x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The National reporter Martin Croucher bites the bullet and attempts a bungee jump

Almost 50 people bungee jumped at Gravity Zone, at Powerplay Sports, Dubai, on Friday, with some of the money raised going to Breast Cancer Arabia.

Sendos Yahfoufi, from  Lebanon, makes her first jump at the inaugural bungee jumping competition in Dubai to raise funds for Breast Cancer Arabia at Gravity Zone, at Powerplay Sports, on Sheikh Zayed Road. Antonie Robertson / The National
Sendos Yahfoufi, from Lebanon, makes her first jump at the inaugural bungee jumping competition in Dubai to raise funds for Breast Cancer Arabia at Gravity Zone, at Powerplay Sports, on Sheikh Zayed Road. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // I wasn’t feeling particularly suicidal when I woke up on Friday morning. Nor was I feeling suicidal as I was hoisted up in a cage attached to a crane, 15 metres above the ground.

It was only when I stepped out into empty space and began to plummet headfirst towards the ground that I truly began to question my motives.

I was at a charity bungee jump in Dubai, organised by Gravity Zone, at Powerplay Sports, on Sheikh Zayed Road.

About 44 people signed up, at a cost of about Dh360 each, with a portion of the money raised being donated to Breast Cancer Arabia.

I had been marked number 17 on my hand, in black felt pen and – like cattle – herded into a loose line of braying participants similarly questioning their own motives.

“Don’t worry, we’ve only had two deaths so far this year,” said Nick, a supervisor at Gravity Zone, who was sharing the cage with me on my way up. He was joking, of course, but I checked my harness again when he wasn’t looking.

I forced myself to remain blissfully oblivious throughout; the mental equivalent of going to the happy place. It was only when I actually started falling that I snapped out of my self-imposed fugue state.

The experience was exhilarating, and terrifying. I don’t remember screaming, but afterwards my throat and my lungs were ragged from the exertion.

Most people whooped in delight. Some, however, froze.

One of the first to go, Jason John Matthew, 27, from India, paused for about five minutes at the gate of the cage, looking down at the audience.

He jumped eventually. A friend on the ground said he was given a nudge from someone else in the cage, but I couldn’t attest to that.

“It was my fault for looking down,” said Mr Matthew. “I should have just jumped, but I stopped to think.

“My mind wouldn’t let my body do it. I had to tell my mind that it was safe and that I had a harness, but the whole thing didn’t feel natural.”

On the ground among the audience were five judges appointed to scrutinise the quality of the jumps.

One of the judges, popular trainer Grant Goes, from Fitness Link, said marks were awarded based on confidence, how long they hesitated for before jumping, as well as how far they jumped and how smoothly they fell.

“It’s a bit like an Olympic dive without the somersaults and backflips,” he said, adding that there were some strict criteria. “If someone closes their eyes, it’s an immediate disqualification,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to judge though.”

Another cause for disqualification was hesitating too long, like Mr Matthew did.

The top five men and the top five women from the morning went through to the second round of the competition. An overall winner was awarded a voucher worth Dh950.

The managing director of Gravity Zone, Ramez Shawki, said they were in talks with Dubai Sports Council to forme a bungee-jumping federation.

One of those who picked up top marks in the first round was Matthew Lawson, from the UK, who was a dab hand at not only bungee jumping but skydiving, too. Mr Lawson chose to jump backwards, not head first, to try something new.

“It’s good because you don’t see the ground coming up towards you, but it’s still scary because you don’t know what’s behind you, or if you’re going to hit the ground,” he said.

“Bungee jumping is fun but skydiving is my first love. Once you’ve jumped freefall out of an airplane, everything else has the adrenalin turned down a bit.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae