Coastlines like Muriwai Beach in New Zealand provide ideal locations for paragliding. Photo by tkw954

It’s been said that a person needs only 20 seconds of insane courage. Just 20 seconds. That’s the same amount of time it might take you to wash your hands, set an alarm clock, or fall asleep. But in that same 20 seconds, you can fall thousands of feet through the sky, plummet headfirst toward an alligator-infested river, or fly off the side of a cliff.

Since the 1700s, people have been finding ways to fall for fun, beginning with jumping out of hot air balloons. But since then, methods have changed dramatically (and, thankfully, are safer than ever). So if you’ve plucked up 20 seconds of courage, what adventure will you take? Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or just looking for another quest, you might want to consider these falling-based activities.


Feeling particularly dare-devilish lately? Nothing gets the heart pumping like flinging yourself out of a plane thousands of feet above stable ground. When planning your next vacation, spend an afternoon floating with the birds.

Whether you are a novice or pro, you can try skydiving in countries all over the world. Europe, North America, and South America have the most skydiving opportunities.

So where do you start, and what do you need to know? First, select a drop zone, which is essentially a skydiving center. Some things to consider during this selection process are location, cost, and services offered. Are you looking for a local spot or for a more exotic experience?

Sites like offer databases full of locations in the United States and across the world. Depending on location, equipment, and the kind of jump, prices can start at $180 or higher. If you’re willing to dish out some extra moolah, many drop zones offer photos and video of your drop for an additional fee.

You can find a drop zone close to home. Novice skydiver Stephanie Buhler makes a tandem jump with her instructor in Ogden, Utah. Photo courtesy of Mandy Owens

While researching location and cost, don’t forget to check which services are available. Not all drop zones are created equal. For instance, local lodging or amenities, varying aircrafts, and your instructor will greatly affect your experience.

Amanda Donahoo, a novice jumper from Dallas, Texas, suggests reading reviews beforehand, especially in reference to the staff. “The instructors [at Skydive Spaceland near Houston] were so helpful and encouraging, just like the reviews said. Trust yourself, and trust your instructor.” Typically, beginners make tandem jumps, which involve the student being harnessed to an experienced instructor.

Among the many “falling” adventure sports, skydiving seems to have the scariest reputation. “It’s that little-kid moment when you realize you aren’t as brave as you want to be,” Donahoo describes, “and mom needs to tell them to stop the ride. Except I’m free-falling at 180 mph, and the only way to breathe is to scream. So I scream. And scream some more.”

Though these heights can bring on waves of fear, many say that skydiving doesn’t actually produce that dreaded stomach-dropping sensation. In fact, it may feel more like you’re floating on water.

Bungee jumping

This sport is mainly for solo fallers. What’s more exhilarating than strapping your ankles to a cord and jumping headfirst toward rocks and moving water? If this extreme sport has made it onto your bucket list, here are some basic things you should know.

Aspiring bungee jumpers can choose to jump from several different structures, such as bridges or buildings. And because special geography is required, cranes can allow bungee jumping in regions where it otherwise would be unavailable.

Exotic and famous jumping locations can be found all over the world, from bridges in China and New Zealand to gorges in South Africa and California. Twenty-four states within the US offer bungee jumping adventures. Prices begin at $80.

As a teenager living in Japan, Clayton Grames, a student studying mechanical engineering, spent time jumping. “The scariest part is when you finally have the cord attached to your feet,” he recounts. “Then the cord drops over the edge and it tugs at your feet. You’re not ready to jump yet, so you immediately think ‘Whoa!’”

Extreme vacationers can find bungee jumping locations across the world, including stunning views in Interlaken, Switzerland. Photo by

Companies instruct jumping groups on safety and dive positions as part of their package. For beginners, the Superman Front Dive and Backwards Plunge are two dives often used. In both diving positions, the cord is attached to the person’s core, instead of the ankles, providing a more secure feeling—as secure as you can feel while jumping from a cliff, that is.

Bungee America is the oldest and perhaps most renowned jumping company in the United States. Its fame arises from the use of The Bridge to Nowhere in California. But amateur adrenaline junkies aren’t the only ones seeking jumps off this bridge—Hollywood stuntmen frequently use this historic site too.

Whether you’re tiptoeing to the edge of a gorge or dropping from the top of a building, the flashing seconds during a bungee jump are sure to give you a rush.


Of all the “falling” adventures, paragliding might be considered the easiest on a person’s frazzled nerves. Typically found in mountainous regions or near the coast, this activity involves being strapped into a harness that is connected to a gliding aircraft with wings. Paragliding is not to be confused with its close cousins, parasailing (a parachute towed behind a boat) and hang gliding (a rigid frame that allows gliders to fly at higher speeds).

“If you want to see a side of the country you would never see otherwise, paragliding is the way to go,” Oregonian and novice paraglider Victoria Fox says. “It’s not as adrenaline-pumped as skydiving and bungee jumping. It’s relaxing enough to let you really take in the views.”

Fox hints at the key to paragliding: focus on expansive panoramas rather than the rush that comes when skydiving or bungee jumping. “You take this running start and then when you’re off the ground, you sit back in your harness,” Fox recalls. “After that it’s just a smooth ride. It’s a lot like surfing, the way you ride the wind.”

The road to paragliding is simpler than to other extreme sports. There are at least two routes you can take: commercial establishments or local clubs. Commercial establishments can be found online or in that dusty phonebook under your sink. Tandem rides typically cost anywhere from $115 to $200, and average flight time depends on the company. For cheaper opportunities, Fox suggests trying to contact members of a local paragliding club to negotiate a trip.

Because of lengthier flights and soaring heights, it’s best to wear layers of warmer clothing when paragliding. If you’re in a rainy or humid area, adding a waterproof layer and a facemask is wise. Close-toed shoes are necessary for the light running required at take off and landing.

Unlike skydiving and bungee jumping, it’s much easier to pick up paragliding as a hobby. Courses to obtain certification ratings are short and sweet. With 7 to 15 days of instruction, anyone can be certified to fly solo. However, tandem rides with professional staff or certified gliders are almost always available. Or for a whopping $4,500, you could buy your own paraglider and accompanying equipment!

The next time you’re feeling gutsy, put those 20 seconds of insane courage to use and pick a falling adventure that will leave you gasping for more.

—Jordan Carroll