I couldn't imagine when I visited my friend to do a story on parachuting that I would end of jumping out of a plane myself! I asked my friend how it was on his first solo jump.
"The first was fantastic. Such a big let go. I can't explain. Freedom, feeling fear and letting go into it. At some point you have to trust. You face yourself, your fears, it's life and death. Time slows down, especially after the first 6 jumps, as you're sensorily overloaded the first few times. There is a strong spiritual side of skydiving. It does change something inside. It keeps me fresh, and it is such great fun. That's the main thing, fun. The reality is that you might die, each time you jump out of a plane. There's a strong bond between those who skydive, a strong fraternity, because everyone is in this space of facing death daily. There's no room for ego, as stupidity can be fatal."
My friend started talking me into taking a jump. "It's a rush, you'll love it. Tandem's very easy. You just sit there in the hands of a tandem master and relax." Yeah yeah. "It's best not to think too much about it" he says, teasing me, saying "You've always wanted to do it, I can see it in your eyes!" and I'm sold. I was really surprised that I could still eat my lunch, and how relaxed I was.
After we finish lunch we go to the airfield, and after some time I fill in some forms, put on a jump suit, am given a bit of instruction on how to get to jump position, and we go to the plane.
My friend is coming also, and his total relaxation with what we're about to do puts me at ease. I'm a bit bemused, curiously not worried at all, and wonder at the lengths I go to for a story. I mean having a massage is one thing, but jumping out of a plane? I can relate all of a sudden to writers who go to wars for a story. I guess it gave me a certain detachment, as though it was just a job I was doing. To do this was so out of character for me, as it was so unreal.
The plane takes about 20 minutes to get high enough, and it is a gorgeous day, totally clear, and the spectacle of Byron beneath me is idyllic. Then the door is opened, and I look out into space. Sure is a lot of space out there. Then one guy gets out, and then he's gone, and then it's my, or rather our turn, as I'm strapped very tightly to the tandem master.( He said he has done 3500 jumps, around 1800 with a passenger) We stand up in the door of the plane, and it hits me. Whoa! It's really a long way down, says he who is afraid of high ladders!
I forget all the things I had been told, and then we're off. (I have no memory from when we first stood out on the wing to when we we flying, so must have disappeared for a few seconds there.) A scream escapes my lips, but I hardly hear it. I go into sensory overload, as it is very noisy, plus the sensation of air rushing against my body at 170 ks, and I'm diving head first towards the earth. Wow! Wow! and wow again.
My tandem master gets me to move my hands, to alter our descent. It's full on, yet I'm not afraid. Something my friend said about remembering to have fun comes to mind, but I'm so overwhelmed that having or doing anything other than being blown out feels out of the question. Imagine being on a windy beach in a storm, multiply it by 10, and that's about how it felt.
Then I hear some action in my harness, pulling, realise I'd forgotten about the parachute, and then ... nothing. No sound, no sensation at all. Wow. It is so still. I close my eyes, and feel myself just floating through the air. It's so strange, hanging like a baby from this mutated umbrella at 4,000 ft, floating through space. Yum.
We do some turns, which I love as it is like flying. My tandem master then goes through the landing procedure with me, and I feel very much in let go as we descend. The view is amazing, and I feel quite innocent somehow, watching the others below us come into land. After perhaps 8 minutes we also come to land at the drop zone, and here I start to get a little concerned. As they say, "It's only the last 5 feet that count!"
We come in, I lift my feet as instructed, and my tandem boss takes the weight, and my feet touch ground, so gentle, much like getting out of bed, only softer on the grass. The momentum pushes me over onto one knee, and that's it. I'm on the ground, it's over. Already? That was so easy. So safe. I can't believe I just did that. Everyone seems to know what I'm feeling, and they all smile at the look on my face. Yum!
I was struck by the utter ridiculousness of life where you can all of a sudden find yourself jumping out of an airplane, for fun!
That night, and for days after, I catch myself and remember "I did it". I had some ideas about not being very courageous. They seem to have been thrown out. It seems I can do anything I want.
By Mark O'Brien, Published in the Here & Now magazine, November 1999
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Written by Mark O'Brien