How Bungee Boarding Works


Image Gallery: Extreme Sports Bungee boarding offers board sport enthusiasts an alternative way to get up speed. See more pictures of extreme sports.
Photo courtesy of Banshee Bungee

Board sport enthusiasts often face the problem of how to get up speed. Using hills and drop-in ramps is an obvious solution, but what if none are available? Some, like skateboarders, can rely on a running start, but the use of leg power alone may keep them from reaching their full speed potential. A riverboarder named Kevin Veon started tackling these acceleration issues in 2004 by experimenting with a braided rubber cord, and that's how bungee boarding was born.

It goes like this: You take a tough, 20-foot-long (6-meter-long) elastic cord. Tie one end to a tree beside a river, attach the other end to a small surfboard, and wade in. If you hold the board underwater, flat against the current, the pressure of the water pushes you downstream. When the cord has stretched as far as it will go, mount the board and angle it upward (in the direction from which you came) so that the current pushes it to the surface. With the force of the current greatly diminished, the stretched cord pulls the board -- and you with it -- back upstream at around 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). That's bungee boarding in a nutshell.

The sport evolved from a variation of riverboarding that's a traditional Idaho pastime. Veon knew that kids had long surfed the Boise River on plywood boards by simply tying a rope to a tree or bridge support and riding the current [source: Miller]. He added the bungee to give the sport another dimension.

From there, the idea grew. If it worked for riverboarding, which has only a handful of devotees, why not for skimboarding -- a beach sport similar to surfing -- which has a few more? And what about snowboarding or skateboarding, which each has many enthusiasts? Veon adapted the bungee to each sport and started a company that is now called Banshee Bungee to market the products [source: Banshee].

Banshee, which currently has the bungee boarding market to itself, sells a cord made of three vulcanized rubber tubes woven together. The bungee can stretch to nine times its length. When used on a river, the cord attaches directly to the board with a special hook that releases once the rider has reached maximum speed. For other applications, the rider holds a handle similar to those used for water skiing and lets go when he's ready. The bungee has opened new possibilities, and new thrills, for intrepid boarders -- even those who live in urban environments. Read on to learn more about the physical forces that make this sport possible.

The Physics of Bungee Boarding

Bungee boarding works according to the principle of potential, or stored, energy. In this respect, it's like traditional snowboarding, so it may help to compare the two. With a traditional snowboard, you ride a lift to the top of a hill. The higher you go, the more potential energy you gain by virtue of your position -- gravity wants to pull you back toward where you started. Once you set off barreling down the hill, the potential energy is converted to kinetic energy -- speed -- which powers you for the length of your ride.

In bungee boarding, the cord stores potential energy as it stretches. In this comparison, its elasticity is the equivalent of gravity. When you use the bungee for skateboarding, snowboarding or skimboarding, the friction of your shoes against the ground keeps you from snapping back before the cord is fully stretched. Once you step onto your board, the friction is dramatically reduced and the potential energy in the cord changes to kinetic energy. You accelerate.

When you use the bungee for riverboarding, it's the pressure of the water against the board that helps create the potential energy and keeps the board from snapping back. Held underwater, flat against the current, the board acts like the sail on a boat, absorbing a lot of energy and stretching the cord. When you tilt the board and start riding it along the river surface, the downstream force lessens significantly and the bungee pulls you rapidly upstream.

One essential aspect of using a bungee is the need for an anchor point. You'll have to tie a rope or web strapping that's connected to your bungee around something that won't move, such as a tree. For skimboarding at the beach, it's best to place an anchor out near where the waves are breaking. Most boarders use a Danforth-style anchor with flat flukes that's designed to dig into sand or mud [source: Kalisek].

When using the bungee for anything besides riverboarding, a rider can enlist one or more friends to help create the necessary potential energy. Bungees can be equipped with two handles, allowing the helper to pull along with the boarder. The helper steadies the bungee while the rider mounts the board. When he lets go, the rider takes off.

Now that you're clear on bungee boarding basics, read on for some tips on how to get the most of your experience.

Bungee Boarding Tips

The first advice that Banshee Bungee spokesman Cooper Kalisek has for users is to avoid dry-firing the bungee -- that is, don't stretch it to the max and then let go if you decide not to ride [source: Kalisek]. The safety concern here is probably obvious: The handle takes off at high speed and can injure bystanders. But Kalisek also points out that when the bungee recompresses quickly, it builds up a great deal of heat. If it's dry-fired repeatedly, the heat can turn the rubber brittle and shorten the life of the bungee.

Another tip that Kalisek mentions is to anchor the bungee low rather than high. For example, don't pick a tree 10 feet (3 meters) up the bank for an anchor when using the bungee in a river. A bungee anchored low gives a better pull and is safer. Bungees themselves are adaptable. You can choose 10-foot (3-meter) or 20-foot (6-meter) lengths, depending on the amount of space you have available. You can also shorten the effective length of the bungee by wrapping it around the anchor point.

While riding your bungee board, it may help to assume a crouched stance. Having bent knees and a lower center of gravity, particularly when you're getting up to speed, can make it easier to stay on the board and not be jerked off by the impulse of the cord. Many of the moves or tricks you can try in bungee boarding are the same ones that apply to any boarding sport. You can use the bungee to power ollies (making the board rise as you jump), spins, shuvits (the skateboard rotates beneath you as you jump), and rail slides (you slide along an immobile object like a handrail). But don't let the speed you gain from the bungee tempt you to try tricks outside your range.

When you're using the bungee to skimboard, skateboard or snowboard and someone is helping you, it helps to coordinate with that person. Keep equal pressure on each handle as you stretch the cord. When you're ready, count to three to get in sync. The helper should take a step or two forward before letting go to keep the rider from getting jerked off the board. To learn more about staying safe while bungee boarding, keep reading.

Bungee Boarding Safety

Bungees rarely break.
Bungees rarely break.
Photo courtesy of Banshee Bungee

Think about it: When bungee boarding, you're basically turning yourself into a human slingshot and rocketing along at 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour) on a thin slab of fiberglass or wood. Can that be dangerous? Absolutely.

Every year, 50,000 U.S. skateboarders end up in the emergency room and about 40 snowboarders are killed as a result of practicing their sport [source: MedicineNet.com, NSAA]. Sprains, bruises and fractures are common. Serious head injuries are also possible. While there aren't as many hard statistics available about bungee boarding accidents, the sport shares all the dangers that go with boarding sports in general, combined with the possibility of the bungee handle hitting a bystander.

The biggest factor in bungee boarding safely is probably experience. Roughly a third of injuries in a comparable sport -- skateboarding -- happen to those who've been at it less than a week [source: MedicineNet.com]. The more time you spend learning the basics, the less likely you may be to get hurt. Be sure to take plenty of practice runs with the bungee and get used to its dynamics before trying anything fancy.

Additionally, always wear a helmet while bungee boarding. Guards for knees, elbows and wrists are also available. In the water, a life vest is a good idea, too. As with other board sports, it's helpful to learn how to fall: Relax as much as you can, and try to land on flesh, not bone. Roll as you meet the ground [source: CPSC]. Local laws may ban activities like skateboarding in certain places or require a helmet to be worn [source: San Francisco Skateboarding Laws]. Make sure you know the regulations in your area and respect them.

Bungees rarely break. Each strand can withstand 900 pounds of force [source: Kalisek]. If one strand of your bungee does break, its braided design keeps the whole thing from giving way. Usually, backlash comes from the user letting go of the handle when it's stretched tightly (before a ride has taken place). Always make sure bystanders are far enough away -- in other words, nowhere near the anchor point -- before you get started.

Be careful at the beach. Spectators or swimmers can easily come within range of the bungee. Use an approved anchor, and check it frequently to make sure it's secure. If you're bungee boarding in the street or in a parking lot, make sure there's no traffic. Also, only one person should ride a board at a time, and you should never wrap a bungee cord around any part of a person's body.

For more information on bungee boarding and board sports in general, check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

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  • Banshee Press Release (accessed February 18, 2010)http://www.bansheebungee.com/press-media/press-releases/banshee-bungee-seeking-distributors-and-reps
  • Banshee Bungee Pricinghttp://www.bansheebungee.com/store/
  • Kalisek, Cooper. Banshee Bungee spokesman. Personal interview. February 10, 2010.
  • Kevin Veon Bio (accessed February 18, 2010)http://www.bansheebungee.com/press-media/media-bios/kevin-veon-ceo
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  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. "Skateboards: Fact Sheet."http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/093old.pdf
  • Weiss, Chris. "Human Slingshot: Banshee Bungee." (accessed February 18, 2010)http://inventorspot.com/articles/human_slingshot_banshee_bungee_25347