Bungy birthday’s forgotten man after 500 jumps

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Queenstown’s most prolific bungy exponent has celebrated AJ Hackett Bungy’s 20th birthday bash from the sidelines.

Local backpacker operator Evan Jenkins (below) has done about 500 bungy jumps at 11 AJ Hackett sites worldwide – about 250 leaps off the Kawarau Bridge alone.

Jenkins didn’t go to any official parties last night, however, citing the company’s “commercialisation”.

“It’s got such a big organisation now, it’s not the personal relationship it used to be,” he says.

His jumps haven’t been just for fun. Jenkins, now in his late 50s, bungy jumped at an international level in the 1995 Extreme Games and 1996 X-Games.

AJ Hackett Bungy gave him free jumps to prepare for the competitions, the only two international events to have included bungy jumping in the lineup.

Jenkins, who trained himself to do somersaults and flips on the end of a bungy cord, says he had to practise hundreds of times to learn tricks.

“You can’t just go out and swan dive all the time, it’s boring. To do that many jumps, you have to be on a mission.”

The Scallywags Guesthouse owner, who’s lived here since 1992, also reckons he’s sold “more [AJ Hackett jumps] than anybody else in town” over the years.

Jenkins says he’s been loyal to the founders of New Zealand bungy – Henry van Asch and former partner AJ Hackett – even before they came to town. He jumped off the Ohakune Bridge near Mt Ruapehu in 1987, where the pioneers first experimented before shifting south.

“I’d heard rumours about what they were doing, jumping from viaducts with rubber bands, so I drove down [from Auckland] and jumped.

“AJ was my jumpmaster and it cost me $25. As soon as I was unhooked, I went straight back up and had a second jump.”

He still remembers that first leap of faith. “That feeling of exhilaration was incredible – and the sense of accomplishment over your brain. It’s not physical, it’s a mental challenge.”

He also became the first client to jump the Nevis Bungy when it opened in 1999. “Henry called me forward and said, ‘Evan, away you go – you’re the first away from the crew’.”