Hit new highs on a 17-storey bungee jump at Sentosa

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ST travel correspondent Clara Lock stares down danger and musters up her courage at AJ Hackett Sentosa.
A bungee jump at AJ Hackett Sentosa now costs $69, down from $159 before the pandemic. PHOTO: AJ HACKETT SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Even now, over a week later, my palms still grow clammy every time I think about teetering on a bungee tower 17 storeys up, toes peeking over the edge of the platform, dreading the plunge into a wide expanse of nothingness.

Bungee jumping has always been on my bucket list - one of those "one day I'll do it" things that I never ticked off due to cost, fear or both.

This year, cooped up in Singapore by the pandemic and missing the thrill of edging beyond my comfort zone, there seems no better time to give it a shot.

I am not alone in this line of thought. Mr Luke Johnson, general manager of AJ Hackett Sentosa, says the international bungee operator has seen a shift in consumer mindset since the Covid-19 pandemic.

"People are living in the moment, because they don't know what is around the corner. They don't mind spending a bit more to have an experience, tick off the bucket list, get outdoors and live life," he says.

Steep discounts have helped woo crowds since the Sentosa site reopened in July.

A bungee jump now costs $69, down from $159 before the pandemic. The company declines to reveal visitor numbers, but says it gets a "high throughput" during weekends.

On the weekday afternoon when The Sunday Times visited, at least 10 brave souls have taken the plunge.

If a gut-wrenching, soul-cleansing, scream-your-way-down activity sounds too intense, the sky bridge is entertainment enough - like a teaser before the bungee jump, where you can step into a vertigo-inducing glass cube or peer through transparent floor panels to spot jumpers dangling by their ankles below.

This is where dread first sets in.

I am no adrenaline junkie and have a poor track record when it comes to jumping off things. During swimming lessons as a child, I spent weeks gathering the courage to jump into the pool, gingerly poking one foot over the edge, while my classmates cannonballed merrily into the water.

And during a physical education class in primary school, I was among the slowest to perform a trust fall into the arms of my classmates.

So in the week leading up to my jump, I engage in all kinds of mental trickery to psych myself up.

All I have to do is leap forward, I tell myself. The hardest part will be over in a split second.

Alone at home one afternoon, fully aware of how ridiculous I look, I imagine my ankles tied and practise jumping off a stool. My attempt at grace goes nowhere.

But knowing the right form is important. Diving head first allows a smooth transition into the upside-down position, and keeping my chin tucked and arms outstretched will prevent a mouthful of water as I dip into the 3.5m pool below.

Jumpers can decide if they want to touch the water and the crew will adjust their bungee cord accordingly, although a decisive leap offers a much better chance of finishing with a dip.

Jump master Izuwan Hajis runs me through these tips while his colleague straps me by the ankles, tying a knot that will tighten when pressure is exerted. He lets me pick a song and I choose Rust To Gold by American rock band Council. Countless times, the upbeat track on my workout playlist has pushed me to one more rep. Today, I hope it will help me take the leap.

I shuffle reluctantly to the edge and Mr Izuwan begins a countdown, but when he reaches one, my legs remain frozen.

I stagger to the side and ask for some time to regroup.

The 47m tower, small in the bungee jumping world and only one-fifth the height of the Macau tower jump run by the same company, proves too daunting when it becomes clear there is no barrier between me and the curved shoreline of Siloso beach below.

I almost turn tail and run - and I would not be the only one. About 1 per cent of people turn back from the edge, says Mr Johnson.

Unlike tandem skydiving or riding a rollercoaster, the thrill - and terror - comes from being fully in control of your experience.

"Fear is part of the process. Once you get over the hurdle, it's just an amazing feeling," adds Mr Johnson, who has more than 300 jumps under his belt.

After a few minutes of self-talk, I gear up for a second attempt, this time counting down aloud with the crew.

Once again, it is a false start. My traitorous legs refuse to budge. The track loops once more. I have definitely been here longer than five minutes, the average duration it takes for most to make the leap. I begin to feel like I will never get off this tower.

A crowd of beachgoers offers unexpected moral support.

"There are people below cheering for you," says Mr Izuwan, still gripping my hand encouragingly. Perhaps this is the boost I need. Finally, on my third attempt, I push off.

The world is a muddle of teal and green and sand. I hear people whooping and try to spot them but everything is topsy-turvy.

Then the recoil hits. I hurtle upwards and suddenly find myself falling once again, almost as thrilling as the first time.

Indeed, my fear has vanished. The hard part is over and now I can finally enjoy the heart-in-mouth feeling, more satisfying because I have earned it. The free fall lasts only about two to three seconds but feels like a glorious eternity.

As it turns out, I did not propel myself far enough during my jump and miss the water by a few inches.

No matter. The afternoon still ends on a high.

I play Rust To Gold again on my way home and think about how we relate songs to milestones and seasons.

Now, irreversibly, it has become my anthem of embracing new experiences and letting go of fear.

Hit speeds of up to 120kmh on a giant swing

Journalist Clara Lock (left) and her companion Sheena Neo on a giant swing at AJ Hackett Sentosa, which hits speeds of up to 120kmh. PHOTO: AJ HACKETT SINGAPORE

Here's the thing about thrill rides - they never seem that scary until you are actually on them.

While waiting our turn for the AJ Hackett Sentosa giant swing, I watch giggling riders pale as they are hoisted from the ground to about 15 storeys high, then hear their screams as they hurtle forward in a massive arc.

But in comparison to the bungee jump, which I am petrified of, the swing seems fun and non-threatening - like a larger version of the Viking ship ride at amusement parks that goes up to 120kmh.

AJ Hackett Sentosa general manager Luke Johnson likens it to the entree of a meal, a beginner-friendly option before one attempts the bungee.

Some entree it is. Midway through the ascent, I begin to think these are all poor comparisons.

Dangling by a body harness while the ground pulls away and treetops come into view, one feels extremely small and vulnerable. Cyclists and beachgoers look like they are part of a diorama.

To make matters worse, the fate of my companion and I, strapped in side by side, lies in my hands. The swing begins only when I yank a release cord that sends us swooping down. Fail to muster the courage and we will be left dangling forever.

If you have ever teetered at the top of a rollercoaster, you know the plunge is inevitable, the agony over quickly.

Returning control of the experience is part of AJ Hackett Sentosa's appeal, the difference between taking a ride and doing an activity. It all sounds very empowering, but only for those with nerves of steel. I wonder if anyone has needed rescue at the top.

Today, we are spared that ignominy. After a brief hesitation, I pull hard, and we are off. This is more than a stomach-dropping plunge - I feel my entire weight plummeting and instinctively stretch out my arms to break the fall.

But there is no fall, only a hard tug as we swoop forward, high above Siloso beach, shrieking until the swing slows.

If you are going on the bungee jump next, the giant swing will whet your appetite.

Otherwise, it is an adrenaline high you can savour for the rest of the afternoon. Definitely a shared memory you can retrieve to have a good laugh over, again and again.

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