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Countywide : Bungee Jumpers Drop In on Fair

In a steel cage suspended about 110 feet above the Ventura County Fairgrounds, John Christian and Tamara Earl made last-minute checks on the bungee-cord rigging attached to their bodies.

The Fillmore jumpers were about to fling themselves from the perch, into airspace shared by birds and the highest ride on the midway.

“The hardest part is stepping off,” said Earl, 23, who will spend the next 10 days bungee jumping for people attending this year’s Ventura County Fair. “Once you let go, all the fun begins.”

A 50-foot military cargo cord is the only thing stopping the jumpers from crashing into the ground as they swan dive from a cage hooked to the end of a crane boom.

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The cord stretches to about 100 feet, leaving just enough head room for a comfortable fall.

It’s also close enough to give onlookers a scare.

At least one person said he couldn’t bear to watch another death-defying performance.

But for Christian, 27, and Earl, it’s just another day on the job.

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“I’ve done about 100 jumps this year,” said Christian, the owner of a firm in Fillmore called Topa Topa that sells bungee jumps for about $80 a jump. “After a while you don’t even think about it.”

Christian said the highlight of any jump is the feeling of weightlessness he gets when the cord springs back from full extension at about 60 m.p.h.

“There’s nothing more weird than falling up,” said Christian, who offers jumps from a hot air balloon up to 250 feet in the air.

In more than 1,000 jumps since the company began in January, Christian said only one person was hurt when she jumped off wrong and got her arm caught in the rigging.

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However, bungee jumping isn’t for everyone.

Even macho types have been known to chicken out, Earl said.

“It’s one of those sports that after the first jump, you’re either addicted or cured,” said Topa Topa employee Dave Hamilton. “Even I don’t do it too much anymore.”

Thursday marked the second day of the fair, which will run through Aug. 25.

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On Wednesday about 13,500 people attended, reflecting a 20% decrease compared to last year’s first-day figures, fair spokesman Devlin Raley said.

Bungee jumping originated in New Zealand, Hamilton said, where aborigines would attach tree vines to their ankles and leap to within inches of the ground.

Christian said they considered jumping a rite of passage.

Over the years, Americans have adapted tree jumping to modern life and have jumped from bridges and buildings, sometimes illegally.

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One youth at the fair said he would like to jump someday, even if it is dangerous.

“At least you’d die fast,” said 11-year-old Joey Henson of Ventura.


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