The idea of bungee jumping comes from Pentecost Island in the South Pacific, where there’s an old ritual of men diving from towers with vines tied to their feet in an attempt to ensure a good yam harvest and as a rite of passage. It became known in the West because of a David Attenborough film in the fifties; famously, there was a fatality at a display for the Queen in 1974. Divers fall at about 45mph and are supposed to brush the ground with their shoulders, so it’s a wonder that there aren’t more fatalities.
The idea was picked up by five Oxford students who jumped from the Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1979 and has since spread round the world: the Kawarau Bridge in New Zealand was the first commercial operation. The safety record is generally good, though there are risks of temporary retinal damage to the eye and of whiplash injuries to the spine, even when everything goes to plan.
More extreme still are the sports of BASE jumping from high fixed points with a parachute (BASE = building, antenna, span or earth), coasteering (swimming along the base of a cliff, climbing up the rockface and diving into caves), wingsuit flying, and bungee in the dark (where you can’t tell how far you’ve fallen or when you’ll reverse direction).
Bungee ropes are normally made from braided strands of latex, though in 2008 a man named Carl Dionisio used one made from 18,500 condoms plaited together.
Early parachutists noted a problem: a conventional Ω-shaped chute sways wildly from side to side as the air spills out. One solution is to make a hole in the top of the canopy; another, in principle, is to invert the canopy so that it’s V-shaped. 61-year-old watercolourist Robert Cocking tried out the latter route in 1837 and so became parachuting’s first fatality.
His rig was attached to the bottom of a balloon at Lee in Kent. While a band played and thousands watched, he ascended to 5,000ft and released himself. Relieved of the weight, the balloon shot upwards ‘with the velocity of a skyrocket’. Its pilots desperately vented so much gas that it knocked them unconscious; it isn’t known how high they went, but when they came to they were descending, but still at more than 23,000ft. Beneath them, Cocking’s experiment had gone disastrously wrong, having failed to allow for the weight of the chute itself. The descent was stable at first, but then accelerated, and the chute soon collapsed like an umbrella blown inside-out. Cocking died on the spot. His body was taken to a pub where the landlord made £10 by charging people 6d for a look; he was subsequently made to disgorge the tenner to Cocking’s widow, by the coroner.
Leonardo proposed a parachute in 1485, but didn't test it practically. The first actual jump was made in 1783 by Louis-Sebastian Lenormand - from a height of four metres.
There used to be a tradition of inter-village jumping contests in northern England.
The goliath frog can jump 10 ft in a single bound, but it can only make three or four such leaps before becoming exhausted.
Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.
Halteres, or ‘jumping weights’, were carried by contestants in the ancient Olympic long-jump. Until 2002 it wasn't clear whether they were intended as a handicap or an aid, but computer and experimental tests have now established that swinging weights of this size could increase a 3m jump by at least 17cm indicating that their purpose was to boost performance.
Standing long jump was in the modern Olympics until 1912, and is still a national event in Norway, where the record of 3.71m (12 ft 2 inches) has stood since 1968.
The standing triple jump record has stood longer still: 10.58m (34 ft 8 inches), set at the 1900 Olympics (although very few people do it).
The ancient Olympic long-jump event is thought to have been a triple (or more) jump, on the basis that jumps of up to 16m were recorded.
Fierljeppen, or 'canal jumping' is pole-assisted long jump (whereas normal pole-vaulting is pole-assisted high jump), which takes place in the Netherlands. You take a long run-up from one side of the canal, jump onto the pole, climb up it as the momentum carries you from one side of the canal to the other, then jump as far as you can over on the other side.
Devil rays can jump 6.5 feet out of the water. Nobody knows why they do it.
The Norwegian ski-jumping team visited London in 1950. Their luggage mostly consisted of snow - they brought 45 tons of it with them, in insulated crates.
A 60ft scaffold was built on Hampstead Heath in March 1950, giving a display team brought over from Norway a 100ft run and a 90ft flight. There wasn’t enough snow to allow a long landing strip, so they put a pile of straw at the end of the run, and the jumpers simply disappeared straight into it.
The word 'aerobics' came about when the gym instructors got together and said: If we're going to charge $10 an hour, we can't call it jumping up and down.
Hares can run at 48mph and leap 8 ft in the air.
In 1937, comic acrobat Joseph Späh survived the Hindenburg airship disaster by jumping out of the window.
When Bob Beamon broke the long jump world record in the 1968 Olympics, he jumped beyond the measuring equipment’s capability.