Imagine perching on the skid of a helicopter, soaring 10,000 feet in the air, connected to the chopper by a bungee cord. Your destination? An active volcano, complete with a pool of bubbling lava, in Pucón, Chile. Once the helicopter is in position, directly over the inferno, the only thing left for you to do is take the plunge. And pray that the rope holds.
Bungee jumping, diving off a fixed point while connected to an elastic cord, lets leapers experience a free fall of anywhere from 100 feet to 600 feet. The descent lasts only a few seconds, but the surge of endorphins—the kind that are produced when, say, you plummet toward the caldera of a volcano—impart a natural high. Minor injuries—bruising, rope burn, whiplash—are not unknown, and in rare cases, jumps have resulted in death. But the quality of equipment has improved over the years, and the practice is now relatively safe.
Bungee jumping (or a primeval variation of it) was discovered in the 1950s on Pentecost Island, part of the Republic of Vanuatu, about 1,000 miles off the eastern coast of Australia. When historian David Attenborough was in the region filming a documentary, he discovered young men tying vines to their ankles and jumping from a raised platform. This practice, known locally as land diving, began hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years ago and was a means for boys to prove their bravery and earn passage into adulthood.
It took a few decades before the activity migrated. A few illegal jumps—which resulted in some arrests—were made in 1979 and shortly thereafter. And then, in 1988, after working with scientists to develop a safe, professional-grade rope, bungee legend AJ Hackett opened the first commercial bungee jump site on Kawarau Bridge in New Zealand.
Today, aficionados continue to look for more outlandish ways to get their thrills. At the Macau Tower jump in China, daredevils plummet toward the ground from nearly 800 feet in the air (most jumps fall in the low hundreds). The infamous leap off Victoria Falls Bridge comes with the backdrop of a thundering falls that’s 5,600 feet wide and 360 feet high. It’s hard to imagine a more intimidating bungee setting…except perhaps for that volcano in Chile.
So if you’re looking for a rush and are brave enough, step to the front of the line, sign the waiver—yes, you will be required to—and take that leap of faith.