Kiwi bungy king back in action

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IN conversation, Kiwi bungy king AJ Hackett bounds around the world like he does in life. 

China? “Yeah, yeah, yeah – I might be going up there to look at a bridge soon. Beautiful!” 

Macau? “The Japanese just fly in to do the jump and go home. They’ll stay a night, but that’s the reason to go there, not to gamble, not to do anything else.” 

Singapore? “We’re having to change the law, the Amusement Ride Act – they had a stupid limit on bungy, a maximum height of 30 metres. You have a higher rebound and there’s a bigger chance of being hung and caught up in the rubber.” 

Sochi, Russia? “We’ve been working on Sochi for four years – they take ages these things.” 

It’s breakfast time in Queenstown and Hackett, here on a short visit, is holding court. 

The infectiously energetic man who co-founded the adventure tourism phenomenon in Queenstown with Henry van Asch 25 years ago barely touches his food in a 45-minute interview – he just doesn’t stop talking.
And it’s a nice metaphor for his life in general, one that’s involved constant and regular globetrotting to his many international AJ Hackett bungy operations – and pending operations – since he took on the foreign rights in a split with Van Asch 15 years ago.
 
In fact, Hackett who spent three months’ enforced break at home in Hawke’s Bay after breaking both ankles in a car smash in November admits it’s the longest period he’s gone without getting on a plane since 1999. 

And all that time at home confined to a wheelchair got him thinking: “I didn’t actually realise how busy I was which is weird – it just becomes normal, after a while your workload becomes normal. 

“And then I think the shock of the accident actually hit after two weeks – I thought ‘F…king hell, I was really lucky’ and I should think this through actually.” 

Asked what he spent his time pondering, Hackett says: “I was thinking ‘How am I actually going to do what I’m doing?’ How am I going to live going forward … I’ve got family. 

“I’ve been running around like a complete idiot, whipping to one place for two or three days, off to another.”
Then he laughs heartily and slaps you on the shoulder: “It’s become that again! But at least I had three months.” 

It’s no wonder he’s marvelling at the busy pace he sets – along with sites in Las Vegas, Macau, France and Australia, he’s working through regulatory hoops to get one going in Singapore and is close to opening an unrivalled bungy operation called AJ Hackett Sky Park in Sochi, Russia. 

“My affairs are in reasonable order but a few things weren’t and needed to get sorted.” 

Hackett isn’t exaggerating when he says he was lucky to emerge from the smash. 

Wife Amanda, in the passenger seat with her three kids in the back, at the time credited Hackett’s quick reactions for saving their lives. 

Hackett managed to steer their vehicle into a narrow gap between an oncoming truck and the car which pulled out to pass from behind it into his lane. 

Their vehicle still clipped the oncoming car but Hackett says it was more of a head-on swipe than a full frontal which he doesn’t believe would have been survivable at an estimated combined speed of 200 kilometres per hour. 

“Accidents happen, no one does that intentionally, it was just a stupid thing to do. I personally don’t have any gripes,” he says of his feelings toward the other driver, a 35-year-old woman who is still before the court. 

“I’m just happy to have full movement again in my feet, no problems skiing again or surfing or swimming.”
Hackett, confined to a moonboot and wheel chair while his ankles healed, had to shower sitting down for six weeks. 

But he had a goal to focus on and ensure he recovered as quickly as possible – a ski trip in Russia last month with his 13-year-old daughter: “I was basically on a mission that I’ve got to be able to ski by the end of January because I’d been planning to go to the Olympics for quite a while with my daughter and I don’t see enough of her anyway.” 

Hackett made the trip and father and daughter got in some quality time – as it happens, while recuperating at home he had a visit from his France-based son Dean, randomly stabbed in Paris 10 days after Hackett’s car accident. 

“He was just walking down the road with four or five mates and a bunch of guys start pushing one of his friends. Dean says ‘Hey, that’s not cool’ and one of these guys goes around the corner and grabs a big kitchen knife,” Hackett recounts. 

Dean, 23, ended up with two stab wounds in his guts but has recovered fine. 

Back to his own drama, when asked if the car accident has seriously influenced his life in a lasting way, Hackett pauses and says: “Yeah … I’ve got to finish a few things off and then download a lot more. 

“It wasn’t a good time to die basically. Better off next year but not quite then,” he says, laughing away and slapping everyone’s backs again.