For serious thrill seekers, the sensation of flying tops the bucket list – and bungee jumping may just be the best way to experience it.
That is, right up until you step to the rim of the jump platform and look down. Then instincts kick in and the second guessing about budging from that ledge begins.
For his first jump at Whistler Bungee in B.C., Conrad Shynkar recalls standing 50 metres (that’s as tall as a 15-storey tower) above the massive gorge-carving Cheakamus River.
You have to be prepared to be scared, no doubt about it.— Matt van der Horst, co-founded of Whistler Bungee
“Everything was okay until that very instant, and then looking down, I was like, whoa! It was terrifying,” the Gibsons, B.C., resident says. “But then the countdown started. And it was, like: GO!’ And that just kind of sent me off.”
Even knowing that 100 per cent of Whistler Bungee’s jumpers have bounced back up into the air well before they could ever possibly smash into the river’s raging currents – the extremeness of the act still stimulated kicked in stomach-pounding jitters and flooded Shynkar’s brain with adrenalin.
“You have to be prepared to be scared, no doubt about it,” says general manager Matt van der Horst, who co-founded Whistler Bungee 20 years ago.
“It’s not a walk in the park. And we don’t advertise it as being one. It’s an adrenalin activity,” he explains. To achieve that hormonal rush, “you have to be ready to go out of your comfort zone.”
Immediately after his jump, Shynkar, a daredevil on a snowboard, whooped numerous times and couldn’t stop smiling. “It’s an awesome feeling.”
Some jumpers require “quite a bit more convincing” before they leap, says Van der Horst. “You’re definitely like a part-time psychologist trying to go through these people’s emotions and really helping them to get it done.”
Many jumpers are seeking an experience that goes beyond the adrenalin buzz, says Ted Nathanson, park manager at WildPlay, near Nanaimo, B.C., which features a 46-metre bungee jump from a bridge straddling the Nanaimo River.
People want to get rid of their fear, push their limits and improve themselves, says Nathanson.
“There’s this movement from 20 years ago when bungee jumpers were primarily thrill seekers, mostly guys jumping off bridges” just for the fun of it, says Nathanson.
“Now it’s like this rite of passage. We’re seeing this increase in social acceptance of what used to be regarded as a [crazy] sport. These days, it’s something that people from varied backgrounds want to experience,” he says.
“We know that when people are trapped in their fear, they’re not growing as humans,” says Nathanson. “So, we want to evolve the human – that’s actually our mission statement.
“Once you jump, and you’re falling through the air, there’s this [feeling of] total freedom. And then you’re fine! And it’s like a huge weight is lifted off your shoulders and that feels amazing.”
Psychologists suggest that after experiencing a positive adrenalin rush, another reaction occurs: a surge in endorphins – hormones related to joy and happiness – which can also make people feel full of energy, powerful and almost invincible.
No wonder WildPlay offers six levels of bungee jumping, from straightforward to backflips: The euphoria felt by first-timers often leaves them wanting more.
Great Canadian Bungee (GCB) at Chelsea, Que., near Ottawa, offers the country’s highest plunge, from a tower 60 metres above the aqua blue Morrison’s Quarry.
Site operation manager Orin Anderson Barwin spends his days training crew and overseeing equipment. Before that, he was jump master – the tower leader who ensures the rubberized cord length corresponds to each jumper’s body weight, calls out harness attachment procedures as affixed to either the ankles (most common) or torso, and gets jumpers properly psyched to fly.
After his first jump at GCB, six years ago, Anderson Barwin was “hooked” and “couldn’t get enough.”
“Being someone who likes adrenalin activities, I was constantly wanting to jump.”
But he stopped jumping daily to “build-up excitement,” and now, he usually tricks them out.
“Five flips is pretty much max.”
Another reason Anderson Barwin doesn’t jump more often: “We’ve been incredibly busy. The last two seasons have been record-breakers.” That translates to up to 180 jumps (at $148 first jump; $74 additional jumps) per day.
Nanaimo and Whistler bungee jump parks have also had sold-out seasons and are heavily booked for summer.
The pandemic inspired people to experience more outdoor activities and was also a reminder that life is short so life achievements shouldn’t be delayed, says Anderson Barwin.
The bungee jump expert doesn’t mind making do with less of his own jumps. “To be honest, guiding people through jumps has become as satisfying as jumping myself,” he says.
“It can be a very profound experience, like borderline spiritual. People are essentially defying death. It’s deep for them. And to be able to witness that and help them through it is pretty incredible.”
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As he watches a wide-grinning client rise into the air on a gust of wind, Andrew Cserpes, owner of Niagara Freefall Indoor Skydiving, says, “I think everyone has fantasies about flying, and we fulfill them.”
The first of its kind in Canada, the vertical wind tunnel at this indoor skydiving operation in Niagara Falls, Ont., levitates participants by blasting air through a floor net at 200 kph. Suspended mid-air, flyers feel the same free-falling experience of jumping out of an airplane – without, obviously, having to jump from a plane. Or pack a parachute or pull a rip cord.
“It’s thrilling,” assures Cserpes. “Skydivers who try it say it’s the same sensation, because even during free-falling there’s pressure coming up against you.”
But compared to skydiving, floating on a cushion of air in Niagara Freefall’s six-metre-high chamber is much safer.
At $72 per flight, indoor flyers also get more bang for their buck.
“If you’re falling out of a plane, you’ll get about 30 seconds of actual free fall,” says Cserpes. “In the tunnel, you get three minutes or equal to about six jumps from a plane.
“So, you can really pull off some tricks.”