from a National Geographic team who were studying the locals on the island of Pentecost in the South Pacific Ocean in 1954. They reported on the ?South Seas Incredible Land Divers? who would throw themselves off a high tower made of logs and branches with springy vines tied to their ankles.
It is believed that the ritual is based on the legend of a woman who was running away from her husband who had done some bad deeds. From the top of a coconut tree, she escaped by tying a vine around her ankles and jumping! Many villagers witnessed this feat and began to repeat it. Soon, it became a local ritual, and years later, a tourist attraction.
The first incident of bungee jumping as we know it today was reported on April Fools' Day 1979 when a posse of tuxedo-wearing thrill seekers called the Dangerous Sports Club of Oxford, England, jumped from the Clifton Bridge in Bristol. Despite the fact that the sport was outlawed, the same group later made jumps in California and Colorado.
In 1987, a New Zealander named A.J. Hackett made a famous bungee jump from the Eiffel Tower in Paris (he was arrested when he got back to solid ground!). The next year he opened the first commercial bungee jumping site over a river in New Zealand. Soon, others followed his lead in America and Europe, and bungee jumping took off.
Of course, bungee jumping is not nearly as deadly as it sounds, and today millions around the world practice it. While the sport can't claim a spotless safety record, it is safe if you hook up with the right people. This is crucial, since bungee jumping allows zero margin for error - in a free fall, a mistake or an equipment failure would almost certainly mean a jumper's doom. That?s why the Face Adrenalin team on the Gouritz bridge are fanatical about checking and rechecking at every step.
So, there?s really no excuse for not facing the fear and taking the plunge. If I could do it, so can you. Altogether now?BUNGEEEE!
Bungee jumping details
Face Adrenalin run the bungee jumping posts at the Gouritz and Bloukrans bridges along the N2. The Gouritz jump (65m) is the oldest in Africa, while Bloukrans is the highest in the world. At 216m, it is in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Thanks to Ryno, Judy and the Face Adrenalin team at the Gouritz bridge for an exhilarating Sunday afternoon.