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BASE Jumping: Articles: Stories: The Acronym

The Acronym

by Nick Di Giovanni

By Nick Di Giovanni

Around the kitchen table at Phil Smith’s house in Houston, Texas, Carl and Jean Boenish, along with Phil and a few others are planning something special. Something none of them had done before, something they had never even considered before. They are going to jump from the top of building under construction, the Texas Commerce Tower. The year is 1981.

At this point in fixed object jumping’s young life bridges, towers, and cliffs have already been jumped and they, especially Phil Smith, thought tall building are the next logical step. Phil Smith should be credited for opening the world to low objects after a return from his first El Cap jump.

El Cap is considered doable by most skydivers because there is time for a reserve deployment if needed. Phil Smith is about to change all that. He says, “After returning from California I was driving to work and I saw something. It was something I drove past daily, but never took much notice. Now it’s like I’m seeing it for the very first time. It’s an eleven hundred foot radio tower and Phil jumped it the very next morning. He is the first to realize that if jumpers are willing to forgo the reserve option it would open a whole class of new jumpable objects.

While Phil is excitingly talking about the downtown building jump Carl Boenish gets an idea and begins scribbling on a notepad. Jean then mentions a building jump wouldn’t be a first and talks about Owen Quinn who jumped from New York’s World Trade Center towers in 1975. That jump is remembered as more of a stunt, and Owen is somewhat unfairly branded a nut job. “The world,” Jean said, “wasn’t ready for this sort of thing in 1975.”

Carl Boenish is only half listening to the rest until he says, “Hey, look at this.”

He passed the notepad around the table and there is a large word all in caps and circled.

The word is BEST.

“Well,” they all said?

“Don’t you see it. It’s an acronym for the objects that are being jumped. B is for Buildings,

E is for Earth or cliffs, S is for Span or bridges, and the T stands for Towers.

“BEST Jumping?” Phil said.

“I like it,” Jean said.

Carl, had by that time, realized what they and others were doing wasn’t skydiving anymore. It was a new sport and it deserved a new name. When the word BEST wasn’t really accepted by the group, Carl picked up a small dictionary knowing now what he was looking for, an acronym, and it wasn’t long before he found it.

How about this one, “BASE?”

Phil Smith is the very first one to say it out loud, “BASE jumping.”

They all just looked at each other for a little while.

“I don’t like it,” Jean says. “Not all towers are Antennas and the second definition of BASE,” she says picking up the dictionary, “is evil and vile.”

But it’s too late.

It was too cool and Phil later says he felt chills just saying the word. The boys are repeating it over and over. “A BASE jump, BASE jumping, a person doing this would be . . . a BASE jumper!”

A few weeks later Carl Boenish announces the new name along with the sequential BASE number award program in SKYDIVING Magazine. Phil Smith, who did indeed jump the building in Texas becomes BASE number 1. BASE number 2 went to Phil Mayfield and Jean and Carl became BASE 3 and 4 respectively.

Submitted by Nick Di Giovanni on 2007-06-19

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I love hearing stories about the begining, and pioneers of our sport. Keep the stories coming. Thanks for doing the research and development of our sport so I don't have to. Thanks, Bandito Cinco.

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