What Does BASE Jumping Feel Like?
People give up their free time and risk the leap across the globe. They jump in secret, they trek hundreds of miles for a legal site, and they spend money on top-notch equipment and training, all to get their fix.
"For me, it's an incredible buzz as I step off the platform," said Mark Hall, a 15-year skydiver and 3rd year Bridge Day jumper. "It's very cleansing, it's very exciting, and it's highly addictive."
Despite the rush, he said it's an overall calming experience.
"I never think about emails I should write home, and people I haven't called and tasks around the house I haven't done," he said. "It gives you a moment of absolute clarity, where you're just admiring the view, concentrating on the next 6 seconds."
They might both be parachute jumps, but a skydive and a BASE jump are totally separate animals.
Larry LeMaster of Skydive NRG (you may have noticed him at Bridge Day; he was the one soaring above the crowd with a giant American flag fluttering behind him), says a skydive is calmer than people expect.
"People always ask what it feels like before they jump," he said. "It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't have a point of reference. I tell them it's like being on a cloud of air. You're already moving in the plane, so there's not the falling sensation you'd expect."
But BASE? It's a straight-from-stillness dive. You do feel the drop.
"With BASE jumping, you do get the roller coaster feeling," said Landon Gates, a 2nd-year Bridge Day jumper from Ohio. "You're jumping from still air, so you'll get a little upset stomach for a couple seconds, and then it settles out, then you come down and land."
Gates, who has been skydiving since he was 13, said he couldn't choose between the 2 adrenaline rushes. "They're both incredible."
"BASE jumping is, I think, different for everyone, and it changes over time and with experience," said Taya Weiss, a 12-year skydiver. "To some it comes more naturally than others.
"I never expected to enjoy jumping from lower objects, but it turns out that wearing a parachute is excellent therapy for my fear of heights, and I love it! BASE challenges me and gives me a real sense of independence and accomplishment."
She admits that her mentality about the jump plays a role in the way it feels to BASE.
"I would never be able to stand on a platform hundreds of feet above the ground and smile without a parachute on," she said. "I'd be terrified. Changing that dynamic, and rethinking what 'safe' means, feels like the ultimate act of being free."
To someone who had never jumped, and wasn't even a skydiver, the experience was less scary than she'd imagined. Kathy Grossman won a chance to tandem jump on Bridge Day in a video contest.
"I was not as nervous as I thought I would be stepping to the edge," she said. "Being strapped to a professional sure was a comfort. It was pretty freaky, but it all happened so fast, I did not have time to stand there and get scared."
When you do have time to stop and think about it, you can imprint some pretty life-long memories. Weiss leaped alongside her boyfriend this Bridge Day, holding hands as they stepped from the platform into the open fall below.
"Sharing that moment of simultaneous trust and letting go with the person I love was nothing short of magical," she said.
"Our sport is often misunderstood as being driven by either total lunacy or a death wish, or both," she said. "But the truth is that for most of us, it's about feeling alive, about savoring every moment, forcing our minds into the present…
"You don't have to BASE jump to know what we feel like; you just have to step outside your comfort zone."