So, you want to skydive. Or, perhaps you think you might want to skydive at some point in the future. Maybe. Either way, you’ve added it to your bucket list of things to do, and your next step is a deceptively difficult one – to commit. But, it’s a big decision! After all, what sane person would leave a perfectly good plane in mid-air?
You could do what I did. For years I kicked this particular can down the road because I couldn’t find anyone in my family or circle of friends to skydive with me. And, I couldn’t go alone, could I? Isn’t this kind of experience best when shared? In a perfect world, yes. Probably it is. But, I couldn’t find anyone to go and, after many years, decided I had to put-up or shut-up once and for all.
So, two days before Mother’s Day, 2015, I picked-up the phone and called one of the nearest skydiving companies. No answer. I left a message and waited a while, but no return call came. Then I called the next number on my list, and again no one answered. Was this a sign? I didn’t leave a message this time and thought I’d wait until after the weekend to try again. Maybe.
A few minutes later my phone rang. I looked at the Caller ID, and the second company on my list had called back. What?!? I didn’t even leave a message with them. Surprised, I answered the phone, and, after a brief conversation about my interest, the rep asked me when I’d want to take the plunge, so to speak.
“As soon as possible,” I said. “I imagine you’re booked for several weeks at least…”
“How about this Sunday?” she asked. What? In two days?!?
“O…K…” I said, and she scheduled me for the first jump on Mother’s Day.
When I arrived that morning for the jump I found my way into the building where a few other early “jumpers” and I began the excitement of the day by watching a video. The video stressed two points about skydiving that shouldn’t surprise anyone. One, skydiving is likely to be the most thrilling experience of your life. And, two, something could go catastrophically wrong.
To prove that I understood there was a chance I might have a very bad experience at this skydiving thing, I had to sign a waiver. Unless I did that, my next steps would lead back to the car. But, I didn’t drive all that way to turn around and go home. So, I signed the waiver, got fitted with a jumpsuit, and met my tandem partner. A newbie like me doesn’t jump alone. An experienced skydiver would be strapped to my back, and that’s a good thing.
After the brief introduction to my tandem partner and equipment fitting, we waited a little while. The pilot had to complete the pre-flight checks – kinda important – and my partner broke the silence by asking us newbies if we were nervous. To a person we said No, and then we light-heartedly chatted a bit about ourselves before getting back to business.
It seems there are a few things the experienced skydivers need newbies to do. 1) When your time comes to skydive, you need to stand and walk slowly to the door. Because you’re strapped together and have to stoop, walking slowly is the only way to go. You don’t want to fall and hurt yourself! 2) When you reach the door, stop, cock your head back, lift your hands up to either side of your head – like a stick-up – and wait. 3) Don’t jump! When ready, your skydive partner will simply lean forward until both of you fall out of the plane. And, finally: 4) When you land, don’t try to land on your feet. Simply lift your legs and land on your butt.
By the time he finished telling us all we needed to do, the plane was ready, and we boarded.
I don’t know how many times the plane circled the dropzone in gaining altitude. I simply looked out the window and enjoyed the view. The engines were too loud to talk, so I sat quietly. Oddly enough, I still felt completely calm as the ground got farther and farther away. It seemed so peaceful.
But, a tap on my shoulder told me the time had come. All the years of waiting and postponing had finally ended! We stood as best we could in that small plane and took short, deliberate steps to the opened door. I waited at the edge and looked down to the ground far below. At that moment what I was about to do slapped me across the face. My calm vanished and my heart raced.
Then we leaned forward and fell out of the plane.
For the first four or five seconds of freefall all I could think was “OMG! OMG! OMG! What have I done?!?” Over the next ten seconds or so I kept wondering when he’d pull the ripcord. He never said when he’d pull the ripcord! But, all questions and worries quickly flew away as we accelerated to terminal velocity – around 120 MPH in a belly-to-earth skydive. So, I relaxed and enjoyed the show. I looked around at the landscape, the sky and clouds… Felt the cool air rush past me… And I just lost myself in the experience.
I don’t know how long we fell before he pulled the ripcord. It seemed like a full five minutes of freefall, but I honestly don’t know. All I know is I wasn’t prepared for the sudden braking when the chute opened. It didn’t hurt at all, but I would have liked to brace myself for the sudden slow-down from 120 to 17 or 18 MPH!
No worries, though. After the chute opened we floated gently for another five minutes on our way back toward earth. Not as thrilling as freefall, but pretty cool all the same!
All good things come to an end. The ground and everything on it kept getting bigger and bigger, and, before long, my feet would be back on earth. What I didn’t know is we had one more maneuver to make. At the time I assumed he had to steer us closer to the landing zone, but all I really know is he pulled on some lines and we whipped around and around in a circle – multiple times and very fast. Even though I don’t get seasick at all, I might have lost my breakfast if I had eaten more than a protein bar that morning. If I skydive again, and I want to, I’ll definitely ask for a tap on the shoulder to let me know this is coming!
But, my stomach survived, and a few minutes later we landed gently on our behinds – right where we needed to be. My tandem partner undid all the clips holding us together, and, grinning ear to ear, I thanked him for a great ride. It was awesome! After returning their gear I drove straight from the dropzone to visit my mom and told her about the morning I had.
Rich Webster has worked for Boone County Public Library for 12 years. He tries to lead an active lifestyle, as time allows, and enjoys travel, as funds allow.