Model citizen: Azuan Taharudin (BASE jumper)
You’re supposed to jump for the Malaysia Sports Industry Exhibition launch at the JW Marriott Hotel today but it’s been cancelled. Did you have cold feet?
Of course not. The hotel’s board of directors thought it was too dangerous – for me and the hotel guests. The hotel needs to be responsible if anything bad happens to me. I can understand why they’re afraid.
But you’re highly trained, right?
Yes, I’m a certified jumper. Before you start BASE jumping, you must learn skydiving. You need to jump 200 times before doing BASE jumping. I started skydiving in 1999, and fractured my spinal cord in 2001. The doctor told me not to do any more extreme sports. But doctor is not God. Life is in my hands; I have strong guts. So I went on to try BASE jumping in 2009. BASE stands for buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and earth (cliffs). I’ve done them all, and I love it!
Even flying off a cliff and slamming into a building?
Yeah, I had a pretty bad injury. At that time, I didn’t position myself correctly before jumping and I banged into a building. But you can’t contemplate when you’re up there. No 50-50. Do or don’t. Survive or die.
How did you train for BASE jumping?
First, the trainers will teach you how to write letters…letters to your family just in case you’ll never see them again. Then, you learn how to pack – your canopy, most importantly. When you’ve learnt about canopy deployment, body positioning and all the technicalities, you prepare yourself mentally… prepare for death.
It must be difficult for your wife.
I told her before we got married. I’m an adrenaline junkie. I love extreme sports. But I believe that you have to conquer your fear. Live your dreams. If I die, too bad. If I survive, it’s a bonus. I try to be very careful, of course. I have four kids.
It sounds like you’re not afraid to die. What happens if your canopy didn’t work? No backup plan?
Nope. Worst case scenario: die. Not so bad scenario: paralysed. Right.
Is there a ritual you do before jumping?
I say my prayers. But I remember BASE jumping with some friends in Sibu where the villagers there did a special ritual to pray for our safety. There were chicken, food, rice, popcorn and various offerings to honour the gods.
What do you see when you’re freefalling from the sky? Birds?
Your eyes are forever transfixed on the exit point, the landing point. Avoid crashing into buildings. No time for birds. Everything around you is usually a blur when you freefall but sometimes I can read car plate numbers.
Where are the best places to jump in KL?
I’ve jumped off Batu Caves, KL Tower, Menara Alor Setar, Menara Telekom, Menara Komtar in Penang and Menara Taming Sari in Melaka. The highest point I’ve jumped from is 1,000 ft. I really want to conquer Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, Taipei 101 and the Eiffel Tower next. I’d love to try the Petronas Twin Towers as well but they won’t allow BASE jumping there. Again, heavy responsibilities.
Why? Because of the high fatality rate?
Probably. Remember Kylie Tanti who plummeted to her death at Menara Alor Setar in 2010? I was there. Her canopy got tangled, and she didn’t scream for help. It’s the worst thing that could happen to a jumper. People think that signing up for extreme sports is being irresponsible, like throwing your life away. But we’re not reckless. BASE jumping is a bit controversial like that – you might die chasing a dream.
If that’s the case, why should anyone try BASE jumping?
Because it makes you face your worst fears. Because you don’t want to live your life worrying about heights or things that make you scared. Because you want to build up your confidence. Because who will fulfil your dreams if not yourself? Death is inevitable. But you, only you, can choose to die with regrets or without. Kong Wai Yeng
Azuan is part of the Damai BASE jumping community. Visit www.skydivemalaysia.com.my for skydiving or jumping course details