What is Base Jumping?
Base jumping is a thrilling sport that involves parachuting from a fixed platform onto a lower ground level. BASE is an acronym for the type of platform you can jump from: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges), and earth (formations like cliffs or canyons). It is a variation of skydiving that's best reserved for the most experienced and daring skydivers. Jumping from a shorter distance above the ground makes base jumping riskier because there is less time to release your parachute.
Base jumping started in the 1960s when parachuters wanted to try jumping from fixed objects on the ground, alternatively to jumping from a plane. Before it was a formal sport, it was associated with daredevils and mischief makers who might even be arrested for attempting a jump. In the 1970s, Carl Boenish helped define and popularize base jumping as a legitimate sport by documenting how it could be done safely with skydiving equipment. Base jumping grew popular with a passionate fanbase of skydivers who wanted to try something more daring.
Whereas skydiving from a plane means jumping from several thousand feet in the air, base jumps are usually done from heights ranging from 1,500 to under 500 feet. Your environment is a huge part of your experience, so make sure to find a place you love!
Because of the risk involved, base jumping is illegal in many places and in some countries, banned entirely. Check the legality of jumping in the location you choose, especially if you want to jump from a building or popular landmark.
Base Jumping Equipment
The most important thing you'll need for jumping is your base parachute, along with a base container to store it in. Some jumpers like to wear a wingsuit, especially if they'd like to travel a horizontal distance along with laterally. Suppose you're going to scope out an area to jump rather than going to a designated jumping facility. In that case, you'll need extra gadgets like a laser range finder to help you determine the dive's safety and strategy.
Here is the essential base jumping equipment you should have:
- Base container
- Base parachute
- Phone or radio
- Laser range finder
Your typical base jump is about making a safe, successful jump from a higher altitude platform to a lower ground level while enjoying the environment around you. You should keep a steady form and deploy your parachute quickly and efficiently, especially since you have a shorter distance from your jumping platform to the ground as compared to standard skydiving.
The most experienced and daring base jumpers might also practice acrobatics or synchronized team diving, which they usually wear wingsuits for. There are a handful of base jumping competitions worldwide allowing base jumpers to show off midair acrobatic stunts, which usually take place at higher drops.
Rules and Regulations
Because of the risk involved, it is essential not to cut corners around safety rules and regulations. You should have significant experience skydiving from planes before you attempt a base jump. It's also important to note most injuries or deaths are caused not by landing on the ground, but by crashing into an obstacle such as a tree or telephone pole. You should make sure your bridles, base container, and parachute are all properly intact and functioning, checking the parachute function in advance.
Here are the most important Base Jumping rules you should know:
- Have significant skydiving experience before base jumping.
- Always wear a helmet!
- Make sure jumping is legal in your location of choice.
- Check your parachute function in advance.
- Make sure you are properly strapped into your harness and parachute bag.
- Make sure to jump in a wide open space without objects you might crash into.
The most important techniques to perfect for base jumping are keeping proper form, canopy maneuvering skills, and deploying the parachute effectively. You should jump with a slight forward tilt like a bat's swoop, rather than completely headfirst. A proper form will ensure your parachute catches the air properly, and it will also set you up for a smooth landing. More experienced jumpers sometimes use a smaller parachute that gives them extra control of steering, while amateurs will have larger parachutes which offer a more softened blow upon landing. For any jump under 300 feet, base jumpers use a static line which means the parachute is opened automatically upon jumping.
Here are the essential Base Jumping strategies you should know:
- Belly flying
- Blade running
- Static line jump
- Harness turning
- Braked turns
- Tandem jumping
Here is the common lingo and slang used in Base Jumping:
- Ram-air parachute: The rectangular parachute you use specifically for base jumps.
- Bounce: When your landing is too abrupt or quick and you bounce instead of gripping the ground.
- Bridles: The ropes or fabric strips that hold the parachute, container, and your harness together.
- Dropzone/DZ: The site of your base jump or skydive.
- Canopy: Another word for parachute, used interchangeably.
- BI: Your basic instructor.
- Blade running: Catching the wind under your canopy to swoop further horizontally.
- Wingsuiting: Jumping with a wingsuit on, giving you a more horizontal descent.
- Rigger: A certified professional who checks your parachute and equipment.
Carl Boenish, the father of modern base jumping, made quite a name for himself when he first started filming his and other pioneers' jumps in El Capitan of Yosemite National Park. Base jumpers have been making a name for themselves as skilled athletes and fearless thrillseekers ever since. From daredevils to acrobats, many have made a name for themselves and captured popular interest.
Here are some of the most famous Base Jumping players you should know:
- Franz Riechelt
- Zak Tessier
- Roberta Mancino
- Frank Gambalie
- Chris Douggs McDougall
- Carl Boeish
- Sean Chuma
- Jeb Corliss
Events and Competitions
Most people base jump for the experience itself, but a few competitions have popped up worldwide as the sport has grown in popularity. There are many skills base jumping competitions focus on. Some jumpers may compete in tests of landing accuracy, speed, or acrobatics.
Here are the most popular tournaments in Base Jumping:
- Bridge Day: An annual festival in West Virginia where people gather on New River Gorge Bridge to watch or perform base jumping.
- Word Base Race: Held every spring in Norway, the World Base Race is a competition where jumpers compete to see who can fly fastest in a wingsuit.
- French Wingsuit Cup: The French Wingsuit cup tests the skill of tandem acrobatic teams in an exciting round of tournaments.