WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND — I'M standing on a platform made of six planks strapped to the steel rafters of the Wellington Regional Aquatic Center. I've climbed up a ladder, crawled through an air duct and up a catwalk. The swimming pool is a distant 16 meters (52.4 feet, or about four stories) below. ``Dave, meet your brakeman. This is Alf,'' says Paul.
Correction, I think to myself: This is nuts.
Alf smiles reassuringly and I hand him my jump sheet containing my consent signature, vital statistics, and address. I step on a bathroom scale. Alf scribbles down my weight and grabs a tan snake of rubber bands.
``You weigh 67 kilos. So we use a jump weight of 70 kilos. That's a medium bungy plus an 800-mil leg webbing,'' says Paul.
I nod dumbly.
``Alf makes the system selection. Then I double check him. I'm your Jump Master,'' says Paul.
Jump Master? Does that make me the Jump Slave? Why am I trusting my life to some long-haired kid I've known all of 20 minutes?
``Suppose I don't want to jump?''
``Basically, we give you a few countdowns,'' purrs the Jump Master. ``We talk for awhile. It soon becomes obvious if a person doesn't want to go. Some people can do it, others can't. We don't criticize. For some people, coming up here is a big achievement in itself.''
By now, my legs are lashed together with a blue nylon strap clipped to the huge rubber band.
``We should be getting a hand touch to 500 millimeters above a hand touch, depending on the way you fall. If you fall straight like a tree, you'll get a hand touch. But if you bend your knees as a little bit of fear creeps in, then you'll definitely be a little bit above the water.''
I shuffle slowly out into position. There's a pair of bare feet penciled on the edge of the creamy plywood platform. Heart racing. Shouts and splashes from below echo off the egg-white tile and glass windows. Billy Joel is crooning on the radio.
``Grab the rope overhead,'' orders Paul.
Rapid swallows. Mouth parched.
Why am I doing this? I had no intention of doing this. I've got plenty of thrills in my life. I don't need this. ``Oh, I see. You're another journalist who can write about something without actually doing it,'' Paul said when I got here. Professional integrity on the line....
How does The Lord's Prayer go?
``Don't look down. Eyes forward. Legs straight,'' Paul commands. ``OK, Dave. Here we go. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Bungy!''
This first split second is agony. Hey ... it's not half bad, now that I'm committed.
The water rushes to my face before I can fully appreciate the ride. My outstretched hands touch the water. Suddenly, I'm being pulled back toward the rafters.
Then I hang, dangling upside down a few meters above the pool, like an animal caught in a Daniel Boone rope trap. Spinning. Smiling. Elated.
The brakeman lowers me into a yellow raft in the middle of the pool. I unclip the bungy and the retriever pulls the raft to the pool's edge. I climb out and stand there with slightly rubbery legs and a silly grin.
I feel great! It was petrifying at first, but I did it. Did everyone see that? I bet it's possible to do this with no fear. I'm sure I could do this again without feeling like a ninny.
``Hey, Jump Master...''