Ask anyone about his or her bucket list and often you’ll find that the Bungy Jump has a prominent place in the top five of the must-do-sometime list. You’ll be pleased to learn that this “Kiwi-as” iconic adrenalin rush was the crafty mindwork of entrepreneur extraordinaire, adventurer and Westlaker, (Alan John) AJ Hackett.
AJ was a student at Westlake from 1972-1974. His favourite subjects were geography, woodwork, technical drawing and maths, and his favourite pastimes were sports and hanging out with his mates during lunchtime at school. “Mr Westlake”, Don Johnson – one of AJ’s teachers – remembers AJ as being a quiet, hard worker in class. Out of class however, AJ was an energetic individual and a fearless and promising rugby player.
AJ left Westlake at age 16 when he was offered the opportunity to train as an apprentice carpenter-joiner and during this time he developed a great love of the outdoors and skiing in particular. A bit of an adrenalin-junkie, AJ was into rock climbing, speed skiing, snowboarding, surfing and anything else that involved scaring himself stupid. A moneymaking stint to set himself up as a ski shop owner saw him fly to Perth where he was supposed to work in the mines to make a quick buck. The money wasn’t as good as he had hoped for so AJ took up a job as an encyclopaedia salesman, putting his persuasive personality and cunning eye for detail to work. He became Australasia’s top salesman within four months and not long after returned to New Zealand continuing to sell encyclopaedias followed by building up a successful business in construction.
In mid-November 1986, inspired by the Vanuatu ritual of “land diving” and the Oxford Dangerous Sports Club’s experimental jumps, AJ and a mate jumped off the Upper Greenhithe Bridge. It was then that his imagination kicked in to develop a method of jumping off somewhere, tied only to a piece of springy cord with the aim of avoiding impact with the ground or hurting yourself on the rebound by the launching pad. AJ went on to develop the super-strong and stretchy, thick, elastic cord used in all bungy jumps and famously demonstrated it by bravely throwing himself off the Eiffel Tower in Paris (after avoiding French authorities by hiding overnight in the tower!).
Following his infamous Eiffel Tower adventure AJ launched his own company, AJ Hackett Bungy and created the world’s first commercial public bungy site at the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown. AJ was instrumental in developing an operating code for safe bungy jumps, now used worldwide and the rest is history. Since AJ has built up a multi-million dollar international business, putting New Zealand on to the adventure and eco tourism world map. He went worldwide after trading off the New Zealand side of his business and his latest venture is setting up a bungy at the Winter Olympics site in Sochi, Southern Russia.
AJ’s exploits as an entrepreneur and adventurer have made him world famous as the face of bungy jumping. He has continued to break Guinness records and personal milestones, including jumping out of a helicopter at nearly 1.5km high. AJ lives now in France with his wife and daughter but he often comes back to New Zealand to catch-up with his family and his old school mates. In March 2009 AJ was invited to school for an assembly and at last year he was one of the Westlaker speakers entertaining the guests with his stories at the 50th Jubilee Gala Dinner. Son Jayde is currently in his last year at Westlake.
If you hear any news about Westlake Old Boys or former staff, or if you are interested in supporting Westlakers’ events and activities, please contact Mrs Christine O’Dowd at school on 09 410 8667 or by email [email protected]