X-treme: Highly strung

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Adopt a crucifixion pose before plummeting, head first, towards the earth . . . Bungee-jumping: extreme sport or extremely stupid?

Two seconds of pants-wetting descent before a jolt of G-shock sends the body's blood rushing into the head. When your feet next touch the ground you're part of an elite brotherhood, an exclusive club that earns you instant kudos with other adrenalin junkies and gives you an interesting anecdote at dinner parties.

"After my son did a jump last year, I wanted to try it myself," says Sheila Locke. The 41-year-old mother of two had never considered herself particularly outgoing, but thought it would be a challenge.

"I suppose that it gave me a feeling of being young and reckless again, but I figured that it couldn't be worse than giving birth.

"It was an incredible feeling of free-falling before the reassuring jerk that lets you know you're going to survive. I'm pleased I did it, but once was enough for me."

Around since the mid-1970s, bungee-jumping came to prominence in the late 1980s with increased television coverage. As a man who has never jumped off the top board at the local swimming baths, it's unlikely that I'll ever bungee, but a little research revealed excellent alternative methods of throwing yourself into space - and living to tell the tale.

While working in Canada in 1979, Alec Green, a professional mountaineering instructor for 30 years, found himself with an afternoon off. Pottering around the house held little appeal, so he went with friends to a bridge, tied on some ropes and jumped off. The sport of "bridge-swinging" was born.

"Afterwards I did some bungee-jumping, but got bored with that, so in 1984 I started a dangerous-sports club, which now has members from all over the world," he says.

His club, the Brigsteer Bridge Swingers (call 01524-781 624 for details), runs a variety of extreme activities, in addition to open events, every bank holiday Sunday, on a non-profit basis.

Bridge-swinging is simple enough. Special "dynamic" ropes, favoured by climbers, are threaded underneath a bridge; one end is attached to the bridge, and other to you. Then everything is pulled tight, and away you go.

"Because there's very little slack in the system, it's very smooth," says Green.

"There's no jerk or snap, and you experience a rapid acceleration of up to 45mph, depending on your weight and the bridge.

"When you reach the other side, you feel a few moments of weightlessness and then you have the experience all over again in ever-decreasing pendulums until we land you on the bank. It's faster than bungee, and it lasts a lot longer."

Bridge-swinging is essentially like the tree swings you used to jump off as a kid - only a lot bigger and a lot faster. Those requiring still greater horizontal speed should try the high-speed aerial runway jump known as "zip-wiring".

A cable is stretched between two cliffs (one considerably higher than the other), protagonists clip into a climbing harness and literally take a running jump.

"You fly like Superman," says Green. "The sensation is quite different to bridge-swinging; it's very, very fast, and you get a ground-rush effect when you come in to land on the other side. It's a huge leap of faith!"

Jumps across an open quarry measure around 110 metres from a 75-metre- high cliff face.

The sport has been developed since 1984 through a mixture of rescue techniques, then honed to a fine art. There two completely independent cables and pulleys, with the whole process being risk-assessed by the Adventure Activity Licences Authorities.

Green reveals that jumpers hail from both sexes and all walks of life. "Many come along to watch their friends take part. They realise that it's not dangerous after all, and they usually have a go themselves.

"We've had people go across on ankle straps upside-down, on a mountain bike, a surfboard and even a wheelchair."

I can't imagine why no one has ever jumped wearing a cape!


British Elastic Rope Sports Association

For further details call: 01865 311 170

Wildside Adrenalin Sport Limited

226 Baker St, Enfield EN1 3JY (0181-366 1766)

Elimination Games

863 North Finchley High St London N12 8PT (0181-445 5454)

Warped Sports

Warped Sports, 62-63 Worcester St, Wolverhampton WV2 4LQ (01902 835 444)

UK Bungee

Chelsea Bridge London SW8 4NP (0171-720 9496)