On Sunday the 26th of August, Katie and I went for a tandem skydive, the one that I rescheduled a few weeks ago. In this final post on the skydive list item, I’ll recount the day and then my surprising post-dive thoughts.
We woke up, showered, dressed and had a tasty breakfast at a local cafe. We drove to the skydive centre, after a brief detour because I missed the entrance. We filled out the forms and then watched a few skydivers land while we waited to be called.
When called, we met our instructors at the gear-up area. The instructors helped us put on the jumpsuits and harness, then led us to the runway. A few camera appearances later, we were boarding the plane.
I’ve never been on a small plane before. My experiences with aircraft are limited to 777s, 747s, and other small-glimpse-out-the-porthole domestic and international planes. The one at the skydiving centre was quite small in comparison, filled with windows, and with a strong propeller that made it difficult to get in the airplane while standing.
I was surprised how few people were going up in the plane; just three tandem pairs and a cameraman. Then two groups of four and a solo jumper came on the plane. The jumpsuit and harness pulled in my belly a bit, but then the person sitting in front of me had to push his parachute bag into my abdomen in order for everyone to fit in. Ouch!
The takeoff was only a little bumpier than larger airplanes, then we were climbing quickly. The solo jumper left at 5,000 feet, the flimsy little shutter door opening and closing easily.
On the way up, my instructor pointed out Wollongong and Botany Bay. There were plenty of windows, and the shutter door was see-through. Much better views than on bigger planes.
There were three lights at the rear of the plane; one for 3 minutes to jump, one for 1 minute to jump and a green one for jumping. At the 3 minutes point, the instructors checked the harnesses were tight and clipped us closer together with side clips
After what is usually a 15 minute plane trip, we got to 14,000 feet. The two groups of four and the cameraman all jumped out. Then it was my turn.
My instructor and I maneovred our way to the open shutter door. I was focusing on the edges of the door, making sure I got to the right place and moved when pushed, so I didn’t look at the view much. Everything was so far away that it was a little blurry; it looked just like in TV where the actors are ‘driving’ and you can tell the background isn’t live.
I sat on the edge, crossed my arms over my chest, grabbed the harness and leaned my head back. The instructor angled his wrist camera so I could say my final words, then he gently rolled us out of the plane.
For the first five seconds, I focus on holding the correct position as we tumble around. Apparently it’s just as hard to see the view when spinning in the air as when you spin on the ground. We stop tumbling, facing down, as the instructor deploys the drogue parachute, a tiny little half-sphere that slows us a little and ensures we point toward the ground during the freefall.
The freefall was not what I expected. It didn’t feel like falling! Instead, there was a lot of pressure on the front of my body. I’m used to pressure on my sides when driving through a corner too fast, so this was odd. The view remained a little blurred by distance. The wind whistled past my ears (ouch) and straight up my nose. Cold! I worked out that if I let my upper lip fly up, it blocked the wind from going up my nose. It looks a little weird on the video.
After what probably wasn’t an eternity, the instructor deployed the parachute and I was vertical again. First things first: yes, I have a nose! Second: Woo, my ears are still attached! The instructor unclipped the extra side clips, while repeating that I’ll still be attached. I felt no jolt at all, but I could breathe a bit more.
The instructor pointed out Katie’s parachute off to our right as we gently glided nearer the skydiving centre. When we were almost there, the instructor asked if I wanted to drive (“hell yes!”) and showed me the loops for my hands. It required quite a bit of effort to change our direction, which was reassuring. The instructor demonstrated just how far it could be pulled as we went into a very tight downward spiral. It felt like a swing ride from the showgrounds, which were one of my favourites.
After I had a bit of fun driving, the instructor took us towards the skydiving centre. As we got close, I waved like an idiot to my family observing from the ground.
We went into the final landing pattern, I pulled my legs up as instructed (“aargh”) then stood up when it looked like we’d land standing. The parachute was still billowing a bit, but hurrah for landing!
I detach from the instructor, make a quick camera appearance with Katie, waddle back to family for photos, remove the harness and jumpsuit, then wait for movies.
The big surprise of the day was that I felt underwhelmed after the jump. I was expecting some major shift in my thinking, a positive reevaluation of life, or something like that. At least some nervousness. But none of them happened.
I may have been tired from an 11-hour shift the previous day, at an event I really wasn’t interested in. On a Saturday. Which happened to be my birthday. Ugh.
Another potential reason is the pain during the freefall: my nose froze from the inside out, and my ears were aching and freezing (ear infection, yay). I wasn’t able to enjoy the experience, or even focus on the view, because of these distractions.
There was some reevaluation after the jump, though. I wondered whether I’m just not the type of person who gets/enjoys adrenalin rushes, and whether to scrap the other adrenalin activities (e.g. hanggliding, whitewater rafting) off the list. Perhaps I need to gradually do more exciting things, rather than going to skydiving so early in the list?
Over the last few days since the skydive, I’ve enjoyed talking to people about it. Everyone I’ve spoken to so far has strong feelings for/against going themselves, and noone has been apathetic or disinterested. I’m not sure whether to mention the pain issues, but the more I do mention them, the more I consider going again in the future when healthy, well-rested and not overworked. In the meantime, I’m putting off doing another adrenalin list item until I have more time to think and recover from other distractions.
Overall, I’m glad I did it. It’s good to be able to say I did it, and that I didn’t let fear get in my way of trying something risky. Lessons learned are (1) be healthy and get adequate rest, and (2) one part going wrong does not ruin the whole activity.
I declare this to be the first list item completed!