“There’s still time to back out,” I thought to myself, as my toes hesitantly peaked over the tiny wooden plank perched 43 meters (142 feet) above the Kawarau River in Queenstown, New Zealand. As my pulse quickened and the knots of dread in my stomach tightened, I reassured myself that this was merely a right of passage done by men and women, young and old, and with one simple dive into the canyon’s abyss, I too would join their ranks.
What was I thinking?
Queenstown, after all, is the birthplace of bungee jumping and is also home to a variety of adrenaline-charged activities that make you wonder who in their right mind would pay money to put their life in peril in the first place? That would be me!
Rewind six months earlier – I was 31 years old and secure in a career that I enjoyed, but I found myself going through the motions, and my life outside of work had become stagnant. I needed to get completely out of my comfort zone, awaken my senses and shake my spirit…but how would I do that?
As I scoured the internet, the answer appeared to me as I read the words, “Extreme Sports Capital of the World.” New Zealand beckoned…and I was going to heed the call and conquer my fears head-on.
For the past nine days, I toured around New Zealand with a group of like-minded thrill seekers, and there was nothing we didn’t try – skydiving, conquering the white rapids, hiking slick glaciers and swinging across massive canyons. And now it was now time to face the one thing that made my stomach drop to my toes at the mere thought of it.
The bungee phenomenon began in November 1988 with AJ Hackett’s creation of the world’s first commercial bungee site at the Kawarau Bridge. Today, it’s still going strong with tens of thousands of unsure participants diving off the bridge each year.
There are several jumping options to choose from – you can fall forwards or backwards, jump with another person, or for the more daring, somersault. And then there are the water touch options – you can stay dry and bob above the water, touch it, or be completely immersed. I opted for the fall forwards/water touch option and stressed that I only wanted to touch the water with my hand and not my head. “No worries Jen.”
Once you pay your $180 New Zealand dollars, the process is very quick and easy. After you sign a waiver, your weight is taken and written on the back of your hand. You then walk to the middle of the bridge where the bungee master awaits. As you sit near the platform watching participants willingly jump one by one, you are then harnessed, and your ankles are bound with a heavy cloth wrapped around them. Once the proper bungee chord is attached to you according to your weight, you then waddle to the edge of the plank, penguin-style, go to that happy place in your mind, look into the horizon and convince yourself to jump. And voila, it’s over. At least it seemed that easy…
“Your toes have to go over the edge, love.” What? I was already on the plank, paralyzed in fear, and unable to waddle any further, but my jump master held onto the strap around my waist & gave me an encouraging nudge to move forward. “Don’t worry, you won’t fall. ” No, I won’t fall now, but I’m about to toss myself over the edge in a few seconds just for the fun of it!
“Wave goodbye to your friends.” Goodbye??? It sounded so final, but as instructed, I waved to my friends and other spectators one last time as they chanted my name from the viewing platform. Then I turned to the camera that was documenting my final moments, blew one last kiss to my friends and said a quick prayer…just in case!
“Don’t look down. Just look straight into the horizon and pretend like you’re doing a swan dive into a pool.” Growing up, swan dives were not my forte since my dismounts always turned into comical belly flops. But there was no time to dwell on my diving inability…the moment had come whether I liked it or not.
With that, the jump master gave me a speedy countdown. “Five, four, three, two, one!”
Without hesitation, I leaned forward, screamed, possibly cussed, tried to clear my mind and gave up all control as I dove into the canyon’s abyss…weightless. “Wait a minute…what did I just do? This isn’t like me! I don’t jump off bridges for the pure joy of it! Rewind…REWIND!!!”
But it was too late – gravity (as well as pure fear) had taken hold, and I was free falling faster by the second. Superman couldn’t save me now. The only thing filling the canyon were screams of terror.
Now Queenstown isn’t named the extreme capital of the world for nothing. Sure I signed up for the water touch option and requested that only my hand touch the water, but had I known what was about to happen, I would have worked my hair up into a good lather before jumping.
As the canyon whizzed by me, the tiny river got bigger by the second and the current became louder. My hand stretched out, fingers ready to touch the rushing water. Success! But all too suddenly, my triumphant “Woohoo!” was met with a gush of water in my mouth, eyes and ears. It didn’t take long before I realized that the water touch option was more of a water dousing, and I was submerged mid-chest. The sound of gushing water all around disoriented me, but before I knew it, the cord snapped my drenched body out of the river as I gasped for air. Once I wiped the hair off my eyes and caught my breath, I screamed in delight as I bobbed up and down a few more times.
Below me, a crew of three Kiwis in a yellow rubber raft cheered and extended a long white pole to me. “Grab onto the pole, and we’ll lower you into the raft.” As instructed, I grabbed the pole, turned onto my back, and they lowered my limp, shaking body onto the raft. After rubbing the water out of my eyes, I looked up and saw three huge smiles. “Good on ya mate!” Speechless, I erupted in giddy laughter, feeling more alive and awake than I ever thought possible!
High on adrenaline, I floated up the many stairs to the souvenir shop and picked my my dvd, t-shirt and certificate of bravery that is now displayed proudly for all to see. Fun stories of bravery (or lack thereof) filled the remainder of the day.
For around $144 US dollars, you too can experience your own sensory awakening.