AJ Hackett and the Birth of Adventure Tourism
Before the days of daredevils on YouTube, there were thrill-seekers who took leaps without the cameras rolling. One of the most famous thrill-seekers was AJ Hackett. An Auckland native, AJ Hackett would become the official “Father of Adventure Tourism” taking extreme to another level. Learn more about his story and about what it means for today’s adrenaline junkies.
Inspired by Ancient Ritual
It all started in the early 1980s when AJ discovered a Pentecost Islander ritual that encouraged men to jump from a 35-metre high wooden tower with only vines attached to their ankles. The death-defying (and sometimes death-inviting) Vanuata jump was thought to yield a good yam harvest.
While AJ was intrigued, he didn’t give it much more thought until he met Chris Sigglelow. Chris had seen footage of a British group from the 1970s and their modern-day interpretation of this ancient practice, except this group of college students jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Chris had tried such a jump with a bungy and parachute harness, but it wasn’t a success. AJ and Chris made a pact to attempt to develop a consistent, safe activity. The goal was to make these jumps predictable.
Finding the Right Formula
The two consulted with the experts at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. This collaboration was fruitful, delivering a mathematical formula for the cord which would enable the accurate prediction of results for every jump. It came down to a rather simple equation of knowing the height of the jump and dividing it by four then subtracting the height of the person from this number. The final number designates the length of the cord.
The first test was the Greenhithe Bridge in Auckland. First, they sent a test punching bag. Chris took the first leap, and it worked. Knowing the formula was correct, they became more ambitious, jumping off higher bridges with more friends. In the beginning, they were unnoticed by authorities. But this anonymity wouldn’t last. AJ designed a new cord that wrapped at the ankles, reminiscent of the tradition that inspired the idea, which meant jumpers went head first. While attempting the first of these jumps, the police arrived and ordered AJ and Chris not to jump, but they did anyway. In response, the police contacted the media so they could warn others not to participate in these kinds of jumps. It had the opposite effect, offering AJ a national stage and starting the ball rolling on an extreme sport sensation.
Expanding the Adventure
AJ then went to France, jumping off a 147-metre bridge. While there, he also consulted with French scientists to understand how the cord would react to freezing temperatures. This question was part of AJ’s daredevil dream—to jump from a cable car into the snow and ski down the mountain. A French ski resort allowed him to try it, and it was a success.
Emboldened by so many victorious jumps, AJ wanted to keep pushing to something bigger. That’s when he and others focused their attention on a jump from the Eiffel Tower. He and his team went to the tower as tourists, smuggling in gear. They evaded security and spent the night there. At early morning they jumped, attracting worldwide attention.
Bringing Bungy to the Public
Now that AJ had mastered the art of bungy jumping, he wanted to bring this excitement and rush to the public. The first site was the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge in Queenstown, opening for business on 12 November 1988. This first site is now considered the “birthplace of adventure tourism.”
AJ continued to work on the safety aspect of bungy, developing a Bungy Code of Practice. He expanded operations, setting up a site in Normandy, France and Cairns, Australia. The Cairns site features the first bungy tower, as well as hosting the world’s largest bungy swing, the Minjin Swing.
Making the Leap
AJ Hackett’s story is one of living life fearlessly. Imagine how much confidence it took for him to make that first jump! Decades later, bungy has become the ultimate thrill sport. Because of AJ’s contribution, many have been able to take a leap and have a once in a lifetime experience. Down Under Tours brings this same excitement to you with our Cairns adventures, including the Minjin Jungle Swing, which reaches speeds of up to 120kph, and the bungy jump with 16 different jump styles. Set in the rainforest, these jumps are perfect for anyone who likes to live on the edge.