Despite Its Dangers, BASE Jumping Remains Popular with Adrenaline Junkies

Todd Neikirk
Photo Credit: MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP / Getty Images

Skydiving is a recreational hobby for many people, particularly thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. For the majority, the activity provides more than enough danger, but as with any hobby, there are those who take it to the extreme. In this case, it’s partaking in BASE jumping, which is equal parts exhilarating and treacherous.

Origins of BASE jumping

View of the El Capitan rock formation
Michael Pelkey and Brian Schubert performed BASE jumps off of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan rock formation in 1966 and ’78. (Photo Credit: Santi Visalli / Getty Images)

The first person to ever try a parachute was Fausto Veranzio, who did so in 1617 after jumping from the roof of a cathedral. As the device became more refined, it was primarily used by those jumping from airplanes. In 1966 and ’78, two men, Michael Pelkey and Brian Schubert, jumped from Yosemite National Park‘s famous El Capitan rock formation, for fun.

The term “BASE jumping” was coined by Carl Boenish and his wife, Jean. It’s an acronym for the places from which enthusiasts can jump from: buildings, antennas, spans and the Earth. The latter can be any natural structure, such as a mountain or cliff. Boenish is considered the father of the sport, and passed away in Norway, following a failed jump.

BASE jumping has rapidly grown in popularity

BASE jumper lying on his back while falling through the air
A BASE jumper soars through the air after diving from Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Tower. (Photo Credit: Mohd Samsul Mohd Said / Getty Images)

More people began to participate in BASE jumping in the 1980s and ’90s. As a result, a numbering program was created. Each person who completes as least one of the four types of jumps receives a number. The first two to complete the quad were Phil Smith and Phil Mayfield, and as of 2017, over 2,000 individuals have been awarded a number.

There have been a lot of famous BASE jumps over the years. In 1986, Eric Jones became the first person to jump from the Eiger, in the Bernese Alps. Livia Dickie, Ana Isabel Dao and Anniken Binz became the first people to jump from Angel Falls, the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall.

BASE jumping has become popular in film

Vin Diesel as Agent Xander "Triple X" Cage in 'XXX'
Vin Diesel BASE jumped out of a falling car in the 2002 film, XXX. (Photo Credit: Zayne / Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

BASE jumping looks both dangerous and cool. As such, the activity has appeared in plenty of Hollywood movies. It’s commonly seen in James Bond films, such as The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), A View to a Kill (1985), The Living Daylights (1987) and Die Another Day (2002).

In the 2002 film, XXX, Vin Diesel BASE jumps out of a falling car, and 2005’s Batman Begins features a scene, in which Bruce Wayne tests out equipment by BASE jumping.

To reiterate: BASE jumping is ridiculously dangerous

BASE jumper gliding through the air with a parachute
A BASE jumper slowly makes his descent after jumping off a skyscraper in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. (Photo Credit: Lionel Ng / Getty Images)

While BASE jumping is popular and visually stunning, it is important to note that the activity is incredibly dangerous. In 2016 alone, 31 participants died in accidents related to the sport.

A 2002 study found that one in every 60 BASE jumpers died while partaking in the sport, and one conducted by The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that participants are more likely to die or suffer injury while jumping than skydivers.

BASE jumping remains very popular

BASE jumper falling headfirst while wearing a wingsuit
Today, many BASE jumpers choose to use wingsuits, rather than parachutes. (Photo Credit: Red Bull / Getty Images)

BASE jumping has only grown in popularity, thank of advances in technology. While parachutes were initially the only way to participate, wingsuits are now commonly seen, as well.

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The sport is illegal in many places. Three men who jumped from New York City’s One World Trade Center and their accomplice were arrested, while in Virginia, a 70-year-old man was taken into custody after being accused of jumping off buildings in Fairfax County. There are places, however, that embrace the sport, with championship tournaments held regularly.


Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics, entertainment and history writer. His work has been featured in,, and He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and anything that has to do with history.

When he is not sitting in front of a laptop, Todd enjoys soaking up everything the Jersey Shore has to offer with his wife, two sons and American Foxhound, Wally.