Galle Fort jumping of the ancient citadel walls started in the early 2009 and it is considered an equivalent to the bungee jump, only a lot more dangerous.
The jumpers don’t even use an elasticized rope to pull you back from the near death experience, and do not have a clear landing point. This hair-raising jump takes place on the Fort ramparts at the top of the wall known as Flag Rock between Point Utrecht Bastion and Triton Bastion.
For those who like to dice with mortality and experience fort life on-the-edge, nothing beats watching these lads, or the ‘jumpers’, as they like to call themselves, spring into action; Chamara, Lasantha, Chinthaka, Rawan, and Ranga.
Each jumper has their own technique when it comes to diving over the wall. It is amazing to watch it day after day; even on a windy or stormy afternoon they always miraculously miss the deadly rocks below and dive into only three to four feet of water. A few foreigners have tried, and not surprisingly, in most cases have ended up very badly hurt.
Once, a Japanese guy broke both his legs and an Italian tourist landed head first on the rocks and smashed his face and arms to pieces. These jumpers would not under any circumstances recommend you try out ‘The Jump’ in a moment of bravado. Just pay them something to demonstrate how it is done and they will happily show you a whole range of awe-inspiring dives.
Chamara Sampath, one of the jumpers, has been diving free style off the Fort walls for nearly a decade. He says with a huge smile on his face, “I love to jump every day of the week and about five to ten times a day. For one jump I was once paid an incredible sum, and yet, the greatest pleasure I get is from showing small, school children how to do it.
Seeing the kids smiling and clapping their hands in joy is payment enough for me.” Chamara has been offered well-paid jobs in the army to train Sri Lankan soldiers in the art of free style diving, and has had numerous opportunities in TV commercials. He was also featured recently on a cooking show with the owner of Flying Fish, Peter Kuruvita, who highlighted the jumpers in his Sri Lankan food show, My Sri Lanka. Peter wisely did not have a go at the jump!
Chamara says he could have joined the army during the war or got a job in Colombo like many of his friends did, but he did not want to be away from his family. Chamara says, “If I could have my life over again I would have only two wishes, and that is to teach this in every school around the country and lobby for this to be a national sport like cricket.” He is still amazed by how many people say anyone can do it, but explains, “It’s not just the height that is dangerous, but the ever-changing weather conditions and level of the sea water, which have to be assessed each and every time you do a dive.”
Each jumper has an amusing story to tell. However, when it comes to the tsunami, there is a deep sadness in their eyes as they recall the morning of 26 December 2004. “The Fort ramparts were busy with lots of tourists as we were in a period of ceasefire. Like on any day of peak tourism season, we were busy talking to people about what we do. A local group pulled up in a van and asked Chamara to jump and, after negotiating a price, I started to run as the water rose up to meet me at the top of the wall. It was so high that even a small child could have done the jump that morning.
It meant for the first time ever I didn’t need to climb back up the rock face, and within seconds of being back on my jumping spot, I was even more alarmed to see the seawater recede and vanish. It was just like the plug had been pulled out of the Indian Ocean. I could see everything on the sea bed and was amazed to see elephant rocks had rocks underneath it in the form of legs, just like the animal they are named after.
I could see beautiful multi-coloured corals, fish gasping for breath and bits of old boats everywhere. I knew then something was terribly wrong, as I had never seen sea water vanish before, and ran as fast I could straight home to check on my mum and sisters,” recalls Chamara.
Despite some very extreme and daunting moments over the years, they it is a great way to stay fit and earn a decent living, which is no easy thing coming from a village. If you want to capture them in action, take a good camera, listen to their advice on the best places to see, and watch them perform unforgettable James Bond-style stunts. The best photographic view to capture both the jumpers and the bastion is found back down the steps and a little way along the ramparts, slightly to the right of the rock
The jumpers will happily wait for you to get in position and then kick off their flip flops and politely ask the crowd to clear a path for them to run from one end of Flag Rock to the other.
Distance and speed is vital to give themselves enough levitation to dive clear of both the wall and rocks. Most of these jumpers have been doing this since they were teenagers, and even with daily practice, have only seen one foreigner from California clear the rocks safely.
Rawan, the first to ever do the jump says, “Even with years of experience of doing the same jump over and over again, there is still an element of risk with freak winds pushing you back against the rock, and that’s what makes it such an adrenaline-junkie sport.”
The best time to take photographs is in the late afternoon as the golden light (on sunny days) makes a clear shot of the jumpers entering the water. You will always find one or several of the jumpers hanging out at Flag Rock where there are little food stalls selling mango smothered in chilli and short eats in the evening. The jumpers are usually seen around between 9.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. courtesy: Ceylon Today