JUMP FOR JOY
(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.
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.
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
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.
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.