A great leap forward . . . and then down . . . ends happilyThe night after my bungee jump, my friend’s utterances of surprise and fears of certain death were met with silence: I was busy racing back in my mind’s eye to gaze over the edge of the 45-meter (150-foot) platform.
“I heard bungee jumping is addictive,” my friend said. But I can’t imagine anything that would prompt me to take jump number two. I like my life just fine, thank you.
Bungee jumping to me was a chance to take a big leap without smacking into the pavement. Although it seems a modern-day extreme sport, South Pacific islanders made bungee jumping a rite of passage 1,500 years ago. They tied vines around their legs and jumped off bamboo towers.
In 1979, four men of the Dangerous Sports Club of Oxford, England, dressed in their club’s “uniform,” tuxedos and high hats, took the leap from the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. They were arrested, and modern bungee jumping was invented. In 1988, A.J. Hackett of New Zealand brought commercial jumping to the public. To advertise, A.J. jumped from the Eiffel Tower.
Statistics show that a bungee jump is about as dangerous as driving 100 miles in a car. There is about a two in one million chance of death. Bungee jumping has been popular long enough that it is almost commonplace. But that does nothing to reduce the fear factor.
Bungee jumping was introduced to Korea at the 1995 Daejeong Expo. The platform in question was 21 meters (63 feet) high. A basic bungee-jumping setup includes a tower, security ropes, harness and a touch of madness.
The white platform at Yuldong Park in Seongnam is visible from a distance. As I approached, it did not look very high. When I arrived at the park, people were walking on the pathways or resting in the shade, sipping cold beverages. Everything seemed calm. I walked out to the docks by the platform. The sun sparkled off the lake. I looked to my left, and there was a body, dangling from a rope.
The body belonged to Kim Hyeong-cheol, who fell so quickly and so silently that I did not even notice. He was still alive.
He later joined me to watch his two college friends jump, yelling up to them, “Show me something cool!” Jung Su-yeon jumped next. Again, the descent was over so quickly it barely had time to register. She also joined us at the docks, exuberant about what she had seen. “All I could see was the lake, and the water looked so beautiful. I couldn’t even tell that I was falling.”
Next came Park Ju-hee. She shrieked as she fell and bounced back up on the end of the rubbery rope. Dangling, she put her hands to her face and took a deep breath. “I promised my parents I would call them after I had made my jumped,” she said afterwards. “I really should call them.”
A fourth friend joined in. “I was going to jump with them, but I looked at the platform and became so afraid I had to pee,” she said.
And now it was time for me to make jump No. 1. I signed a release form: my name, age, phone number and address. I took off my shoes and strapped on the safety harness. I ascended on the elevator with another jumper. “Is this your first time?” I asked. He looked at me with his eyes glazed over and said, “I do this quite often.”
While the instructor strapped him in, I was told to practice jumping onto a mattress. The key, the instructor told me, is to commit. “You have to tell yourself you’re going to do this, and just jump.” He also reminded me to leap away from the platform head first, chest extended, while keeping my arms spread out like I had been born with wings. “Whatever you do, do not try to hold the rope.”
While I practiced, the platform shook ever so slightly. The first jumper was gone. It was really my turn. I turned around, looked down ― and stopped. My right hand gripped the railing, as I realized just how far down the lake was. I couldn’t do it. I asked for more practice time. After one more practice jump, I got hooked up again. And again I froze. So he asked, “What do you do for a living?”
I knew exactly what he was doing, trying to bring a sense of normalcy to the situation. “No one’s going to force you to jump,” he said. “You have to do it yourself.”
And so I did, with my eyes open. Falling turned out to be fine. It was only when the rope tugged me back up into the air that I began to flail my arms and legs like an insect. That split second, just after I had been pulled up again and was hovering, midair, before falling a second time, was worse than anything I had felt on any rollercoaster. Worse than riding a plane through a thunderstorm. Much, much worse.
But eventually, all bad things must come to an end. And I, unlike my jump-happy counterparts that day, vowed never to take the plunge again. I was just too happy to be alive ― and walking on solid ground.
by Joe Yong-hee
Jumps cost 25,000 won. If you climb the platform and do not to jump, you are given a coupon, good for one month, redeemable for a jump. Call 031-702-8713 for more informtion.