My first B.A.S.E jump which is always scary for any new jumper, took place from what was then named the Texas Commerce Bank in Houston, Texas on January 1, 1982. Randy, my twin brother and I had taken skydiving lessons at 21 years old, in our senior year of College as a credited Physical Education course at the University of Iowa in 1971.
In the summer of 1981, Randy had seen a B.A.S.E jumping film of Phil Smith, Phil Mayfield, Jean and Carl Boenish, (BASE 1, 2, 3, and 4). Randy had previously jumped at the Spaceland dropzone in Texas with the two Phil’s. Following seeing them on a B.A.S.E video, he in the middle of November of 1981, back in the snow and ice in Iowa, he climbed a 2000′ antenna and made his first B.A.S.E jump.
Randy visited Galveston for Christmas of 1981 and wanted to jump the bank building in Houston, Texas. I hadn’t skydived for about 6 months so was pretty rusty, despite both of us having around 1200 or more skydives, mostly all relative work. The building itself is beautiful gray granite, 1000 feet at 75 stories. This same building is where all of the initial B.A.S.E. jumpers had earned their “B”. Phil Smith, “Smitty”, did it in January of 1981 qualifying him as B.A.S.E jumper No. 1.
Randy and I scoped it out for two days, stepped off distance to a couple different landing areas, called Smitty to discuss the basement layout and landing areas before deciding where to park the car. The outside was complete, but the inside floors were still under construction.
We dressed up a little; I had dress shoes on and a sport coat to give up the appearance that we belonged in the building. Back then, we used skydiving rigs which are bigger and heavier than B.A.S.E. rigs and harder to hide, so we put our rigs inside suit cases. Our background story if we were stopped by guards was we were going to look at the law firm’s office space where I would be working.
We went to a restaurant, enjoyed three scotch and water’s while watching our alma mater, University of Iowa be trounced in the Rose Bowl by the University of Washington 28 to 0. We looked up at the television and made comment that we hoped we do better than Iowa did tonight.
We then left the restaurant and snuck into the basement of the building down a dirt construction ramp, into the stairwell door near a guard station and started walking up stairs. We rested on the 10th floor, took our rigs out of the suitcases and continued the one hour climb to the roof top entrance. Emotionally, it was all mechanical up till then, not a lot of real fear. When we reached the roof top entrance, it was only a matter of opening a hatch styled door on hinges and we found ourselves on the roof at the highest point in downtown Houston, Texas.
It was a beautiful site, but it was a misty night with a low overcast you could touch standing atop the building. We did some toilet paper wind indicators for about 15 minutes, took a few Brownie flash instamatic photos, then Randy said, “Well, there’s nothing left to do but put our rigs on and go”. My heart went to my stomach. We suited up; Randy stepped onto the 6 inch concrete ledge, did a count and jumped. I snapped one exit shot of him, put the camera in my coat pocket and stepped up and couldn’t believe I could ever be this scared.
My final thought was what Randy and I practiced, “Head high, chest to the horizon, hold the arch, count to 4 and throw”. To this day, I often think of that sequence, just before exit, which is probably why I’ve never done an unintentional front flip on exit.
After exit, I held my head arched high the first 2 seconds, and then I realized I was stable so I shot a peek under my left arm to watch the building. Some lower offices had security lights and the increase in speed was super visible as the windows went by faster and faster. What a rush!!!
The first sense I actually remember just after exit was huge relief I was back in freefall, someplace very familiar to me. After 10 years of skydiving it was the first time I’d ever been in freefall in silence as my own speed caused the wind to go from 0 to 70 mph in a few seconds. It’s always noisy jumping from planes and at that time I had never jumped a balloon which will give you the same sense of acceleration as the wind noise picks up in your ears. The sound is really cool and most B.A.S.E. jumpers will remember that as one of their first sensations on their first B.A.S.E. jump when falling at least 3 seconds.
The next feeling is that of anxiety as I released the pilot chute after 4 seconds waiting for the canopy. That little old 5 cell Stratostar with over 2000 skydives on it cracked open straight away with a snap that echoed through the canyons of downtown Houston. I let out a rebel yell that also echoed, and then I remembered it was still only 11:00 PM and there were people downtown…so I shut up. I landed next to Randy and our car; we opened the wine inside the car and were both forever hooked on B.A.S.E. To this day, it remains as I said in an interview for PM Magazine in 1985, “the most enjoyable frightening experience in my entire life”.
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