Pioneer Bungee Jumper David Kirke Dies

The father of recreational bungee jumping, David Kirke, has died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 78.

The British daredevil, who described himself as an “anarchic buccaneer,” passed away peacefully in his bed after giving the world one of its most beloved adrenaline sports.

In the South Seas island of Vanuatu, land diving or “Gol” is a rite of passage for young men to test their bravery and strength. They traditionally jumped from a towering platform with vines wrapped around their feet to save them from injury.

Sometimes, the vines sprang back before they hit the ground. Other times, they’d snap, making Gol one of the world’s most dangerous initiations. This did not stop David Kirke from turning it into a worldwide phenomenon.

David Kirke at home.

David Kirke at home. Photo: Kirke Family


The Dangerous Sports Club

In the 1970s, Kirke was leader of an Oxford University group called the Dangerous Sports Club. Students dressed in top hats, suits, and tails and conducted extremely dangerous stunts. Usually, some sort of alcohol was involved.

The crazy bunch flew off cliffs with helium balloons and flung themselves in the air with actual trebuchets, or catapults. This led to frequent run-ins with the law.

On April Fool’s Day 1979, Kirke and his friends planned a jump from the 76m-high Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. As a point of honor, they did not test the rope, in order to keep the adventure and suspense alive.

Kirke executed the jump perfectly while holding a bottle of champagne. When he was uninjured, several of his fellow club members followed his lead. The police arrested them and put them in the calaboose overnight. It’s been illegal to jump from that bridge ever since.

The Dangerous Sports Club went on to do jumps in the United States, especially from the Golden Gate Bridge and Royal Gorge Bridge. They also leaped off hot air balloons and cranes. Bungie jumping started to spread like wildfire. It first became a recreational sport in New Zealand.

Colorful till the end, Kirke described his love for adrenaline sports as a “vocation.” He said he wished to create something that everyone could enjoy. His family members and friends described him as kind, generous, and with an “iron constitution.”

In 2004, in an article about the Dangerous Sports Club, Vanity Fair described him this way:

David Kirke [was] its chairman, guiding spirit, and only member-for-life. In many ways, Kirke is the prototypical Oxford man. Born in 1945, he was the eldest of seven children. His father was a schoolmaster, and his mother was a concert pianist. The family wintered in Switzerland and summered in France, employed 15 servants, and drove around in a vintage Rolls-Royce—all at the last moment of British history when it was possible to enjoy such luxuries and still be considered middle-class.

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer at ExplorersWeb.

Kristine has been writing about Science, Mysteries and History for 4+ years. Prior to that, Kristine studied at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Based in Port-of-Spain, Kristine is also a literature teacher, avid reader, hiker, occasional photographer, an animal lover and shameless ramen addict.