No expression can do justice to the feeling of jumping out of an airplane from thousands of feet above the ground. It’s one of those rare experiences that are pure, serene and make you feel lively. Gravity seems like an evil force and the ecstasy of defying it proliferates as the altitude drops.
“You are going to be a sky diver when you set foot on the ground again” – said my diving instructor as we gained altitude in the de Havilland Canada aircraft (DHC-6 Twin Otter). The plane carried 3 other first time jumpers, 4 instructors and a couple of camera divers. We were strapped to our instructors, which is a pre-requisite for a first time diver and this is called a tandem jump. It started getting chillier with every stratum of the atmosphere. The dive site below was getting tinier by the minute and I could clearly see fear building up on the faces of fellow divers. I knew this wasn’t the day for fear; (that would come when I jump solo (which is still on the checklist by the way). At about 14,000 ft my instructor double checked the harness and signalled me to move towards the door. Some people had mentioned that the ‘walk’ from the plane seat to the door is the most difficult one. I knew this wouldn’t happen to me; I was much too prepared.
My instructor took position at the door, swung back to gain momentum and threw the two of us out into nothingness. My heart skipped a beat! Honestly, “Fuuuuuuu***************kkkkk!!!!!!!” was the first thing that came out of my mouth. It took me sometime to realize whether I was floating or flying or falling or just screaming. I could see the diver in front of me sporting the camera. Everything was happening in a whiz. After a few seconds the commotion ceased and calm descended. All this time my dive instructor was trying to balance our body against the wind. It was much more controlled now. I wanted to keep on screaming but the air used to entirely dry up my mouth every time I opened it. I stretched out my arms and hugged the eternal flow of positive energy.
After about 45-60 seconds of free-fall, my instructor opened up the parachute. Our speed hit a kink and it now felt more like flying rather than falling. “Wow! I literally am flying”, I said to myself. It was again one of those moments which are difficult to describe in words. In the distance I could see the Atlantic, down below the dive site (the runway was visible) and forest area all around. I asked my instructor if I could steer the parachute. Before fondly handing me over the steering lines, he showed off some of his acrobatic skills. I could easily manoeuvre the canopy by pulling the Riser and the Brake Line. Gliding in air with an open parachute was much more controlled than diving. As we approached the air strip, ground winds started showing their fury. We alternately swayed in either direction as my instructor tried to control the flight against the wind. It was a bit scary for me but his professional skills were enough to tame the winds and we made a comfortable landing right in the middle of the dive site. Even after landing on my feet after the jump it was difficult to fathom the fact that moments ago I was falling towards Earth. Freefalling and then flying under a parachute are two breathtakingly beautiful experiences packed in one skydive.
Howsoever many videos you watch, howsoever many people you ask, nothing comes remotely close to the actual experience of skydiving. A simple recollection of the experience makes me smile every time and the smile broadens when I realize that I really, actually jumped out of an airplane.
Other things to bear in mind:
- Reserve one complete day for skydiving. Although the on-ground orientation, plane ride and the final jump take no more than 1-2 hours but the weather needs to be in your favour. Even on a clear sunny day with no rains, ground winds can play spoilsport. The operators take no risk and wait for the wind speed, which is unpredictable, to be within safe limits before allowing the plane to leave the runway. This may take up the entire day or worse -may lead to cancellation of all dive slots for the day.
- Book the dive as early as possible. I had booked it 1 month before the dive date. On the day I made the jump, some 20 people had also made reservations for skydiving. It was windy that day and my 10:30am slot got pushed down to 6:00pm. 4 of us were able to skydive in that slot after which due to some malfunctions in the plane, all dives were cancelled. I got a chance to be on the first batch because I had booked my dive 1 month in advance.
- Unlike popular belief, skydiving does make the stomach drop. I felt nauseous moments after I landed on the ground. So avoid eating anything for a few hours before the dive.
- Try to get your friends/family jump with you. I had originally planned to jump with 2 other friends but for some reasons both of them had to cancel. I turned up anyway. After the dive I wanted to share the ecstasy with someone else, someone who was in the same state of mind as I was.
Skydiving vs Wind Tunnel Flying
Now that I have experienced freefalling and wind tunnel flying (indoor skydiving) I can say that a wind tunnel comes nowhere close to the real experience of skydiving. There is no jumping out of the plane, there is no parachute that opens up and there is no view. Without the fear of jumping from thousands of feet above ground, the dive experience is bland. In indoor skydiving, it’s only you and the air.
I did my first skydive at Sky Diving New England, Lebanon, Maine, USA. Awesome people, hard on about safety and shoot cool videos. Highly recommended.