This bucket list item was completed on 13th December 2020 in undisclosed, New Zealand.
I had walked on to the bridge only a few months before, but this time it was different. This time, I was going to be jumping off it. And my body knew it. The moment that my feet touched the railway sleepers and I gazed down the tracks, my heart rate began to pick up. It became elevated, but not excessively. I knew there would be another step change once my body was on the other side of the rail.
“Are you ready for me to take your pilot chute?”, Frank enquired. I responded with a concise “Yes.” Frank was set to do a pilot chute assist (PCA), which involves an assistant holding on to the pilot chute and applying enough pressure to extract the canopy out of the container as the jumper begins to fall. This is the quickest way to get a canopy above your head, hence why we chose it for my first jump.
Once Frank confirmed he was ready, I told him that I was going to climb over the rail and get into position. Steve’s last piece of advice to me, before we put on our gear, was to get over the rail, do the count and jump. No hesitation. I had met Steve a few months before, at the bridge, and he was enthusiastic about being there for my first jump. We shared similar thought patterns about BASE and really clicked.
Steve’s advice was fresh in my mind and seemed sound, given the situation. With my butt planted firmly on the top rail, I waited for the next rise in my heart rate, but it never came. It remained elevated, in a happy-nervous range.
I was super focused and was visualising every part of the jump until the moment I touched down in the paddock below. Heeding Steve’s advice, I began my count, “3 – 2 – 1 – See ya!”
Another one off the list…
The idea of BASE jumping had been firmly attached inside my brain since I saw my first video when I was about 10 years old. It was from that point that I knew I wanted to do it one day. It was only in December of 2019 that it started to become a reality. At the start of the month I had booked my first jump course and an advanced course to take me from zero to hero in 10 days. My starter pack arrived in January from Snake River Base Academy, which included a t-shirt, packing tools and a copy of The Great Book of BASE. I was grinning from ear to ear. I could feel that I was not far away from completing another item from my list.
In March of 2020, all hell broke loose and the world was thrown into lockdown to protect ourselves from the Covid-19 pandemic. At this point it was too early to tell whether my trip would still go ahead or not. One positive thing that came out of lockdown was that it gave me back free time, which I was very light on due to my present workload.
I had borrowed a BASE rig from a friend to practice my packing and the starter pack recommended four books, in addition to The Great Book of BASE. Lockdown was the perfect opportunity to dive into this material and learn about BASE. As I was on reduced hours, my day consisted of the following:
- Wake up and make coffee/breakfast
- Answer emails for 2 hours
- Practice packing my BASE rig
- Work/emails for another 2 hours
- Research and read books about BASE
I ploughed through a lot of material in those few months. When I was at the peak of my studies, and we came out of lockdown, I had the opportunity to ground crew for a couple friends who were jumping the same bridge. This is when I met Steve. That day gave me my first taste of what the sport was all about, and it only pulled me in even further. I wanted to do it so badly, but I knew I had to wait until my course.
It was June at this point, and I was still in limbo about whether the USA would be open for business in September, when my course was scheduled. After much stress and deliberation, I had to call off my trip. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but flights were going down and case numbers were going up. When I asked my parents for advice, my mum said, “It would suck to go over there and survive BASE jumping, then die from Covid.” That made my decision easier to live with.
September came and my gear that I had pre-purchased for the course arrived at the dealer’s store in Twin Falls.
It was no good to me there, but it was going to be a fortune to courier it from the USA to NZ. Again, after much stress and deliberation, I decided to pay the money so that I could have it in my possession. Once it arrived, I showed off my new gear to my friends. It was then that Frank told me he would mentor me at the bridge if I was ready.
I did not want to follow the path of getting gear and jumping before doing my course. The course seemed like the best thing I could do to set myself up for success and longevity in the sport, but the reality was that no one knew what year we would be able to travel to the USA again. Frank offered his mentorship to me simply because of how much effort I had put in with my practice and research. He had never seen someone prepare for a first jump course like I had.
If I was going to go down that path, I wanted to jump my BASE canopy in a skydiving environment to see how it handled. Another BASE jumper, Eric, runs fun jumping at Skydive Waikato and gave me the chance to test out my canopy. I managed to get five jumps on my canopy and figured out all the control inputs. After getting comfortable flying my BASE canopy, I accepted Frank’s offer. Steve was keen to be a part of it as well. The three of us found ourselves down in Motueka, New Zealand in October at Skydive Abel Tasman for the Good Vibes Boogie. It was there that we began to hatch a plan of when we could get my first jump done.
Our first attempt was two weeks after the boogie, in the fickle spring weather of New Zealand. We waited until the last minute and checked eight different reports, three different times, but the weather was forecasted to be pretty rough, so we cancelled. Cancelling activities became a bit of the norm for 2020…
The last weekend that everyone had free was the 12 and 13th of December. I had my company Christmas party on the 12th, but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way. The rest of the crew arrived around dinner time on the 12th, while I was still in New Plymouth. I met the rest of my team at the hotel for our Christmas party and got myself a kombucha, instead of a beer. I didn’t want to have any alcohol in my system, as I knew that I was going to embark on something incredibly dangerous the next day.
After a couple of kombuchas, some mingling and a big feed at the buffet, I slid my chair back. As I stood up a couple of my colleagues looked at me with an expression that said, “Holy shit, he was serious. He’s actually going BASE jumping.” I left New Plymouth at 9 pm and drove straight for the next three hours until I arrived at the campsite. My air mattress was already in the back of the car and I was ready to get some sleep.
I woke up at 5:30 am and rolled out of the car. I fueled myself with a peanut butter and honey sandwich and a can of iced coffee. As I was finishing my breakfast, I met the other jumper, Nicholas, who joined us. This would be the first time off the bridge for both of us, but he already had 100 jumps under his belt.
We made our way up to the bridge at 6:30 am and got ready for Steve and Nicholas to make their first jumps. The winds were light and the conditions were perfect. They each had successful jumps and we watched them begin their hike back up to the top as we walked off the bridge. While they were making their way back, I began packing my rig under the watchful eye of Frank.
In all honesty, it was the best pack job I had ever done. And it needed to be, as it was the first one that was ever going to see canopy time. With a few last pointers on body position, we began walking out to the bridge.
“3 – 2 – 1 – See ya!” I continued to stare up at the horizon as I was instructed. The picture remained the same, but I could tell I was falling. I fell a lot longer than I thought I would. When I watched videos of PCAs before, they seemed to be open instantly, but mine felt longer. I think I was just in the zone, because shortly after that thought crossed my mind, I heard the most beautiful sound. The CRACK! made by the canopy opening. I looked up and saw a perfect canopy, flying on-heading.
I reached for the toggles quickly and stabbed them down to release them. Nichols had jumped before me to show me the landing pattern, so I did my best to replicate his flight path. I was aiming straight for him on the ground, and as I came into land, I saw him recording it on his GoPro. I landed two metres from him with a perfect tip toe landing. I flashed a big smile and threw up the double devil’s horns to show off my stoke. Modesty aside, I absolutely nailed it. This was confirmed by Steve calling over the radio to say, “Stop it Dave, you’re making us look bad.”
It felt amazing to finally complete this one. My heart rate never did climb throughout the whole experience. Instead, I was hit with a craving to pack and do it again. We would each get another three jumps in before we hit the point of exhaustion and the sun began to set. After many hugs and goodbyes, we all went our separate ways, back to home.
We joked that no one on the earth had a better day of jumping than we did on that beautiful Sunday. Perhaps it was a joke, but perhaps we won the day.
Have you gone BASE jumping? Let me know in the comments below.
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Dave has been on a mission, since 2010, to cross off the 100 items on his bucket list. The stories of his adventures are complimented by life lessons learned along the way and his travel tips are unique to his experiences.