My answer to the question "what would you wish for if you could have any wish?" has been the same for as long as I can remember. It is the same answer I give when asked "what superpower would you want if you could pick one?" I’m not interested in money, immortality, invisibility, or radioactive talents. I want to be able to do the thing I’ve always been able to do in my dreams—leap into the air and soar into the sky.
Oddly enough, I had never gone sky-diving, or more accurately, fallen out of a plane. Number three on my list of goals for this year is "Go Skydiving." December appeared seemingly from nowhere and I hadn’t ticked that one off of the list yet. Thanks to Extreme Things and Skydive Elsinore, I was able to schedule a jump with short notice. I opted for the tandem jump. Essentially, you are strapped to an experienced jumper who agrees to take you along as a tourist. No one looks cool jumping tandem, but I wasn’t there to look cool. I wanted to experience the sensation of jumping without the worries of learning to jump safely. There would be time for that later after I made sure I liked the experience and that my body didn’t respond badly to it. Besides, AFF-certification is costly and time-consuming, tandem is fairly cheap and can be done in a couple of hours.
I was curious how I would respond to it all. Would I get terrified at the last minute? Would I black out during the fall? Would it be uncomfortable? I filled out the paperwork, received the necessary preliminary instruction, and was introduced to my tandem buddy. I said goodbye to an anxious Erika and boarded the small plane with several other jumpers and their tandem partners. As we neared our ultimate altitude—12,800 feet, I heard "climb onto my lap." If you think going tandem skydiving is going to make you feel like a badass, be forewarned, it is hard to feel like a badass when you are a grown man sitting on the lap of another man. We were in the front of the plane meaning we’d be out last. My goggles came down. The door slid open. We all began the slide towards the door as those before us were jerked abruptly into the sky. I was not anxious. I was not embarrassed that I was attached to another man’s crotch. I was not worried. Soon, we were at the door. I knelt, grabbed my harness straps, tilted forward, and we were airborne.
It is hard to truly appreciate the experience of skydiving during the first fall. There is so much to observe and the sensation is so foreign, I couldn’t take it all in. Freefall lasted roughly 50 seconds. Air was plowing into me so quickly, I could hear nothing else and my mouth was getting extremely dry. I didn’t have difficulty breathing, but it was somewhat uncomfortable. My main thought was not of the Earth speeding towards me at a ridiculous velocity, but of how much I wanted to drink water and be rid of the cotton-mouth. My arm was moved in front of me as a reminder to check the altimeter and my right hand was placed on the pull for the chute. I yanked. I expected a sudden jerk. I expected the harness to eat into my skin like climbing harnesses will do in certain situations. There was none of that—only the sudden cessation of the whipping wind, the sound of a chute, and a reorientation of the body into a standing position.
Skydiving rarely feels like falling. The nearest objects are so terribly far away, you have no point of reference for your extreme velocity. Instead, you float in the sky. You levitate above a miniature toy world slowly increasing in size as you approach it. It is more relaxing than frightening. My instructor handed me the controls for the chute and showed me how we could turn or spin with a tug. I laughed as we spun at high speeds far above the Earth. I could see great potential in the fun to be had piloting a parachute through the skies.
Our landing was soft, liking stepping off a high chair. Falling from a plane was very different than I expected it to be. It was somewhat overwhelming, but never frightening. I never felt like I was in danger. I imagine this will change when I make the decision to go after my AFF certification. Leaping from a plane solo and being responsible for all of the things my tandem partner handled while I was blissfully ignorant will likely be intimidating. That first jump will probably be somewhat terrifying. And, without a doubt, even more rewarding.