I mentioned skydiving vs. amusement park rides in my previous post. I know my previous two posts weren't really funny -- they were more the result of too little sleep and too much bad food. Hopefully you'll find this one moderately amusing.
I went skydiving last year with a buddy of mine, just to say we did it. It was pretty surreal. First, the whole jumping community has a total surfer/deadhead vibe I didn’t expect. There was lots of dirty feet, hacky sack games, shell necklaces, and long shorts (or short pants, I'm not really sure which.) It was a little unnerving to trust your life to what seemed like, to all available sensory input, a stoner with no shoes, no shirt and a complete set of whiteboy dreads. But the guy I jumped with wasn't so bad. He was pretty laid back, but a bit older, like most of his weed smoking was behind him. He had jumped over 16,000 times. That’s a lot of times to get it right.
We had scheduled it way in advance, and it wasn't a great day. It was hot, humid and cloudy, and we were waiting for the weather to clear up so we didn't have to shoot the holes. Shooting the holes means that instead of jumping out of the plane over the landing zone, you jump out where there is a hole in the clouds big enough to drop through, and then you try to coast yourself back to the landing zone after the chute opens. There were many stories about not making it all the way back. My instructor landed on top of Home Depot once. My buddy’s instructor landed in a cemetery the week before. (That went over real well with all the first-time jumpers like us.)
First, they gave us our "training" which consisted of jumping off a crate that was about 3 feet high. As long as we landed on both feet, and managed not to break one or both ankles, we passed. Then they made us lie down on the same crate and arch our backs. Once we had mastered that, we were good to go. All told, our training was over in about 13 minutes.
Our training done, all that remained was the wait. We sat there from about 9 am until about 3 or so, waiting for the clouds to burn off. The entire time we were thinking it wasn't going to happen. We spent some time checking out the planes. They had an open cockpit two-seater bi-plane that you could go up in for about a hundred bucks more. They take you up, then flip the plane over and you just fall out. I didn't think I was quite ready for that one.
Finally, after a rain shower, the weather breaks, and we jump on this plane. The scariest part of the entire thing was the flight up. The plane pulls up to where we're waiting, and the entire side of the plane is just…..open. Like they removed the left half of the fuselage. Inside, you’re sitting on a steel bench, with no seatbelt. Down the runway we go, and before you know it, we're climbing pretty steeply. Keep in mind that at this point, none of us trainees actually have a chute on. The pilot makes one mistake reaching for his bong, and you’re out the door like a cigarette butt flicked from a car window. It’s so loud you can’t even hear each other talk.
I’m a little nervous at this point, what with the ability to slide out the door at any given moment. I am watching my altimeter climb up slowly. When it reaches 8,000 feet, I look across the aisle at my instructor’s altimeter, and his says 6000 feet.
Hmmmm. Should I be concerned, I wonder? I look at my altimeter again. Mine now says 9,000 feet. I look at my instructors wrist. 6,000 feet and holding. I realize that I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm pretty sure at this point all the altimeters on the plane should probably be reading the same altitude. I make up my mind to bring this little discrepancy to my instructor's attention.
I motion to him, point at my wrist, then point at his and yell, “WHY DOES MINE SAY WE’RE AT 9,000 feet AND YOURS SAYS WE’RE AT 6?” He taps on his altimeter, and the needle jumps up to 9000. He yells back, “MINE STICKS A LITTLE BIT.” I must have looked worried because he added, “IT DOESN”T STICK ON THE WAY DOWN – AT LEAST IT HASN'T YET.” That didn’t really put my mind at ease.
So there was this Korean couple, a husband and wife, and they weren’t new to this sport. They had the matching jumpsuits, matching helmets, small, fast aerobatic chutes...they didn’t smile or say a word the entire day. Hardcore. Then right before they linked legs and jumped out of the plane together, he leans over, shakes my hand and yells, “GOOD RUCK!!” It was pretty damn funny. After they left the plane at 11k, we reached 13.5, which was the altitude that would give us a full minute of freefall before we had to pull the chute.
My instuctor motions me over to his side, which was the side with the open wall. That was a scary walk. I am literally 2 feet away from an 8x12 hole in the side of a plane. I sit down on the edge of the metal bench in front of him, and he clips us together. He yanks the straps tight, I get tugged backwards between his legs, and he leans forward and yells in my ear, “Who’s yer daddy?” Next thing I know, we’re standing at the open door, with the wind screaming by us. We count to three, push off, flip over once then we’re falling at 120mph. The sound of the plane is instantly gone, and all you can hear is the wind.
We reach terminal velocity (really, really bad name for that, btw) and suddenly it’s like we’re flying. My video guy is flying back and forth in front of us, holding the camera. The only indication you have that you are falling is the wind, and the little needle on your altimeter. We do some spins, and check out the scenery. I'm constantly looking at my wrist because I'm still not trusting my instructor's altimeter.
Right at 5,000 feet, I grab the ripcord and yank it. About two seconds later, the chute pops, and my crotch goes from 120mph to 10mph in the space of a second. My shoulders get yanked backwards, and there’s something in my throat that I think I used to piss with.
After that, you’re floating and you can readjust a bit, and kind of sit on top of the harness. Then you just enjoy the ride. It's totally silent, one of the most peaceful feelings I've ever had. Good stuff, and a perfect landing.
If you ever get the urge to do something like this, head to freefall adventures. The surfer vibe notwithstanding, they have the best planes, the best instructors and the best record. Ask for Mark and Jason. Mark was the instructor and Jason was the video guy. They both did a phenomenal job.