BASE jumping, also sometimes written as B.A.S.E. jumping, is an activity where participants jump from fixed objects and use a parachute to break their fall. “BASE” is an acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges), and earth (cliffs).
The acronym “B.A.S.E.” (now more commonly “BASE”) was coined by filmmaker Carl Boenish, his wife Jean Boenish, Phil Smith, and Phil Mayfield. Carl Boenish was the catalyst behind modern BASE jumping, and in 1978, he filmed the first BASE jumps to be made using ram-air parachutes and the freefall tracking technique (from El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park). While BASE jumps had been made prior to that time, the El Capitan activity was the effective birth of what is now called BASE jumping. BASE jumping is significantly more dangerous than similar sports such as skydiving from aircraft, and is currently regarded by many as a fringe extreme sport or stunt.
BASE numbers are awarded to those who have made at least one jump from each of the four categories (buildings, antennas, spans and earth). When Phil Smith and Phil Mayfield jumped together from a Houston skyscraper on 18 January 1981, they became the first to attain the exclusive BASE numbers (BASE #1 and #2, respectively), having already jumped from an antenna, spans, and earthen objects. Jean and Carl Boenish qualified for BASE numbers 3 and 4 soon after. A separate “award” was soon enacted for Night BASE jumping when Mayfield completed each category at night, becoming Night BASE #1, with Smith qualifying a few weeks later.
During the early eighties, nearly all BASE jumps were made using standard skydiving equipment, including two parachutes (main and reserve), and deployment components. Later on, specialized equipment and techniques were developed specifically for the unique needs of BASE jumping.
Upon completing a jump from all of the four object categories, a jumper may choose to apply for a “BASE number”, which are awarded sequentially. BASE #1 was awarded to Phil Smith of Houston, Texas in 1981. The 1000th application for a BASE number was filed in March 2005 and BASE #1000 was awarded to Matt Moilanen of Kalamazoo, Michigan. As of October 2010, over 1,400 BASE numbers have been issued.
BASE jumping is often featured in action movies. The 2002 Vin Diesel film xXx includes a scene where Diesel’s character catapults himself off the Foresthill Bridge in an open-topped car, landing safely as the car crashes on the ground. In the movie Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, includes the scene in which the main characters jump with wing suits from the IFC Tower in Hong Kong and fly over the Bank of China, finally opening their parachutes to land on a moving freighter. The stunt was done live, with no special effects, by base jumpers Martin Rosén and Per Eriksson, members of the Swedish “Team Bautasten”. The scene was filmed by air-to-air camera man Mikael Nordqvist from the same team. Since the 1976 Mount Asgard jump featured in the pre-credits sequence to The Spy Who Loved Me, James Bond movies have featured several BASE jumps, including one from the Eiffel Tower in 1985’s A View to a Kill, the Rock of Gibraltar in 1987’s The Living Daylights, and in Die Another Day, 2002, Pierce Brosnan as James Bond jumps from a melting iceberg. Of the James Bond jumps only the Mt Asgard and Eiffel Tower jumps were filmed live; the rest were special effects. And in 2005’s “Batman Begins”, Bruce Wayne uses BASE jumping as inspiration for his memory cloth cape. A series of BASE jumps are featured in the video for a remix of M83’s “Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun”.
Guinness World Records first listed a BASE jumping record with Carl Boenish’s 1984 leap from Trollveggen (Troll Wall) in Norway. It was described as the highest BASE jump. (The jump was made two days before Boenish’s death at the same site.) This record category is still in the Guinness book and is currently held by Australians Glenn Singleman and Heather Swan with a jump from Meru Peak in northern India at a starting elevation of 6,604 metres (21,667 ft). On July 8, 2006 Captain Daniel G. Schilling set the Guinness World Record for the most BASE jumps in a twenty-four hour period. Schilling jumped off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho a record 201 times.
BASE competitions have been held since the early 1980s, with accurate landings or free fall aerobatics used as the judging criteria. Recent years have seen a formal competition held at the 452 metres (1,483 ft) high Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, judged on landing accuracy.