Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Taupo Bungy

I had no intention of doing a bungy jump. If I was going to do anything it would have been a parachute jump. But then I saw the Taupo Bungy location. It's a huge cantilevered platform that stretches 30 metres out, high above the blue-green Waikapo river. It looks like an enormous diving board - and I suppose that's exactly what it is. Hell - I can parachute back home.

I went through a phase of reading about capital punishment a few years back, and one of the titles was The Executioner's Protocol that details the routine followed on US death rows. Every detail of inmate preparation is codified in elaborate detail. Everyone in the execution team knows what they must do at every stage of the procedure. Giving every step a sense of quasi-religious ritual takes everyone's mind off the less palatable goal to which they are all working. As I watched Charlie and his assistant haul back up the bungy, fasten my leather ankle-straps (Velcro? you've got to be kidding!), check and cross-check the various carabiners, cords and catches that made up the bungy kit, I felt I was watching the Film of the Book. Was it possible that the only way these guys could bring themselves to chuck a perfectly polite and otherwise healthy customer off their lovely cantilevered platform, was by playing mind games with themselves? I thought that was MY job?

"Do you want to touch the water?"

I looked down the 47 meters (that's not much change from 150 feet folks) to the river.

That water down there? Em, OK. I'll dip my hands, I said, thinking that they could use a little rinse given how sweaty my palms had become. My nerves still were serviceable though. I was no more anxious than I might be before a speaking engagement (perhaps where the topic is freedom of conscience and the audience is a pickup full of Kalashnikov-wielding Taliban). I was invited to walk to the edge and toe the white line that marked the boundary between platform and void. I shuffled over. Dead Man Walking!

Here's are the rules for jumping off a high platform:
1) Fool yourself with steps: Driving there; Getting out of the car; Paying your money; Walking to the preparation area; Let them strap you in; Fall. Take these steps in perfect sequence, forgetting each one as it passes, only thinking about the one in hand.
2) Abstract the height (easy for Abstracto!) in a cartoon fashion. Think canyons, coyotes and delayed applications of the law of gravity.
3) Obey. Do not think. (There'll be plenty of time for logical regret later). When the man says stand on the white line, do it. When the man says wave at the camera, give a nice rigid-with-fear arm quiver. When the man says fall forward, remember that he might seem nice and calm now, but if you piss him off he will beat you to a pulp with that clipboard. And then he'll push you off anyway. Especially if you are the weeping Japanese girl that was up just before me.

So I obeyed. I really, really didn't want to do it. The moment I had toed the white line, the coyote disappeared and all I was left with was the canyon. I didn't have the will to take the step for myself, and so I entrusted myself to Taupo Bungy's fear of litigation, secure in the knowledge that if anything went wrong it would be ALL THEIR FAULT. So there! I leaned out.

My recollection of what happened next is fogged by physical violence and adrenalin. I was mugged. Gravity mugged me. It scooped me off that ledge with the tenderness of a metal claw, and dragged me towards the water. I didn't feel like I was falling 47 meters (well - what experience would I base it on?), just that I was travelling very very fast. I think I had the presence of mind to scream on the way down, something I'm obviously very proud of. And I remember reaching out with my hands to see if I would really touch the water as promised, only to get my head and shoulders completely ducked. I wouldn't like to guess how long I was submerged - it wasn't long enough to inhale, luckily. But it was long enough for me to form the classical facial expression of the slightly irked customer. Head cocked, one eyebrow raised, what part of 'dip my hands' do you not you understand? But the thought was immediately erased by the realisation that I was still alive and I couldn't fall any further. (Wrong again - there's quite a fall left in that second bounce).

"That was the stupidest thing I've done all day" I said to the boat crew who untied me and ferried me to the shore. In truth, it wasn't. I'm glad I did it. It was a blast. But it left no lasting effect, except for an ugly insight into the last moments of suicide jumpers (a decidedly terrible way to go).

If you are going to New Zealand, and you are thinking of a bungy jump, I can recommend Taupo Bungy to you as a good starter, better in my opinion than the better-known but over-trafficked A.J. Hackett jump in Queenstown. It's slightly higher, it offers the option of a dunk in the water, the setting is much more beautiful, you won't have to wait as long, and the crew there are terrific. It's right in the town of Taupo as well, so you can go have a beer or a bite to eat afterwards. Just don't do it before.

And the evidence (Mam, Dad - you might not want to watch this)...


Andrew said...


Meg said...

Oh man, I'm going to be sad when you and your family get back home!

Silvia said...


john m said...

Well done Brendan! That took guts!


Brendan Lawlor said...

Thanks all. It wasn't bravery. It was sheep/lemming-like behaviour. I'm still a teenager at heart.

@Meg: Why - are you camping in my garden? ;-) (kidding). said...

I love the gulp that followed the scream: pure relief following pure terror.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Di - you got that right!