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The Thrill of BASE Jumping

posted in: Activities  |  posted by: Jennifer Gregory on November 20, 2008  |  No Comments

Skydiving enthusiasts enjoy the thrill and rush of jumping out of moving objects suspended thousands of feet above earth. What happens, though, when jumping out of planes gets a little boring? Many would vote that the next logical step is BASE jumping, but what does that really mean?

Exploring BASE Jumping vs. Skydiving

Base Jumping

The “BASE” in BASE jumping is actually an acronym that stands for Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth. In short, BASE jumpers leap from fixed objects which will essentially fit into one of these four main categories.

Think that sounds easy? It’s not. BASE jumpers don’t have the luxury of a plane to take them to the safest altitude or location while considering the speed or strength of the wind on any given day. As a matter of fact, BASE jumping and skydiving, while appearing to be similar in nature, are actually two very different activities – and BASE jumping is much more dangerous.

Participants in this extreme sport identify a location to jump from and are often jumping very close to the object itself; for example, falling within feet of the side of the building or cliff they’ve just jumped from. Because they’re often jumping from lower heights than skydivers, BASE jumpers can’t take advantage of aerodynamics created by the drop combined with air to control their bodies in the air.

Base Jumping

Skydivers have around 10-12 seconds after their jump before their bodies slow down and they can open their parachutes. BASE jumpers have mere seconds from jump to ground, mandating control of their bodies and demanding that their parachutes open in about half the time a regular parachute would. The average skydiver takes at least three minutes (often longer) to reach the ground after opening his parachute. BASE jumpers have mere seconds until landing.

Most sky divers have a backup parachute in case the first one doesn’t open. BASE jumpers don’t have that luxury. Even if they could carry one, the speed of acceleration as they near the ground would not allow them time to open it. Despite the dangers, BASE jumpers around the world are driven by adrenaline and love searching for the next unique jump point.

Is BASE Jumping Legal?

Simon Hepple Base Jumping

Skydiving is highly regulated by the FAA due to its use of airplanes. Because BASE jumpers don’t use airplanes they are not held to the same level of scrutiny. There are a couple of important considerations to keep in mind before embarking on a BASE jump, though. Jumpers need to be sure they have permission from the other of the platform from which he wants to jump as well as from the owner of the spot where he wishes to land.

While the act of BASE jumping is legal, trespassing is not. BASE jumpers are hard pressed to get permission from building and antenna tower owners because they are afraid of their legal liabilities should a jumper get hurt. Because of this, many BASE jumps are done in secret.

Perrine Bridge

There are very few places in the United States where BASE jumping is legal without permission or a permit. Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho is one such place. The New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia is only legal for BASE jumping once a year – always the third Saturday in October.

All national parks are off limits as well, per the National Park Service. Technically, one could apply for a permit, but the parks department has determined that BASE jumping is not an “appropriate” way to use our nation’s parks.

If in doubt about a BASE jumping location, look to find out if there is specific law prohibiting BASE jumping. In some special cases you may be able to BASE jump on public land until you are asked to stop.

Today’s BASE Jumpers

Base Jumping in San Francisco

Once a BASE jumper has successfully jumped from one place in each category (again: building, antenna, span, earth) he is invited to apply for an official BASE number. The first BASE number was awarded in 1981 and over 1,000 have been awarded today.

BASE jumping is considered an extreme sport, though there is no way to judge one jump against another. Most BASE jumpers are happy to be alive at the end of the day. There is a relatively high number of fatalities amongst BASE jumpers which has had a significant impact on preventing the growth of the sport. This has not, however, deterred enthusiasts from continuing to participate.

The Guinness Book of World Records has featured BASE jumping several times as well. In 1984 they added the category for the highest BASE jump. They have not added a category for the lowest BASE jump, as it’s possible to call any low altitude jump a BASE jump, even if it’s so low you don’t need a parachute!

BASE jumping is an exhilarating and exciting sport, providing the adrenaline rush that any extreme sports junkie craves. We, on the other hand, prefer to keep our feet flat on the ground!

Image credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


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