Questioning the BASE-ic instinct

Another tragic news story today about someone dying doing something that they loved. This time, BASE jumping. Yes, again. Adam Gibson died on his honeymoon in Mexico on September 14, in an activity sponsored by an energy drink. (Hope it was worth it for the publicity there, guys.) But unlike swimming with stingrays, or driving rally cars, BASE jumping is not an activity in which deaths are exactly a freak occurrence.

This much is amply demonstrated by the World BASE Fatality List, which helpfully indexes the stories of 100 people who have died BASE jumping. Each one of them, taken alone, is an individual tragedy. Together, they’re a strong argument not to risk this sport. Things can and do go wrong. And despite the illusion of invulnerability and control, the bottom line is that every time you go, you roll the dice.

I’m not going to say that I think BASE jumping is stupid, or make sarcastic references to Darwin Awards. Not only because it seems a little insensitive, but primarily because I just don’t understand it. I am one of the least extreme people ever. Some days, leaving my house feels enough like a deadly game with Madame Fate herself. (And no, I don’t leave it via parachute.) The concept of seeking out something dangerous, and enjoying it because the danger gives you an adrenaline rush, is something I’ll never understand. So really, I’m curious.

Is it the idea of cheating death, like suicide with a last-second reprieve? Does the body kick over into some weird survival-instinct auto-pilot while you’re hurtling to the ground? Or is it a kind of rebel/tryhard thing, where The Man says you can’t jump off stuff, so you do?

Whatever it is, it seems bizarre that we live in such a sanitized world that people now go out and court death for fun. I’ll bet you not many people who’ve been through a war zone, or experienced that adrenalin rush through necessity rather than choice, choose to dive off bridges for fun.

Or is adrenaline addictive? Once you’re used to it, does ordinary life, without the constant sense of dicing with death, seem boring? I’ve consistently chosen boring options, where I don’t hurtle towards the earth with just a bit of canvas, which may or may not open correctly, to save me from a devastating impact. So I’ve no idea why on earth people think this is worth the risk.

Join the military or something, people. There’s plenty of jumping-off-stuff fun to be had there. Go to East Timor and separate warring militia groups, parachuting in if you really have to. Or go and work for Channel Nine, where the threat of boning is never far away. Above all, please don’t BASE jump. Honestly, how many more distressing stories like this one do we have to read?

Dominic Knight