BASE is an acronym coined by filmmaker Carl Boenish, his wife Jean Boenish and their colleagues Phil Smith and Phil Mayfield. It stands for the four categories of fixed objects from which an individual can jump: Buildings, Antenna, Spans (bridges) and Earth (cliffs). BASE jumping grew out of Skydiving and originally throughout the 80’s and early 90’s jumpers used Skydiving parachutes, until specialized equipment was eventually designed in the late 1990's.
In 1978 Carl Boenish filmed the first BASE jumps to be made using ram-air parachutes; these chutes are still used today and were designed to control speed and direction similar to Para gliders, whilst also being able to handle, spread and mitigate the stresses of deployment at terminal velocity. These early jumps were made using the free-fall tracking technique from El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California USA. Free-fall tracking is the technique of assuming a body position that allows the skydiver to move horizontally whilst free-falling. Essentially this involves the skydiver moving out of the traditional face to Earth arched position by straightening the legs, bringing the arms to the sides and de-arching; using the body to ‘cup’ the air as a means to provide a greater lift. The El Capitan activity was effectively the birth of what is now known as BASE jumping and later jumps were repeated as a recreational activity rather than as experiments or stunts. Carl Boenish continued his work; making films and publishing informational magazines on BASE jumping until his death in 1984, after a BASE jump off the Troll Wall in Norway.
BASE jumping is considered to be more dangerous than Skydiving, as jumps take place so close to the object serving as the jump platform and mental focus is everything. Faster mental decisions are needed due to the time constraints of the jump; jumpers usually fly their chute for no more than 30 seconds before reaching the ground and with very low altitudes the jumper may only have 10 seconds before landing – There is NO room for error!!
BASE jumps are usually made from much lower altitudes than Sky dives and jumpers very rarely reach terminal velocity due to the limited altitude. As they are falling at lower speeds, BASE jumpers will have limited aerodynamic control and may tumble as a result. The Skydiver will reach terminal velocity and the higher altitudes from which they dive means they have a more aerodynamic control of the body, as well as a more positive and quick parachute opening; Skydivers use the air flow to stabilize their position, allowing the parachute to deploy cleanly.
BASE numbers are awarded to individuals who make at least one jump from each of the four categories (Building, Antenna, Span and Earth). After already jumping from an antenna, a span and a cliff, Phil Smith and Phil Mayfield jumped together from a skyscraper in Houston Texas USA on 18th January 1981 and became the first to attain the exclusive BASE numbers 1 and 2 respectively. Soon after, Jean Boenish qualified for BASE #3 and her husband Carl Boenish BASE #4. A separate award was created for night BASE jumping when Mayfield completed a jump from each of the four categories at night; he became night BASE #1, with Smith qualifying a few weeks later.
Base jumping has evolved considerably since the day Smith and Mayfield became BASE #1 and BASE #2, back in 1981; it was an underground sport for many years due to legalities and the dangers it imposed, however an increasing interest in the sport has seen some 1400 BASE numbers now allocated. BASE jumping is now accepted in many countries around the world and some countries actually invite jumpers to their cities in order to gain world recognition through the publicity the BASE jumpers generate. Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia now hosts the world championships of BASE jumping. Jumpers gather and prepare for the KL Tower International Jump by first of all performing a training jump usually from the 540ft Alor Setar Tower. In 2010 experienced skydiver, Australian Kylie Tanti Marion, fell to her death during a training jump from the Alor Setar Tower, after her parachute failed to open. Deaths associated with BASE jumping are normally down to in-air object strikes, parachute issues, ground impact and problems with the landing area.
Years of trial and error has led to the development of specialist equipment and modifications which now allows BASE jumpers to safely exit from objects as low as 300ft and land without injury. Jumpers wear a wingsuit, which adds surface area to the body; enabling a significant increase in lift. Modern wingsuits were first developed in the 1990’s and are able to create the surface area due to extra fabric which has been added between the legs and under the arms; hence the name wingsuit. Parachutes (or canopies) now feature specialised harnesses, chute containers and extra-large pilot chutes. Most jumpers only have one parachute as the time constraint makes it difficult for a reserve parachute to be of any use. Beginner wingsuits can be purchased for around £500 and canopies for around £1400. For more information visit www.adrenalinebase.com
A Brief BASE Jump Timeline
1912 – Franz Reichelt jumped from the first deck of the Eiffel Tower; testing his invention the coat parachute. He died.
1976 – Rick Sylvester skied off Canada’s Mount Asgard for the ski chase scene in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. This gave the wider world its first look at BASE jumping.
1981 – Phil Smith and Phil Mayfield jumped together from a Huston skyscraper and became the first to attain the exclusive BASE #1 and #2 respectively.
1987 – Steve Dines (Australian) BASE #157 made the first jump from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
1992 26th August – Nic Feteris and Glenn Singlemann (Australians) made a jump off Trango Towers in Pakistan; the world’s highest natural BASE jump off the earth and the most dangerous at 20,600ft (6,286m).
2008 May – Herve Le Gallou and an unnamed British man dressed as engineers, illegally infiltrated Burj Khalifa; the tallest man made structure in the world (650m at the time) and jumped off a balcony situated a couple of floors below the 160th floor.