There are two types of people in this world: those willing to do really crazy stuff for the thrill of it, and those who think that it is stupid. Fascinated with the former category, and after catching wind that Basejumpers were taking flight off of Ton Sai beach for the h-e-double-hockey-sticks of it, I along with our marketing director Zina caught the first longtail boat out to catch sight of them.
Basejumping is a sport in which a person parachutes from a fixed object. If not obvious, usually that object is high up, so as not to go schplat when they reach bottom. “BASE” is actually an acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from which a person can plunge from: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and earth (cliffs).
Bodies hucking themselves off a limestone karst and into paradise has a certain romance about it. Perhaps it’s because the unity of mankind’s oldest dream and oldest fear – flying and falling, respectively – are colliding in a niche of natural wonder that’s been in existence for just as long as the dreams have. And also, after the jumpers climb the hour and a half ascent of one of two peaks on Ton Sai, it’s much more fun to return to earth via the expressway. Obviously.
It wasn’t long after Zina and I landed on shore that evidence of these mysterious jumpers appeared. Almost everyone we asked had seen them jumping on one day or another. Small as Ton Sai is, it wouldn’t be long before we found them too. Just as sudden as we had arrived, a cautionary “Whoop! Whoop!” pierced the air from above as a figure underneath a parachute swooped down onto the beach. With ninja-like speed I grabbed a camera to capture split seconds of their majestic coming.
And just like that, it was over. Two jumpers, free-falling for two seconds followed by a mere 10 seconds of parachuting towards the sand, hopefully not towards people. Afterwards, sitting at the Ting Tong bar (which directly translates to “crazy,” as in bat-poop-insane-asylum-not-the-cool-kind-of-crazy…fitting), we learned that the siren call was a safety measure. The day prior, a poor, unsuspecting soul met the crotch of a jumper-and unfortunately the attached hardware -with the back of his head while everyone else cleared out of the way. “Note to self,” says guy, “Get better Q-tips.”
Unfortunately, Basejumping, and skydiving are not formally organized activities in Krabi province at the moment, although videos of jumpers have been popping up on the Internet in the past four to five years. But that doesn’t mean that general plummeting-out-of-the-sky shenanigans aren’t to be easily had by anyone interested. The duo we met that day, Rob Stanley and Bertrand Cloutier, are highly experienced Basejumping/Skydiving advocates, with a long CV of well-documented jumps and over 60 years of experience between them. Basejumping in Tonsai is just a small part of their lifelong quest to jump off of and out of just about everything. Sometimes, it’s even done in costume or invisible clothes. Basejumping otherwise would just be boring. #sarcasm
An extreme sport may appear to be solely that – extreme. But “Dr. Bird,” as Bertrand is affectionately known in these parts, had volumes to speak on the matter, scientifically. Seeking recreational risk is uniquely human; no other species on earth puts their life in danger for fun. There’s surprisingly a substantial amount of scientific studies trying to understand why it is we silly humans do this, and three theories have dominated in the past few decades.
One theory states that risky behavior opens up three channels in the brain that allow specific neurotransmitters (brain chemicals, if you will) to flow simultaneously whereas they otherwise wouldn’t. “It’s a similar mechanism for love at first sight,” Dr. Bird explains. “Body temperature rises, breathing becomes short and rapid, heart race increases, eyes widen, and a utopian rush of emotions floods the body.” This feeling is instantly addicting. In the same way that love is addicting, an adrenaline junkie becomes addicted to the body’s physical response to danger.
Another, more recent theory is the dawn of “King” children. Like divorced parents battling to win over a child caught in the middle (Yay! Two Christmases!) and spoiling them rotten, these beings become vain attention-seekers. There’s no doubt this inflated ego trend is heightened by social media and the current look-at-me sub-culture pervading many Western societies, and the constant affirmation it returns only makes a thrill-seeker more addicted to the attention. They continually seek out even riskier behavior than before to maintain this feeling of social royalty. “These people become big idiots,” Dr. Bird scientifically explains.
The last theory is perhaps one that many people can relate to. Research shows that people with a low enzyme level of monoamino oxydase (MAO) tend to have a wider perception of what is ‘acceptable’ risk, so they engage in riskier behavior than people deemed ‘normal’ (a relative label, I believe). Usually those identified as free-thinkers and free-spirits have low MAO levels. It’s quite common in artists, entrepreneurs, performers, inventors, and of course, extreme sports enthusiasts. Interestingly enough, coupled with other variables such as personality, some people are driven in the opposite direction of the aforementioned personality types.
There’s a strong correlation between low MAO levels and substance abuse, crime and other detrimental behavior. There are certain variables – personality or circumstance, as examples- that coupled with low MAO levels, will drive person in either a productive, harmless direction or the exact opposite in order to satiate their need for thrill. “I should’ve just stuck with Bungee jumping,” says the serial killer.
Well, that explains a lot, Dr. Bird. And here we thought we were just going to see some Basejumpers. By the time we reached them, Dr. Bird, Rob and several others had been Basejumping daily at low tide for almost two weeks. Basejumpers appear randomly but with increasing frequency on Ton Sai these days. At least now when we look up in wonder, we can attribute their reasoning to social evolution or science.
Over cold beers the guys spoke excitedly about returning again in the coming months or year, with Dr. Bird adding, “Next time I am here, I’m going to jump with two coconuts in my crotch, so when people look up they will say ‘Look at that guy who has big nuts!’” You have been warned.
In due diligence, we are advising that anyone interested in Basejumping off of anything anywhere not submit themselves to idiocy. Basejumping certification requires 250 logged, solo skydives with accredited outfitters, not simply a fancy bed sheet. Don’t let your low MAO levels be the end of you.