Kiwi as

It was 32 years’ ago this week that A J Hackett dived into the world’s consciousness by leaping off the Eiffel Tower with a bungy cord tied around his ankles and became our keen individual who inspires and surprises.

The speed skier and bungy pioneer planned the 110-m leap meticulously. His dozen-strong team hid on the tower overnight and Hackett jumped at dawn. He described it as ‘one small step for a man, a bloody great leap for the adventure tourism industry.’

Hackett’s friend Chris Sigglekow had made the first bungy jump in New Zealand in January 1980, from Marlborough’s Pelorus Bridge. The idea of jumping from a height with a sturdy elasticised band attached to the ankles had come from the vine jumpers of Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, via Oxford University students.

Hackett made his first jump in November 1986, refined his equipment and six months later was ready to go public. On a quiet news day, the Eiffel Tower jump was televised around the world.

In November 1988, A.J. Hackett Bungy opened the world’s first commercial bungy operation at the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, near Queenstown. The company later opened sites elsewhere in the country and overseas.

NZ History

The AJ Hackett website tells a little more about the French escapades:

AJ arrived in France keen to do some speed skiing but also determined to take bungy to another level. He discovered the Pont de la Caille – a 147m-high bridge – where he successfully jumped off using the ankle-tie technique.

He also approached French scientists to find out how the bungy cord rubber would handle in freezing cold situations.

“I had this dream of jumping from a cable car into the snow and skiing off. It was kind of this romantic vision,” AJ says.

Realising it could be done, he managed to convince management at Tignes ski resort to let him jump head-first off a cable car. He braved minus-20degC temperatures and successfully jumped 91m into deep snow.

It was to be the first of many “extreme” jumps for AJ – but nothing like his famous Eiffel Tower jump in Paris, June 26, 1987.

“When we’d first arrived in Paris we drove past the Eiffel Tower and I thought wow, that’s a really beautiful structure, I’d love to jump off this building,” he recalls.

“So I measured the tower, figured it out how to jump from it, sorted out how the security worked, where the cameras were and all that sort of thing. One evening in Paris a big team of us went up to the tower. It was just closing, the girls were carrying bungy under their dresses, and in backpacks we had ropes and gear and camera crews and sleeping bags.

“Security all disappeared and so we settled in for the night and early the next morning the alarm went off too late so it was a rush job trying to get it rigged up, and finally we were ready to go.

“Anyway I jumped, the jump went perfectly and I was really happy to pull it off. And then the gendarmerie [French police] came from everywhere. They couldn’t figure out what was going on at all. And the rest is history, really.”

AJ’s stunt attracted worldwide media attention – the best form of publicity he could possibly ask for, and it put bungy jumping at the forefront of peoples’ minds.