“Be like the bird in flight . . . pausing a while on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, yet sings, knowing yet that she has wings.” -Victor Hugo
This past weekend, I guess you could say I found my wings when I went skydiving for the first time. Nothing could have prepared me for the exhilarating, peaceful and incredible feeling of falling through the air at 120 mph. It was a leap of faith that was well worth every penny spent and every second of worrying.
What made me decide to go skydiving you may ask? Well, rewind to one week ago when I was at the same skydiving center anxiously awaiting my friends’ jump from a tiny plane the size of your typical mini-van. A group of us from work had formed a small cheering section and we screamed in delight as we saw the little dots that were our friends drop from the airplane. We watched in awe as they descended towards the ground in colorful parachutes, sailing through the air, weightless. After landing, they came over to us with looks of pure ecstasy and joy on their faces. It was in that moment that I knew I had to go skydiving this summer.
Skydiving has always been on my bucket list, but I never had an opportunity to try it before. Although I don’t mind doing things alone, it seemed like the kind of experience I would like to share with friends. When my friends from work approached me this summer before their first jump, I genuinely wanted to go. However, money and fear kept me from signing up with them. So, I agreed to join as part of the support group. Watching them go through the motions, I decided to join them on their next jump. Lucky for me, it just so happened to be the week after their first one.
When I told my parents about my plans for the weekend, they asked if they could come watch. One of the perks of being home this summer is that I have them so close.
So early on Sunday morning, B, M, H and I found ourselves at the skydiving center in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, once again. B and M, who were doing their second jump, were greeted upon arrival and almost immediately put into their harnesses since they had already gone through the training. H and I had to sit through the outdated training video which mentions the word, “death” at least ten times, fill out waivers that spelled it out even clearer for us, and practice our exiting position.
We finished the training in about ten minutes and then we were ready to harness up. One of the workers helped us tighten up the straps and then introduced us to our tandem partners who prepared us even more for our upcoming adventure.
My nerves started to kick in when I met my tandem partner, C. It finally hit me that we’d be jumping out of a plane together in 20 minutes time.
I followed C to the mini-plane and listened attentively as he explained how we would be exiting the plane once we reached 10,000 ft (3,048 meters). He made me practice kneeling at the knee line and turning my knees 90°. He also explained the importance of keeping my body in the correct position, but also assured me that he would get us to the ground safely even if I messed up.
Before I knew it, H and I found ourselves squeezed inside the mini-plane with our tandem partners, two photographers and the pilot. The doors had been shut and the plane was taxiing down the runway. We were about to take off and there was no turning back.
I would like to think that I wasn’t nervous and handled my skydiving experience fairly well, but I think it’s impossible to not feel at least a little scared. My claustrophobia kicked in on the small plane and I had to really force myself not to think about how small it was. I also felt a bit uncomfortable not wearing a seat belt since I always wear one when I’m on planes or in cars. I guess that’s what led me to grab a broken seat belt hanging above me and not let go the entire flight.
Although the tiny plane was very noisy, we were still able to hold a conversation during the 20 minute flight. I learned a lot about my tandem partner and photographer and about skydiving in general. They made me feel more at ease inside the plane. However, no amount of conversation or preparation could have made me ready for what I was about to experience.
When I looked over at my tandem partner’s altimeter watch and saw that we were at 8,000 ft (2,438.4 meters), I started to panic a little. We had been sitting facing each other and, at that height, I knew I had to turn around in the plane so he could latch our harnesses together. This meant that I would be making my jump momentarily.
At this point, the adrenaline had really started to kick in. I was sitting there, attached to a man that I had just met 30 minutes ago, and the plane door was opening for the first camerawoman and H to jump out.
After seeing my friend jump out of the plane, I started to have second thoughts: What if I don’t like this? What if I pass out? What if the parachute doesn’t open?
I was startled back to reality when my tandem partner asked me to move forward to the “knee line.” I quickly moved forward and waited for him to tell me to move myself 90°.
As I was waiting for my tandem partner’s orders, I took a look below me and was in absolute awe by the scenery. I felt like I was so close to the ground and yet so far. Being able to see for hundreds of miles below me and around me without having a piece of glass between me and the outside world was an incredible feeling. It felt as if I were hovering between two different worlds.
When I think back to the mere seconds between placing my knees on the “knee line” and turning 90°, I can’t remember a thing. The only thing that comes to mind is just how small I felt and just how amazing the world looked from 10,000 ft (3,048 meters). I wanted to sit there for hours and gaze down on the peaceful landscape.
I felt a tap on my back and instinctively grabbed my harness and shut my eyes. The next thing I knew, I was out of the plane.
The first second or two felt like pure terror. I had leapt into another dimension and neither my body nor my brain could process it. The feeling was unlike any I had felt before and my natural instinct was to open my mouth and scream.
At first, I noticed that it was very cold. I had felt the cold when the plane door opened, but it really didn’t register until I was falling through the freezing air.
As soon as the little white drogue parachute was opened and we were securely in the neutral belly position, I finally noticed my photographer was nearby and I tried to talk to her. I had been told that you can’t hear anything during free fall, but I wanted to verify this myself. The air was rushing past my ears so fast that I could not make a sound or hear a thing.
We spent most of my 30 seconds of free fall with my camerawoman. She grabbed my tandem partner’s hands and spun us around as she made faces at me which I had been previously asked to imitate for my pictures.
Free falling is a feeling unlike any other I’ve experienced in my life. I did not feel a sinking feeling in my stomach like when I ride a roller coaster. I also did not feel dizzy or nauseous like I feel on many thrill rides and attractions. It was like I was floating through the air. I was flying. I could feel the adrenaline surge through my body as a sense of euphoria overcame me.
I couldn’t think about anything during those 30 seconds except for how amazing everything felt and looked. I didn’t once think about my to-do list, work, or any of the other things that often preoccupy my mind. Nothing mattered. I was truly living in the moment.
Unfortunately, my thirty seconds of free-fall ended a lot quicker than I had hoped. I didn’t want the feeling to end, but I also knew for safety reasons that it had to.
Before my jump, I had asked my tandem partner to warn me before he opened the parachute. I’m really glad I did this and I highly recommend it to newbies because I’ve heard it can hurt a lot if you are caught off-guard. He tapped me when he was about to open the parachute and I immediately grabbed my harness. Because I knew in advance, I braced myself for a jolt and an upward pull.
I had expected to feel a pinch between my legs from my friends’ experiences, but I didn’t feel a bit of pain. I just felt like I was going up on a tower ride at a theme park and I felt a little pressure on my thighs.
It also went from being freezing cold and loud to extremely quiet and peaceful. It was the first time in the jump that I was able to talk and it was a great time to take in the scenery around me.
Although I felt like I was going up even higher when the parachute was pulled, I learned that this is not true at all. The parachute slows you down dramatically as you are falling. It brings you from almost 120 mph in free fall to a safe, slow speed of about 5-6 mph for landing. In my pictures and video, it seems like I went up really high in the parachute because the camerawoman was still falling at a faster speed and was closer to the ground.
My time in the parachute lasted about 5 minutes and it was the most peaceful part of the whole experience. I had already made the terrifying jump from the plane into the abyss and the parachute had opened successfully, so it was time to relax and enjoy myself. I gazed around below me at the rolling hills and lush green valleys and chatted with my tandem partner some more.
Some people will use this time to make spins and turns in their parachute. However, I tend to get nauseous on even the most basic spinning rides, like carousels, so I didn’t want to risk it. I asked my tandem partner to do a few small ones just to see how it was. I could feel myself getting dizzy and decided to just continue floating to the ground.
As we got closer to the ground, I could start to make out where the airport was and I immediately felt upset. I didn’t want this incredible experience to end so soon. We did some circles above the airport and then started to come in for our landing.
My tandem partner reminded me to go into landing position, so I lifted up my legs as they had shown us in our brief training session and braced myself for the impact with the ground.
We glided smoothly to the ground and I landed with a gentle thud on top of my tandem partner’s thighs. I don’t know why, but I had expected landing to feel painful, like falling off a bike. I was pleasantly surprised when it felt nothing like that and I didn’t get any cuts or bruises.
As soon as my tandem partner unhooked my harness from his, I ran over to H to see how her experience had been. She really enjoyed it except for one little detail: as she was free-falling, she kicked so hard that one of her shoes fell off!! Her first time skydiving was memorable in many ways.
After our jumps, we decided to get a picture with co-owner of Above the Poconos Skydivers, Don Kellner. He holds the Guinness World Record for most career skydives. When we saw him two weeks ago, he was at 42,400 jumps. He averages around 10 jumps per day and had done 17 jumps the previous day. His wife, who is the other co-owner, is the 5th ranked female jumper in the world with around 17,000 jumps. I have to admit it was really cool to go skydiving for the first time at a place co-owned by a Guinness World Record holder. The only thing that could possibly top that would be skydiving in Dubai which may or may not already be on my bucket list…
My first time skydiving was absolutely phenomenal and I’m so glad I did it. I didn’t let fear get the best of me and I gained so much from the experience. Jumping out of a plane is not something that everyone can say they’ve done and that has helped boost my confidence. Now, any time I doubt myself or my capabilities, I just have to remind myself that I jumped out of a plane.
I understand that skydiving is not for everyone, but I’ve met a lot of people who were interested but let fear or nerves stop them. I would recommend skydiving to anyone who is physically and mentally able to do so. There’s no time like the present to accomplish your dreams.
Also, while it is impossible to fully prepare yourself for the experience, there are some things you can do in advance to make yourself feel more at ease. The first thing I recommend is talking to people you know who have done it before. Ask them about their experience and if they have any tips for you. They will be able to help you better than any website or book on skydiving. Another thing you can do is watch skydiving videos online. I did this a few nights before I went and it helped me a lot. Everyone seemed to have fun and seemed so happy afterwards so it made me more excited.
When you get to the skydiving center, ask the staff as many questions as you want about anything. Also, I recommend talking to your tandem partner and getting to know them in the short time you have together before the jump. Your tandem partner is the most important person in your skydive: he or she is responsible for your life. Ask them about their experience and for some advice they may have for you as a first-timer. Like I did, you can also ask them to tap you when they are going to open the parachute.
Skydiving can become very addicting due to the adrenaline rush you feel as you are falling and gliding through the sky. Many people only do it once to check it off their bucket lists, but others become junkies and go on to repeat several times. I enjoyed it so much that it is not a matter of if I will do it again, but when and where. As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “…once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”