The Pickup Guys

(No, it’s not another MTV2 reality show) “Holy Sh*t; I just ripped your arm OFF!”

The Bridge Day 'Pick-Up Guys'

To most, these words would be bad news, unless of course you are stuck in the middle of the New River floating toward a series of rapids with a parachute strapped to your back and the guy yelling at you happens to have a boat there to save your butt.

So you could almost forgive the rescuer when he next utters, “Can I give you a hand?” (Thankfully it was a prosthetic limb.)

Most spectators on Bridge Day only get to see the B.A.S.E jumpers as they hurl themselves from the bridge, but a small group of people get to watch the jumpers once they’ve completed their 876 ft. descent—it takes guts to jump; it takes skills to land. And an even luckier few get a front-row seat to the action out on the river. Known around the Holiday Inn bar as “the Pickup Guys”, these Bridge Day regulars are on hand to pluck stray jumpers out of the New River.

The goal, in case you haven’t been to Bridge Day before, is for a B.A.S.E jumper to land safely on the left-hand shore of the river, repack his or her parachute, and race to the top of the New River Gorge Bridge to do it all over again. About 25% of the time, however, Mother Nature and/or the better part of valor conspire to send a jumper into the drink. That’s when the Pickup Guys come into play. Engines roar, adrenaline pumps, and one of four specially designed rescue boats races into action. Within seconds, the jumper is safe on dry land, albeit soaked to the bone.

Being a Pickup Guy isn’t a glamorous job. Jumpers are usually so high on adrenaline that when you haul them into the boat they don’t know up from down. Their legs are doing the sewing machine fast enough to put Singer out of business and the water that pours out of their chutes chills you to the bone. One time I was almost on MTV, but it was the 80’s and I had a very stylish neon-pink trucker cap on, so it’s not like I could show the clip to my friends anyway. Once the festivities end, however, the Pickup Guys can hit up the Holiday Inn and partake in free rounds from grateful swimmers. Trading lives for Busch Light is ok with me, but if you’re buying Natty, make sure you’re closer to the other guy’s boat next year.

So if you want to be close enough to the action on Bridge Day to feel the nylon of a parachute on your face, what can you do to become a Pickup Guy?

Aside from the requisite emergency medical training and boat skills, there is a long list of other requirements.

  • First you spend two years serving up banana pudding and other assorted lunch treats to the rescue team on the shore—this demonstrates your commitment.
  • Next, you shadow a driver by sitting in a boat eating Italian sausage sandwiches avoiding jumpers who are trying to soak your bread – this hones your parachute dodging skills.
  • If you are lucky, you then graduate to ladder boy—watch out for those sewing machine legs; they will crush your fingers against the side of the aluminum boat.
  • And finally, after five or six years as a ladder boy you can drive the boat . . . when the regular drive has to take a bathroom break.

Special Guest Post By:

Grant Dragan, 2009

The Bridge Day Rescue Team has evolved from river guides from Wildwater Unlimited and Dragan Diversified Inc. to include members of the Oak Hill Fire Department, Fayette County Vertical Rescue Team, Jan Care Ambulance service ,the National Park Service & countless others. Together “we” make it happen.