The man who performed the world’s first-ever modern-day bungee jump has died at the age of 78. David Kirke was a founding member of Oxford University’s Dangerous Sports Club and is credited with inventing the sport of bungy jumping. He is also renowned for the countless other outrageous exploits carried out by his group.
A rebellious spirit, he loved pushing the boundaries of what was possible. He was a trailblazing adventurer and an icon for those who want to live life to the fullest.
He was a maverick godfather of the sport that is now enjoyed by millions around the globe. In a career that spanned four decades, Kirke participated in various daring activities and outrageous stunts. He was an anarchic buccaneer who liked to upturn apple carts and was Byronesque in his thrall to adventure.
The world first witnessed Kirke and his friends jumping from a bridge in Bristol, UK, on April Fool’s Day, 1979. Inspired by a ritual on Vanuatu in the South Pacific, where locals would brag about their prowess by leaping from 80ft towers tied on with vines, the Oxford University students decided to try a similar feat in Britain. They re-purposed giant elastic ropes used to snag jets and gliders on landing and chose the Clifton Suspension Bridge for their first attempt. Although the rope hadn’t been tested, Kirke argued that it would hardly be dangerous. He and his three fellow jumpers managed to leap from the bridge without injury.
Kirke stepped off the bridge wearing a top hat and tails while he held a bottle of champagne in his hand. The Dangerous Sports Club members jumped from the bridge multiple times that year, and despite being detained and fined by the police, the concept soon took off. It was later perfected by AJ Hackett in New Zealand, and the sport now enjoys global popularity.
Kirke and his group were an antidote to the bleak landscape of 1970s Britain and were unashamedly out to have a good time. They also pioneered other extreme sports, including microlighting and water skiing. They were also responsible for extending the Swinging Sixties by a decade. A septuagenarian friend described him as “an anarchic buccaneer who liked nothing better than to upturn apple carts and to stretch the imagination.” He was a man who wanted to see the world and was happiest when he was doing something different and adventurous. His death is being mourned by those who knew him. He is survived by his nieces and nephews, who called him Mad Uncle Dave. He will be missed by all who love thrill-seeking adventures. Rest in peace, David Kirke.