I suppose I’ve always wanted to go skydiving, but never went out of my way to arrange it. It seemed like the kind of thing that would be difficult to forget. Turns out I was right about that; since I’ve gone I’ve been able to talk about little else, though more often than not I find it hard to accurately describe the experience. It’s just too difficult to express the complete experience. I will, however, attempt to do so in today’s edition of the Warbler.
The great thing about tandem skydiving (and 99% of the reason I was able to feel calm about the process beforehand) is just that: it is tandem. Because of this our job as first-time jumpers is limited to simply enjoying the experience. A trained individual whose profession is to safely jump out of planes with people that are way, way more frightened than you are. That’s what I chose to think about while Max, Kristan and I waited for our respective instructors to collect us from our benches in the hangar, where we shivered expectantly. Well, we also shivered because the building was freezing, but that’s neither here nor there.
My instructor introduced himself as Woz. You can see from the photos that he seemed like a genuinely nice fellow whose main interest in life is pursuing the next adrenaline rush and the subsequent smiles that follow the event. He set me up in my harness and we went through the motions of the jump on the ground. One high-five later and he and I were boarding the tiny plane with our compatriots, ready to have an extreem morning.
On the plane the students are being excitedly chatty, no doubt overcompensating for the intense nerves associated with jumping out of a plane at 15,000 feet. The instructors are doing their best to diffuse the nerves by cracking jokes and laughing uproariously. Outside our smudged window, Monterey Bay is beautiful and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Woz taps my shoulder:
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yeah; makes me want to go outside.”
At my reply, Woz laughed, adding: “you’re not scared at all, are you?”
At my shrug he patted my shoulder and said: “well right on. Just remember that god loves you and you’ll be okay.”
I had to laugh at that a little. Folks who know me well know that I’m something of an unbeliever.
Suddenly we’re there. 15,000 feet. The door rolls up and the interior of the plane is buffeted while instructors (who have strapped “students” to their bodies while we climbed) are lumbering toward the “exit” with their students. I see Max go. I see Kristan go. Suddenly it’s my turn and I’m being walked to the door. I put my feet halfway over the edge and look down.
You know that point in time, when you’re on a flight and you’ve taken off, and you really only see squares? Detail is lost in the distance. That’s what it’s like, but you are outside. I see Woz’s hand to my right, holding up three fingers. Two. One.
We rock back, forward, back, and suddenly a rush fills my ears. I’m looking at the sky. Slowly (or maybe it wasn’t so slowly?) we continue our backflip and my eyes are greeted with a tremendous sight. First the Ocean, then Monterey Bay. It’s such a beautiful and clear day that I can see for miles.
Every atom in my body is screaming. Every cell punctuating the ecstatic joy I’m feeling. I’m alive. Alive-ness is pumping through my veins at a hundred miles per hour. I hear a sound and realize I’m screaming. Not in terror; never in terror. Why would anyone be afraid of this pure, un-cut joy of life? I’m screaming with delight. Above me I hear Woz laughing, see his hands. One has a wrist-bound camera and the other is alternating between a thumbs-up and the horns. This is incredible. I never want it to end.
The sensation of freefall is nothing like that sickening feeling of a roller-coaster’s first drop. There’s too much wind resistance for your insides to be doing anything. Woz and I do some spins (this is accomplished by placing your hand down on one side or the other, creating resistance and propelling your body into a spin.) We continue plummeting, my mouth being forced open by the screams and enormous amounts of wind holding it open.
Suddenly we’ve slowed and are vertical. The chute has been pulled. It wasn’t a jarring sensation like I thought it might be. I hadn’t noticed until the chute had been deployed and our descent slowed to a calm very fast (as opposed to blindingly fast.) I realize I’m laughing and Woz is laughing with me. I’m completely overwhelmed. The adrenaline pumping in my system has left me quivering, but I hardly take notice. We’re at about 5,000 feet when the chute is pulled and there’s plenty of sky left to fall through.
The parachuting portion was calmer than I expected, but moved far faster than I’d have thought. Woz started turning us toward the landing zone, then handed me the handles. He taught me how to turn the parachute and let me take a few of my own. It was an incredible sensation. Suddenly and dramatically picking up speed, noticing that you’re almost parallel with the ground.
Woz asks for the handles, and returning them to him I ask,
“Is it like this every time?”
“Every time, dude. Every fucking time.”
We’re approaching the landing, maybe two hundred feet below us, and I know I have to do this again. The landing goes smoothly, and while my body is still shaking, I’m jumping up and down, hardly able to contain myself. I wish I could have gone again right away.
I’ll be going again soon.
The pictures from Woz’s wrist-cam (a Go-ProHD, if you were curious) are on my flickr feed: link!