Sunday Edition

Death defying wonder

| | in Sunday Pioneer
Death defying wonder

Two Kiwi youngsters have created the world's scariest jump — the Shotover Canyon Swing, which goes off a cliff and makes you fall vertically upside down into the 182-metre gorge down below — down below being a 109 metres jump, a 60 metre freefall and 200 metre swing across the Otago Valley. MEENAKSHI RAO tells you how Queensland thrives & survives on such innovating and death defying adrenaline pushers

A skywalk atop the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere at Auckland, a blood-curdling sky swing in Rotorua, the bungee jumps in an around Queenstown, the rolling ball in Nelson — there’s an adventure for you anywhere and everywhere in New Zealand.

But wait, there’s a new and scariest baby in town — actually in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. And the rush to give yourself that ultimate push into heart-stopping fear is such that you need an appointment to get strapped and be thrown 109 metres into a canyon, 60 metres of which is a heart-stopping vertical freefall and then a swing 200 metres across the gorge below before returning safe and sound to the top of the world, quite literally.

Called the Shotover Canyon Swing, and invented by the young Kiwi duo of Hamish Emerson and Chris Russell, it is an intense, underwear-wetting, adrenaline stimulating activity over the famous Shotover River, something people say is far scarier than A J Hackett’s more famous bungee jump.

The Swing is the world’s highest cliff jump and offers over 70 jump styles, including some tandem options (Indian honeymooners are known to opt for this) as fear, you would say, could do with some company.

The Canyon Swing comes with its twin called Shotover Canyon Fox which is the world’s first running, flying, dropping, screaming, fox time. It takes your ordinary flying fox to a whole new level. Start with a 182-metre-high drop off onto a 240m long cable across the canyon after a 20 metre freefall that might just take your heart away from its beat.

Do not mistake this for zip lining. This one is the scary big brother. The Fox is the only place with the unique launch boom style and drop, and has five different ways you can leave the cliff edge, including sitting on a chair but then you go upside down. Not for the faint-hearted, not in the least!

It was not easy for Emerson and Russell to get this mechanical wonder to operate safely. The two look like the most chilled out youngsters a Kiwi town could sport. Maybe, they hang out in the evenings with friends to pop the corn at the picturesque Queenstown lake, watching humanity from across the globe stream past, admiring the beautiful environs; maybe they chuck the lazing around for some adrenaline flow at the nearby gaming zone; or better still do the movies at a friend’s home theatre.

Nothing could be more far away from this duo than such mundane. On an average day, they ride the Shotover river or fulfill their passion for freefalling and jumping off cliffs. Down the way, actually once when Chris was river rappling down the gorge, he spotted this majestic high in the sky cliff. Together with his friend Hamish and their collective ingenuity, the two avid rock climbers created a rope technology masterpiece.

Before arriving at this peak, Hamish and Chris spent years recceing the rocky highrises in the Wakatipu Basin to see which would be the scariest. “It was a car we used as hauling wench that got the stuff started,” Chris puts it casually.

But it was nothing casual. From getting just the right cliff, to building a 100 per cent safe structure atop it for a system that had a mix of free fall, cliff edge for ground rush and speed sensation seemed like a freakish idea. There was no precedent and even rock engineers from as far away as America laughed at the proposition of making such a structure, literally hanging from a precarious cliff and then falling even more dangerously into the 182-metre gorge down below.

But the youngsters were not to be beaten by scorn or disbelief. So they made it themselves.

It took them three long years to design and engineer from scratch — mostly with their bare hands. All the parts were lugged, wheel-barrowed or simply dragged from the car park by Hamish, Chris and whoever came along to help. Beer parties followed in the evenings and then it was back to hard labour in the morning.

In the process, 1.5 tonnes of concrete and 1.2 tonnes of wire cable reached the summit, thanks to brute strength and determination.

The initially titled ‘Not Your Average Backyard Variety Swing’ was singularly focussed to not being ordinary or average. The machinery was tested with sheer daredevilry and discussed to the last nut and bolt in late night summits of uncommon minds.

Physics classes came to work. The dual 11mm steel cable with separate rock anchors drilled 1.2 metres into the rock and held by 30mm reinforced steel rod looked death-defying. The platform was built by suspending the platform beams from the cable system. The building process took eight months, followed six months of water barrel testing and getting the project approved by safety conscious authorities of Queenstown.

The outcome was an adrenaline experience not even bungee jumping could accord. The inaugural swing dropped a German couple into the gorge on December 2, 2002 — and the rest is history.

With the Shotover Canyon Swing in the world, Chris and Hamish needed more to do and in came the Flying Fox, a fast and furious

zipline across the canyon. Not just any zipline but a uniquely flying fox which would first freefall and then swing an arc around the deep and somewhat unending canyon. International zipline experts from China, Amazonian rainforests and the US looked down the cliff took a shiver and left.

Hamish, an addicted cable swinger, decided that unique projects came out only by thinking out of the box. So he went to another Kiwi who would understand his flourish for undoable ideas. Glyn Lewers somehow got convinced that this zipline, unlike all others around the world, would start with a freefall altitude loss and only then zip across the gorge.

One water barrel after another made that freefall and zipped down across the valley till pace, ingenuity and safety teamed up to end in a never before adrenaline rush. Lewers could never have come up with the solution, had Emerson not come in with his ingenuity and for a wench/retrieval system, without of course ever giving up on safety standards.

It may look scary but every component has been tested far more than required with the cable being put through an eight-tonne force pulling by two huge trucks.

Despite the exemplary standards of testing when it came to Lewers to drop off the cliff, like those umpteen barrels he had seen being thrown to safety, he bolted — till of course he was literally pushed down that precarious looking but inordinately safe platform dangling from the cliff.

Finally, the duo had achieved what they had insanely wanted for years — to build the scariest but safest jump in the world. They made history, quite as casually as they have life thus far —putting together the first and only one of its kind in the world phenomenon, developing a technology with no precedent and creating an adventure experience unparalleled on Earth. “I’m proud of what we’ve achieved,” Emerson tells you.




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