While skydiving and bungee jumping have been popular for decades, there is a new extreme sport gaining popularity among adventurers around the world: BASE jumping. Taking its name from the four terrain types from which jumpers jump — building, antenna, span, and Earth — BASE jumping is an extremely dangerous activity that requires skill and precision; however, having a bit of fearlessness doesn’t exactly hurt, either. BASE jumping is lauded as the world’s most extreme of extreme sports, and it’s easy to see why.
Humans have been leaping off tall structures for centuries, but these jumps cannot accurately be labeled as BASE jumps. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that experienced stunts people began experimenting with jumps from fixed objects. However, because these jumpers lacked the necessary equipment for their jumps, they often sustained injuries ranging from serious to fatal. Additionally, because BASE jumping had yet to be established as a sport, many jumpers who landed uninjured were arrested by local authorities.
BASE jumping as it exists today was created in 1978 by American Carl Boenish when he and three other experienced skydivers adapted their equipment for jumping off the sheer rock face of El Capitan in America’s Yosemite National Park. All four jumpers landed safely and went on to develop specialized equipment and systems of registry for legions of BASE jumpers to follow. Unfortunately, not six years later, Car Boenish died while performing a BASE jump in Norway; he was alone and unseen during his jump, which made it all the more dangerous.
The most grueling part of a BASE jump is the research that comes before. Not all BASE jumpers are skilled enough to jump from any platform, so finding a jump of appropriate difficulty is imperative for an enjoyable and safe experience. Necessary research includes the altitude of the jump and the proximity of the platform during the duration of the jump. Potential jumpers should also look into weather conditions such as temperatures, wind speeds, chance of precipitation, and more to determine necessary supplies.
While there are a few locations around the world that allow BASE jumpers more than 2,000 feet to deploy their parachutes (which is the standard height of deployment for skydiving) most BASE jumps take place around 1,000 or 1,500 feet, requiring much more finesse.
During the fall, jumpers have anywhere from five seconds to no time at all to deploy their chutes and drift away from the object platform. They must be able to angle their bodies perfectly before and during the jump, as well as during and after chute deployment. If even the slightest mistake is made, the jumper could easily slam into the object or fail to slow enough before landing.
As shown by the precursors to BASE jumping and even the father of the sport himself, having the right equipment in one’s kit is key to surviving even the simplest of BASE jumps. Not every parachute will work for a BASE jump, and a plethora of other tools are useful for navigating more difficult jumps.
Most modern BASE jumpers use ram-air parachutes in their jumps; because these chutes are rectangular, they allow for greater control over flight speed and direction, which is imperative when a jumper is faced with a safe landing on one side and a dangerous cliff face (or man-made obstacle) on the other. Additionally, larger pilot chutes (the small chute that pulls open the larger and slower chute) are often used in BASE jumps because they speed up chute deployment — and speed is crucial in BASE jumping. BASE jumpers usually forego the ripcord in favor of manually deploying their chutes; for short jumps, they might even hold the pilot chute in their hands to allow for quick and dependable release.
Along with necessary survival supplies like extra food, water, and first aid, BASE jumpers should always pack a means of communication in the event of an emergency. Due to the dangerous nature of the sport, injuries of all types are common during BASE jumps, and most jumps occur in regions where regular communication devices aren’t reliable. Satellite phones receive service all over the world, and their trustworthiness makes them indispensible in gear packs of all levels of BASE jumpers. You can search satellite phone services by manufacturers to find the right product for your jump.
BASE jumping is extremely dangerous. Even with the proper practice — at least 100 regular skydiving jumps — the proper mentoring, and the proper equipment, BASE jumpers can make a mistake or have a stroke of bad luck and lose their lives during their jump. If BASE jumping appeals to you, know that it isn’t a sport entered into lightly. Be aware of the risks and rewards of BASE jumping, and be smart in your choices before, during, and after a jump. If everything goes right, you’ll have the time of your life. If not, you’ll be glad you a satellite phone in your kit to call for emergency help.