How and why I came to finding myself taking the plunge
As a boy growing up in Aotearoa (New Zealand), it wasn’t unusual to be around the water, whether it’s the ocean, rugged west coast beaches, a lake, swimming pool or the local river swimming hole. With that, we would find anything to jump off. Rocks, trees, homemade rope swings, diving boards or a boat if you had one. So you could say it’s in our blood to get an adrenaline rush, especially when it involves water and heights.
Now that you’ve heard how it is to grow up in NZ, you can probably start to understand why I chose to jump off a 25m bridge in the middle of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Well it sounds straight forward but it wasn’t.. not at all.
We had always planned to visit Mostar while we travelled through the Balkans in Eastern Europe summer 2018. I knew in the back of my head (thanks to a few of the boys from home) that it was possible to jump off this mammoth bridge, but I wasn’t at all intending on doing it myself.
The bridge first came into view the morning we arrived, on our way to do the free walking tour with the town legend, Shaeva. Shaeva taught us that in the path to becoming a man in Mostar, one must first jump off the bridge. It is said that if a young boy doesn’t jump, their life will be a complete failure. Shaeva himself, at 14 years of age, took the plunge and entered both adulthood and a brotherhood of members who’d done the same thing.
After hearing the stories from this local legend, it slowly started to sink in that jumping off the bridge wasn’t just for adrenaline junkies and silly tourists like me. It was tradition, a ritual and a serious of events for all the local Mostarian men. Anxiety filling my thoughts at the very thought of leaping off…
That afternoon while exploring the city, we’d walked across the bridge so many times that we took the interest of another local legend by the name of Johnny. Johnny was wearing blue Speedo’s and was either hanging out in the “divers” club next to the bridge, or over the railing hanging off the side of the bridge. We soon realised this guy was the big show.
Expressing a little interest, I asked him what him and his crew were up to. These guys were always hanging around the bridge, collecting money, jumping off the bridge themselves & occasionally…coaching a tourist to take the plunge.
He asked where I was from & gave me the spiel… “Brother, first I take you to the 10m platform and teach you how to jump with the proper technique, then if I believe you are ready, we come to the top of the bridge and you join the brotherhood.” I said “thanks bro” and walked away heart pounding into the crowd of people.
Over the next day and a half, I was in and out of my head with anxiety.
Should I jump?
No it’s not worth it
Ahhh f**k just man up and jump
But what if something happens and I cant surf next week
In 20 years you’ll regret it if you don’t
If some of the boys can do it, I can do it!
Ohhhhh but shit it’s high
JUST DO IT!
These were just a few of the arguments I had with myself.
That afternoon we again walked past Johnny on the bridge. Packed with tourists, he singled me out, pointed at me and said, “Brother, when are you coming to do the jump?” to which I replied “oooh I’m not sure if I will I’m still deciding, maybe tomorrow.” He replied in his Bosnian accent, “I know you will come tomorrow do you know why I know, because you are Kiwi.” Dammit that got me feeling all brave and patriotic and shit.
That night we went out for a few beers and got talking to an Australian fullah who had jumped off the bridge that day. To my surprise, he’d been feeling the same as me…riddled with anxiety pre-jump but couldn’t even describe the epic feeling he felt afterwards. At this point, my confidence was growing, probably the beers but the vote of confidence from Leah helped, who was also pretty tipsy by now and saying “DO IT BABE, YOLO!”
Waking up the next morning, 8am, stinking hot, I was hungover, my confidence was gone & I was as anxious as ever.
We headed into town for coffee and on the walk in I said to Leah, “Nah screw this, I’m not going to do it.”
She, as always, supported my decision but also told me that while she was too many red wines deep last night, she’d already told her family I was going to do it. Can’t back out now with Wayne and Sean (Leahs dad and brother) giving me the boost of confidence and knowing they’d never let it go if I chickened out. Smart decision from Leah not telling my mum… it was best she found out through Facebook.
Now my mind was racing!!! I’m not even sure what I was feeling. It probably sounds stupid, but I was extremely torn, to jump or not to jump and boy this decision was so hard. I had my head in my hands, heavy breathing and felt like I was literally making a life of death decision.
After about 10 minutes like this, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up and I said, “F**k it, I’m gonna jump.” Heart rate climbing I told myself “GET EXCITED BOY.” If only I had some of the lads there to help me get pumped up like before a rugby game or paddling out in big swell.
Decision was made and off I went and see Johnny, leaving Leah down below. We shook hands and he lead me off down the river for some practice jumps. The only way I’m getting out of this now is to do the practice jumps like an absolute wombat, I thought to myself. We reached the 10m practice platform and Johnny did a damn good job of getting me pumped up..
First of all, I had to jump as I usually would so Johnny could see my natural jumping ability. I took a leap forward, threw my arms up high then hit the water. His response was “good brother but you need more technique…”
Basically the technique goes like this:
- Arms out parallel with the ground (think Jesus on the cross)
- Chest out
- Stand strong, feet together
- Don’t jump but step off the platform like you’re stepping off the curb to cross the road
- 2 metres from the water, Johnny will yell “NOW”
- At this moment, squeeze your arms down by your side and cup your balls for extra protection and future reproduction
I followed his instructions and he was impressed. He even said “You’re ready to go now if you wish.” Well… I wasn’t so sure so I smashed out two more practice jumps and then agreed “I’m ready.”
By now my heart was in over drive as we made the walk from the practise jump to the top of the bridge. I gave Leah a quick wave as I caught her eye, she’d befriended a random and was holding on tight to their arm, riddled with her own nerves..
Johnny decided there were too many people on the bridge and that we should go back to the club room to wait for the crowds to disperse. I followed him like he was my Sensei.
Inside the club rooms things became even more intense. Johnny and I shook hands, he said he believed in me, thanked me for my bravery, told me I was about to be part of a Mostarian tradition and got me to put on a wetsuit to further protect my balls 😂
Walking through the crowded bridge was surreal. All the people looking at me and thinking “this tourist’s out of his mind,” which I guess I was but here’s where it all changed…
Climbing over the railing of the bridge I started to feel extremely focused. Johnnys calming presence held me strong as we stood there, blissfully unaware of the hundreds of tourists both beside us and below us.
Standing out on the edge, Johnny poured water over my head and body. Partly so my body was ready for the cold shock of the 9 degree water and secondly, symbolic to the Mostarian right of passage.
As I planted my feet, and lifted my arms I heard Johnny say “Feel the water brother, don’t rush it and enjoy.”
I opened my eyes and felt a complete sense of clarity. Like I knew nothing bad was going to happen. I was confident, focused and god damn excited. I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t even hear the noise from the 150+ on lookers.
I looked down to the freezing river and enjoyed this sense of freedom. I took a good sized step off the edge and let gravity do the rest. The 3 second free fall was unreal, nothing to stop me other than the water itself. I held strong, exactly like Johnny had taught me and a few meters before the water he yelled “NOW!!” I reacted on instinct, pulling my arms in so quickly, cupping my balls and holding on tight!
I hit the water hard, my legs split apart and I sort of did a banana. My legs shot up and my head went down. Not what I was expecting but hitting fast running water at 75km per hour will apparently do that to you.
I found my way to the surface, popped up and heard clapping and chanting (mainly from Leah who was just happy to see me alive). I remember feeling the water had flushed out my left eye and I felt around to make sure my eyeball was still there. It was. A 25 meter drop and I came away unscathed.
Relief, adrenaline & excitement rushed through my blood. All the butterflies freed from my body.
Swimming to the river bank to meet Leah, I was screaming and chahooing, “man what a feeling!!!!!”
After the jump we headed back to the clubhouse where I got a few photos with my Sensei Johnny, signed the famous book of divers and got rewarded with a certificate showing I am the 2729th person to jump from the Mostar bridge!!
Still shaking with adrenaline but with a grin from ear to ear, I could finally relax for the rest of our time in Mostar.
A surreal experience, for weeks afterwards getting congratulated by friends from home, people who follow along on our Instagram and other tourists who Leah would always tell.
Of course we also got it on video (only iPhone quality we’re not movie makers). But you can check it out both below and on our highlights reel on instagram @freeandaddicted
Jumping off the bridge isn’t for the faint hearted or inexperienced, things have gone wrong before and will go wrong again. If you’re wanting to do the jump yourself, make sure to do it safely you go see Johnny and the boys from the divers club. Enjoy!!
Bryn | free & addicted
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