The French have a phrase for it that is not easily translated. L’appel du vide does not have an easy synonym, and it would take up most of the page in your dictionaire poche to properly describe. Defining a feeling is such a difficult task that mankind came up with the entirety of art just to attempt it, but if you’ve felt it, you know what it is, and you know that just to try to explain the pull would make you sound certifiable – the “call of the void.” The feeling you get peering off the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking down from the Eiffel Tower, toeing pebbles into the ocean from the Cliffs of Dover. The feeling that brings you to the edge and puts the thought into your mind, unbidden: what if?
You’ve Decided to Bring a Parachute
So, you’ve decided that you want very much to jump off of a very high place. We dearly hope you’ve decided to bring a parachute.
If you have (or especially if you haven’t,) the most important thought to start with is: you aren’t alone. People have been wanting to jump off of high things for centuries. That’s why various mechanisms have been invented, perfected, and adopted to ensure that we may live to jump off yet another high thing. This particular flavor of death-defiance is known to the world as BASE jumping.
No, I’m not just getting too excited about it; actually, the first lesson of BASE jumping (hereafter referred to as “base” jumping, because surely somewhere there are people trying to sleep) is in its name. “Base” is an acronym for the types of things you can jump from: buildings, aerials, spans, and earth. As an editorial note, I believe this to be quite contrived, since “spans” really refers to “bridges” and I for one highly support the shift to the sport’s true name, BABE jumping. (By that same logic, however, “earth” should be switched to “cliff,” and BABC jumping just doesn’t have that nice a ring to it.)
Wanna-B Evel Knevel
“Now hold on there,” I hear you say, “I heard that base jumping was the most dangerous
You’ve really got to know what you’re doing up there so that “up there” doesn’t become “down here.” Counter-intuitively enough, the way to do that is to jump from an even higher place. Put jumping off of ground-anchored objects on the back burner for a few months and spend some time throwing yourself from a good ol’ fashioned aeroplane.
Paying Attention: Ground Approaching
While airborne, there are a few things you should be paying attention to as the ground approaches. First, you should be making sure that your basic necessary movements (chute deployment, steering, etc) are all swift and automatic. Pay attention to form – even a little foible could mean life or death when there’s only a few hundred feet between you and the ground. For example, if your shoulders aren’t level with the horizon when you loose your chute, the lines for each shoulder will tension at different times, whipping you in a different direction. Skydives tend to be pleasantly lacking of obstacles to collide with. Base jumping is full of them.
Next, start finessing your motion. Tracking through the air in freefall, picking your heading and sticking to it, stalling and coming to a near-stall, landing in a relatively small area, changing your direction and speed in multiple ways, are only some of what you may want to start drilling.
No one is in complete agreement how many jumps you should have under your belt before you start base jumping, but the general consensus seems to be “a damn few.” Since the sport’s overall acceptance is low, and the image is of it being unacceptably dangerous, as much as the professionals in the field want to garner new interest, it’s the inexperienced that tend to be the most at-risk, and they also don’t want to give the nay-sayers and finger-waggers cannon fodder on the whole “see, I told you it was dangerous” front.
Bottom line: If you don’t feel like you’re ready, hold off. If someone tells you you’re ready, accept the compliment, then ignore them. If you feel like you’re ready, you’re probably not. Do a few more jumps to be sure.
Lastly, before you finally take the plunge, take a class with a professional base jumper. Jumping close to the ground has a whole new set of quick-fire decisions and innate reactions that are associated with your airtime. Advice for adapting to the new pressures will be a crucial part of your planning process. After your first jump, you will have an idea of areas that you need to improve, but until you take that leap, it’s always nice to have someone talking you through the fall.
Now all that’s left is to step to the edge, let the feeling take hold, but this time, answer l’appel du vide.