Lifestyle See and do

The birth of bungy

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2012 issue of World Gaming magazine.

When you think of Macau’s iconic landmarks the Lisboa and Grand Lisboa spring to mind and are irrevocably tied to Macau’s gaming culture. However, the one that dominates the skyline is Macau Tower, which is closely tied to an adventurous culture of the physical kind.

The visionary inventiveness of a former New Zealand carpenter sparked off a trend that is becoming increasingly popular in Asia and has become synonymous with Macau’s most iconic landmark, Macau Tower. However, it was an entirely different tower that gave birth to the popularity of one of the world’s more extreme adventure activities, and that one is found in Paris.

Ah yes, the Eiffel Tower. The structure alone sparks romantic images of couples walking through the park, delicious French cuisine and forward fashion thinking. But have you ever thought about how much fun it would be to jump off it?

You may think we are crazy for suggesting this, but for Alan John Hackett, his leap of faith off the second floor of the Eiffel Tower 25 years ago was what sparked this thrill-seeking movement across the world and made the AJ Hackett name synonymous with bungy jumping.

“I think [the French police are] really quite reasonable people and I’m sure they’ll see it as an inspiration for the people of Paris and France and the world,” said AJ as he was getting arrested. And he was right. AJ was released 10 minutes later and the bungy phenomenon had begun.

Yang Wei, who won a gymnastics gold medal for China at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, takes the plunge

Yang Wei, who won a gymnastics gold medal for China at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, takes the plunge

Technically this kind of crazy jumping with a rope tied to one’s ankles began much, much earlier. Bungy (or, if you prefer, bungee) is actually very similar to an ancient tribal ritual from a small village on Pentecost Island in Vanuatu. For centuries, the villagers have been jumping off towers made from trees with vines tied to their ankles. During the months of May and June, males of the tribe jump trying to touch the ground with their heads to fertilize the soil. This is meant to ensure a fruitful yam harvest and acts as a passage into manhood. AJ has visited the village and been a spectator to this amazing ritual. AJ has also contributed financially to this village helping them buy land and bringing members of the tribe to Australia to view and try the modern day version of their ancient ritual.

Since the Eiffel Tower jump generated such huge media hype, AJ decided to popularize this extreme sport of bungy jumping and has founded bungy sites around the world in Australia, Bali, France, Germany, New Zealand, Russia and our home, Macau. A carpenter by trade, this adventure athlete turned entrepreneur has now shared his passion with over 2.5 million clients from all walks of life.

The Macau Tower site is quite interesting because it brought two visionaries together. Pansy Ho saw the potential in Macau beyond gaming and adult entertainment. “The concept was to stimulate Macau … change the image from it being a gambling city,” AJ recalls. AJ and his team were brought in to develop new activities for the tower. They first introduced the Mast Climb, where physically fit adventurers can scale the side of the Macau Tower. Then came the Skywalk, where you can walk on the outer perimeter of the upper deck, while tethered to a safety line. But Pansy Ho wanted bungy and AJ thought that was just brilliant.

Today, the AJ Hackett bungy jump at Macau Tower is recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s highest at 233 meters. “And now there are many more offerings and adventure tourism must become a big part of Macau,” said AJ.

Bungy jumping is an adventurous activity started by friends, popularized by Westerners and now embraced in the East. Charlie Bassett, Macau Tower’s General Manager, explains that the “PRC market is gradually growing each year. [The Chinese are] fearless, and in fact, they normally do not hesitate much at all. Both clients and passersby are genuinely interested in what we do, especially around Chinese New Year … In 2011 … PRC accounted for 10 percent of [our bungy jumpers], Hong Kong was 8 percent, Macau was 3 percent, and Taiwan was 11 percent, which adds up to a third of our jumpers being Chinese … [this] doesn’t include Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese, so Chinese from all over are keen to try. They generally are out to enjoy the experience and have a good time.”

As AJ puts it, “Bungy is about people challenging themselves. It is so simple and so basic … the majority of human beings have a fear of height. With bungy, what happens is people actually make the decision themselves to jump, so it’s a personal challenge, nothing to do with technology, it’s in your mind … you don’t have to be a big muscle man, you can be a petite little old lady and jump. It’s all in your head, you just gonna make the decision to trust people that you are working with. And also trust your own ability, to push your limits a bit further.”

It is expected the AJ Hackett team will be jolting the hearts of Singaporeans towards the end of 2013 when the company opens a 50-meter-high tower that offers both a bungy jump and bungy swing. This new site will have a bar, restaurant, catwalk shows, skywalk products and a small suspension bridge.