Bungy has been occupying people's minds since 1986. From the moment a pair of New Zealanders, AJ Hackett and Chris Sigglecow, set off on an adrenaline-fueled adventure in the Pacific Islands. To be precise, the story of the history of bungee jumping should be told from the ancient times.
A legend says that something similar to a bungee appeared in the island of Pentecost in the Pacific Ocean many centuries ago. The world owes its appearance to a jealous warrior called Tamala and his wife.
During a regular family quarrel, Tamala’s wife climbed a high tree fleeing from an enraged husband. But he was not at a loss and followed her immediately. His wife tied a vine around her legs and jumped down. Tamala, without a second thought, jumped, too, and crashed, but his brainy wife stayed alive.
Since then, the residents of the island of Pentecost perform every spring the nagol ritual, i.e. jumping from high wooden platforms with ropes tied to their ankles. With this ritual, they honor the memory of Tamala. When a young Oakland construction worker, AJ Hackett, saw fearless young natives literally diving into the abyss, he first came up with the idea of bungee jumping.
AJ will remember about the courageous jumps in Pentecost once again when meeting his countryman Chris Sigglecow. Chris, who was fond of video editing, told him about a recording from the 70s. In this film, several young British men from the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club performed a modern version of the jump. However, not from wooden towers, but from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Chris was so inspired by those jumps that he immediately made a bungee from the parachute lines and jumped from the Pelorus Bridge in the New Zealand district of Marlborough. The first attempt, however, was not successful.
Together, Hackett and Sigglecow began to think about the best implementation of the idea that had stuck in their heads and decided that security must come first.
“They asked the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research to develop a mathematical formula for rubber material suitable for a bungee rope.
The required length of the rope was calculated: the height of the bridge is divided by four and a couple of meters for the height of the person and the bungee attachment system are subtracted.”
“Chris was to jump first. The rope was attached to the parachute straps, where slings are usually attached, and he stepped off the bridge. He flew down almost to the water, and back almost to the bridge: everything was fine”.
At that very moment, the history of bungee jumping began.
As early as the following weekend, AJ and Chris, with a couple of their friends, Henry Van Asch and Martin Jones, went to Hamilton, where they jumped from the bridge, which was 10 meters higher than the first one. Then there was a 44-metre bridge at Auckland Harbour, an 80-metre bridge in the North Island. All these jumps went unnoticed by the authorities. But some time after, everything changed.
AJ, Henry, and Martin went to Europe as part of the New Zealand downhill skiing team. But suddenly they were caught red-handed. Almost before boarding the plane to France, the friends decided to jump off the bridge in Auckland Harbor once again to try out a new attachment system developed by AJ. It made it possible to jump without parachute straps: the bungee rope was attached to the legs. And you jump not with your feet, but with your head down.
Henry and Martin had already tried out a new way of flying, but just as AJ and Chris were getting ready to jump, a police boat appeared below them. The police ordered the friends to stop, but realizing that they would still be caught, they jumped.
AJ flew to France not only to do downhill skiing; he decided to promote the idea of bungee jumping in Europe, where he jumped from the 147-meter Pont de la Cay Bridge, using a foot-attachment system.
French scientists helped Hackett to find out how the bungee rope would behave at temperatures far below zero. "I had a dream to jump off a ski lift into the snow and go down on skis. Such a romantic dream," AJ says. Having realized it was possible, he persuaded the management of Tignes (a French ski resort) to let him jump headfirst from the funicular cab 91 meters above the ground into deep snow at minus 20 degrees. It was the first of AJ Hackett's many unusual jumps.
"When we first arrived in Paris and drove past the Eiffel Tower, I thought: wow, what a beautiful structure! I wish I could jump from it", recalls Hackett.
None of his flights could compare with the famous jump from the Eiffel Tower in Paris on June 26, 1987.
“‘I measured the height of the tower, where the surveillance cameras were, figured out how to jump best, how security worked, and so on,’ Hackett recalls. ‘One evening, just before the tower closed, we went there in a big group. In our backpacks, we had ropes, equipment, a camera, and sleeping bags. The girls hid the bungee under their dresses. Soon the guards went home and we settled in for the night. We woke up in the morning later than expected, and hurriedly prepared our equipment. Finally, everything was ready. In the end, I made a perfect jump, and I was happy with it. Immediately, gendarmes came running from everywhere, they could not understand what had happened at all. Well, the rest is in the past".
AJ's stunt attracted media attention around the world. You could only dream of better advertising. Many people in different parts of the world became interested in bungee jumping.
Hackett returned to New Zealand with the intention of promoting bungee so that this type of outdoor activity began to be used in the plots of feature films and the scripts of commercials. He believed that a direct advertising campaign of bungee jumping for the public would be too difficult.
In 1988, AJ made a jump from the Oakland Stock Exchange, and once again became a hero of the headlines. It was the world's first bungy jump from a building.
In March 1988, Hackett set the world's first bungee jumping platform in Okahune near Lake Tapo (New Zealand).
In the same year, Hackett first proposed to give the thrill of such an experience to everyone. In March 1988, he installed the world's first bungy jumping site in the New Zealand town of Okahun near Lake Tapo.
“Having made my first jump, I immediately realized: we are on the way to something incredible,” says AJ. - And I thought that everyone should feel it. We have helped many of our friends, both men and women, jump in order to compare their reaction with ours. And our expectations were met.”
AJ set his sights on the historic Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown as his ideal location for bungy jumping – and so on November 12, 1988, the first year-round commercial operation was launched. On that day, 28 people paid $75 each to jump off the 43m-high bridge with a bungy cord attached to their ankles.
The Kawarau Bridge operation wasn’t without its challenges – AJ and Henry van Asch, who became business partners, needed to raise money and get permission to restore the old bridge and build improvements, including the visitors’ platform, walkways and reception building.
The launch of the Kawarau Bungy site has been hailed as the birthplace of adventure tourism in New Zealand and now attracts more than 500,000 people each year.
With the goal of making bungee jumping an absolutely safe outdoor activity, AJ and Henry developed a Set of Rules that formed the basis for the Bungee Jumping Standard in New Zealand and Australia. The standard is still used all over the world in the high-rise amusement industry.
The team continued to search for and equip higher and higher sites for exciting jumps.
The team continued to search and equip ever higher places for exciting jumps. In August 1990, commercial sites were opened in French Normandy and Australian Cairns. In Cairns, for the first time in the world, a special tower was built for bungy jumping.
In August 1990, commercial sites opened in French Normandy and Cairns, Australia. In Cairns, for the first time in the world, a special tower was built for bungee jumping.
In Normandy, AJ made his first bungy jump from a helicopter, from a height of 390 m: this achievement appeared in the Guinness Book of Records.
In 1993, New Zealand opened the world's first commercial platform for bungee jumping from a helicopter.
In 1994 and 1995, bungee jumping sites opened in Las Vegas (USA) and Kuta (Bali), and in 1997, a second site opened in Queenstown.
In 1997, AJ and Henry decided to split their business. Today, Van Asch is the owner and manager of all the New Zealand sites and AJ is responsible for the international development of bungee jumping. It was a peaceful separation: the parties continue to cooperate in terms of security, customer service, and marketing campaigns.
In 1998, Hackett developed a new cable system to stabilize the jump. It allowed making very precise jumps from tall buildings, thus breaking the world record for bungy jumping from high-rise buildings. AJ jumped from the 190-meter Auckland Sky Tower. Ten thousand people watched the jump live, and about a million more on TV.
In the same year, the third bungy jumping site opened in Queenstown: Nevis Highwire Bungy, the tallest in New Zealand and Australia. It included a specially built jumping gondola (and the only one in the world), 134 m above the Nevis River.
AJ Hackett International celebrated the milestone of 1 million customers in July 1999. AJ soon opened a new site in Condesa Beach in Acapulco.
In 2008, a 61-meter swing was installed at the Viaduc de La Souleuvre bridge in Normandy.
In 2006, another record-breaking object appeared in Macau (China): the world's highest bungee jumping platform from buildings: on the 338-meter Macau Tower (the height of the bungee is 233 meters).
Meanwhile, AJ Hackett International entered into an international partnership with several inventors of "adrenaline" entertainment, including Skyjump.
Skyjump is a device for falling from buildings at a controlled rate. It is often used by film studios when shooting scenes of people falling from high-rise buildings.
In November 2013, the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of bungee jumping where it all started: in Queenstown.
AJ continues to promote bungee jumping around the world. In 2014, a new site opened in Sochi (Russia), and in 2017, in Sentosa (Singapore).
In 2018, the company celebrated a very important holiday: 4 million jumps at the sites of AJ Hackett during the whole period of their operation.
“We continue to spread across the planet, expanding the range of active recreation and entertainment: everything that ‘makes your head spin’. We give everybody an opportunity for personal challenge and, ‘by pressing the some buttons inside’, for overcoming your fears and conquering the space”.