Bridge Day: A Unique Festival Experience
BASE jumping began as an underground activity, a thrill-seekers\' secret. Because of how technical BASE jumps are, only a handful of skydivers were willing to take the leap, and almost no place would allow it.
It\'s still illegal in much of the world, but Bridge Day is one of the few places in the USA, among a small group worldwide, where BASE jumpers can legally take the plunge.
It\'s developed into a one-of-a-kind event.
"It\'s a big challenge on the East Coast of the US that there\'s not many places where you can jump legally," said BASE jumper Mark Hall. "So it\'s great to have 6 hours a year where not only is it sanctioned, but you can have the right sort of infrastructure support processes around it to make it safe as possible.
"It\'s a dangerous sport, but you can make it a lot safer, and Bridge Day does a great job on that."
Career thrill seekers like Miles Daisher of the Red Bull Air Force appreciate the opportunity to teach others that BASE jumping can be a fun and well-managed sport.
"It\'s a great thing for BASE jumpers, as it showcases us as athletes with a zest for life instead of how we\'ve been labeled by the actions of a few bad apples out there who love being criminals," he said. "With fun things to jump from like a diving board and catapult that throws people from the bridge, we as parachutists get to show our athletic and aerial skills."
It also provides a chance for jumpers to have some fun. Daisher got to do a six-way leap with 4 of his crew members and tandem passengers.
"I love Bridge Day, and think that it is a great event that celebrates life, liberty and pursuit of happy parachuting," he said.
Part of the Red Bull Air Force\'s mission is to showcase aerial sports in a positive light, also a goal of Bridge Day. It\'s also a great opportunity to spark new jumpers\' passion, and spread the sport to widen the BASE jumping community.
Ashley Maurice, who has been skydiving for about 2 years, made her first BASE leap this year at Bridge Day.
"I had some prior knowledge of B.A.S.E jumping from watching my friends jump in the past, but I took the first jump course that Friday, and by the end of it I felt totally prepared and confident to make the jump," she said. "It is a great opportunity to give BASE jumping a try, whether you only want to make it a one-time thing for the experience, or if you intend to pursue it."
Every first-time BASE jumper has to have 100 skydives under his or her belt first, and has to complete BASE training. Bridge Day offers a BASE jumping course before the festival through Vertical Visions, making it convenient for new jumpers to come in for the weekend, to both learn and take their first dive with Bridge Day\'s professional safety crews standing by.
Ashley has been skydiving long enough to be excited, and not really worried, before she jumps. She\'s use to the adrenaline rush. But her first BASE jump brought back the nerves.
"I have never been that scared in my entire life and I think that was pretty much written all over my face!" she said. "I was really focused on doing everything right, and I even asked the guy at the exit point to walk me the rest of the way to the edge both times I went, because I didn\'t want to fall, which is totally ridiculous thinking about it now! I mean, that\'s the whole point anyways, right?"
But she said it was worth it in the end. She enjoyed it so much she went for another jump.
Spreading the adventure opportunities at Bridge Day isn\'t limited to BASE. Rappellers get their once-a-year chance to drop from the New River Gorge Bridge, too.
Meghan Handley, who has rappelled Bridge Day every year since 2006, said the event also connects an entire crowd to the action.
"I think Bridge Day is good for everyone because it has something for everyone!" she said. "Not everyone BASE jumps or rappels. I understand not everyone enjoys heights... But who can pass up the beauty of the Gorge in the middle of fall? It\'s gorgeous! Plus, the vendors, and just overall experience as a spectator is unique!"