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Editorial Writing


(Or, Everything You Wanted
To know About Skydiving,
But Were Too Smart To Ask...)

by Tony Page

It was when the pilot flipped the door open at 12,000 feet I really began to have my doubts. As I was kneeling by the gaping hole without a parachute at the time this was not surprising.

"OK, let's get together". Inaudible in the roar of the engine and the wind, Debbie Harper mouthed the words, beckoning to me from across the plane. Now when an attractive blonde asks you to get tightly strapped to her in what would on other occasions be an intimate embrace, you don't refuse, especially when you're perilously close to a 12,000 foot drop and she's got the only parachute. Even when she's married to the pilot.

I felt safer when I was tightly harnessed to her, but not for long.

The green light went on and the moment of truth had arrived: it was time to get out. Grabbing hold of the wingstrut, I pulled myself into the slipstream, perching precariously on the narrow footrest with Debbie manoeuvring herself expertly out onto my back. The wind howled past and I looked down beyond my feet at the ground 12,000 feet below.

It's strange, but when you realise you're committed the fear goes and excitement takes over. As in practice, I released my grip and arched my body. For a moment Debbie supported us both, and then we fell away from the plane and the only sound was the rushing of the wind plastering the clothes to our bodies.

When you're in freefall, there's little sense of downward movement. It's as if you are still and the wind simply blows past. With total commitment comes an amazing sense of freedom. I was on a real adrenalin high, intoxicated with the experience. Were immortality palpable, this would be the feeling. A sense of power flowed through me, loosening the bonds of reality: it seemed I became one with the world around. It's easy to understand why people have simply never pulled their ripcord and gone straight in.

A tap on the head from Debbie reminded me to smile at Ron, who had dived out after us and was photographing from a few metres away. Far from looking nonchalant, I had a kind of insane grin on my face which I was completely unable to control, not to mention eyes staring madly with adrenalin-fuelled intensity. But at the core of all this excitement was a strange sense of tranquillity, of stillness.

Too soon another signal told me the chute was coming out. There was a jerk, and suddenly I was looking down at my feet again. Everything was so quiet. I glanced up to see the welcome spread of the canopy above us. The ground below was a little nearer. Ron was floating down a short distance away. I was suddenly conscious of Debbie's closeness.

"How are you feeling?"


I felt totally relaxed. Skydiving is like making love, the feeling you get afterwards is much the same. And it's so quiet when you float down, you can hear everything. You're not really conscious of this huge expanse of rip-stop nylon above your head; you just seem to be hanging there. I became very aware of my boots. They were a long way off the ground below them. This appeared strange, and I was considering it when the ground suddenly became a lot closer.

We swept over the landing field and there was the target circle. To my amazement we came in quite slowly to land smack in the middle, but I spoilt things by stretching out to put my foot on the central spot and falling over. The yellow sand was hot and gritty and the ground felt stable and firm. So I sat there with Debbie still strapped to me and thought life was just great. Maybe that's what it's all about, getting near the edge and looking over. You certainly feel better about things afterwards. Earthbound problems, like catching the flight home, don't seem so big when you're flying free at 10,000 feet without an aeroplane wrapped round you.

The jump I made that day is called a tandem. You need no experience as your highly qualified instructor is strapped to your back and controls the drop. The advantage is that you get to freefall for 35 seconds or so (approximately 8,000 feet), an experience usually reserved for those with 25 or more drops to their credit.

Your other choice is to make your first solo drop by static line from about 2,500 feet. Your parachute is automatically pulled open after you jump by a line attached to the plane, and then you're on your own. In both cases, you can complete the whole procedure in less than a day, or even a morning for the tandem.

My drop was made at Horizon Aerosports just outside Vancouver, Canada. Its owners, Debbie and Gerry I Harper are internationally renowned skydivers with many thousands of jumps to their credit. Your one day course starts off with a slide show briefing, continues onto practical instruction on the ground in exiting, steering your chute and landing, and tells you exactly what to do in emergencies (you have a reserve chute). All your equipment is provided. Debbie and Gerry are very big on safety and won't allow you to jump unless they are certain you are capable. Having said that, it's really not so difficult, essentially just commonsense.

On the other hand, the experience itself is anything but commonplace. Everyone has his or her own special memories, but to all the sense of achievement in having made that first drop is intensely rewarding. It certainly brings you face to face with yourself, not to mention providing you with a tremendous anecdote for your next power lunch or romantic dinner.

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