I don’t think my family would ever describe me as a risk taker. By traditional standards, I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced anything dangerous, except maybe traveling by plane—and I only say that because my mother has convinced me it’s really dangerous. Maybe it’s because I’ve been sheltered that I decided to start jumping out of planes.
Some say skydivers have a death wish; others call them adrenaline junkies. I wouldn’t disagree on either count, but my reason for taking the jump is just as valid as anyone else’s: It’s a life-altering experience and different each time.
The first time I ever went skydiving was for my 18th birthday. My parents generously decided to surprise me one day by driving me to an airport and practically pushing me out of a plane. I still wonder if it was a metaphor for, “Welcome to the real world. It comes at you pretty fast.”
As a precaution, you’re required to sign away all liability to the company for injury. But contrary to popular belief, one of my skydiving instructors told me once that nowadays, all of the injuries or deaths related to skydiving are composed of certified skydivers trying to push the limit by opening their parachutes below the recommended altitude. I never looked it up because I don’t want to prove him wrong. I think my safety depends mostly on me not panicking.
For my first jump, I went tandem, which means I was connected to a professional. Unfortunately, he was a middle-aged man who probably weighed less than I did, but he seemed confident enough in his ability to open the parachute and navigate to the ground. And so we flew to 10,000 feet and prepared to make the jump.
I can’t begin to explain what it’s like to hear the door open for the first time and feel the rush of wind enter the cabin. And the view is even less describable. The fall however, is the easy part; it’s going to happen one way or another. And many tandem skydivers won’t have it any other way. There is no turning back.
When you first jump out of the plane, you get that falling feeling for a brief moment, and the rest of the 45-second freefall is absolute bliss. Skydiving is about the closest you can get to flying. And the trip down after the chute opens is pretty fun as well.
The only bad part about my first jump is that it was all caught on tape. I remember at one point during the fall, I set us off balance and we began to spiral out of control. This overreaction on my part is now immortalized on DVDs in the homes of every family member.
I’ve found that most people can’t describe what it is about skydiving that makes them come back, and it seems fairly true. The majority of certified skydivers I’ve spoken to say they never intended to jump more than once, but there’s just something about the dive that is irresistible to many.
After I moved to college, I started jumping as often as I could, but it wasn’t money that prevented me from going. It was the weather. What most people don’t know is that while a tandem jump is easier because you don’t have to do anything, a solo jump is cheaper—almost $100 cheaper and the price continues to drop as you work your way through the certification process.
Just as there is a training process when you first jump tandem, there’s also a training process for your first solo jump. Only instead of a brief video explaining how to arch your back, solo jumpers are required to take a full eight-hour class.
My skydiving instructor, Bob, taught our small class of five the ins and outs of skydiving. He explained each part of the parachute in detail, as well as how to position yourself on the plane before and during the jump, how to land, and what to do if anything goes wrong. We learned about wind speed, altimeters, and even how the plane worked. It’s a lot of information to process, but no less than what you’re expected to know in order to receive a driver’s license.
Fortunately, first-time solo divers still have a safety net in the form of a static line. The static line attaches directly to your parachute so that when you jump, you don’t have to worry about opening it yourself (which was one of my big fears).
The ride up is also different than a tandem jump. First of all, there’s no conversation between you and the guy you’re strapped to, such as, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of this plane whether you want to or not.” Actually, there’s not much talk at all. Most of the first-timers are too scared to actually speak, as was my case.
Opening the door is also different. I never thought it possible, but it’s even scarier when you know you’re all on your own. Of course, we only flew up to 3,500 feet, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
Honestly, if we hadn’t covered pre-exit procedures in class, I wouldn’t have known what to do and even now, looking back on it, I was so nervous that I’m surprised I did everything correctly.
At first, the pilot flies to the correct altitude, while the instructor determines the proximity to the drop zone. After the door is opened and the plane is in the right spot, the instructor yelled, “Cut!” The pilot then turned off the engines, which puts the plane into a steady glide at a much slower speed, and I scurried out onto the step just off the wing of the plane. With a final glance back at the pilot for the thumbs up, I jumped. Despite the relative ease of using a static line, it takes much more willpower to jump on your own and makes the experience much more fulfilling.
The rest is history. I’ve gone skydiving a handful of times since my first solo jump and I intend to continue this passion in hopes of becoming a certified skydiver someday. I can’t say what compels me to return to the airport, but I can say why I think it’s an experience everyone should at least consider: It’s fun, it’s frightening, it’s beautiful, and it really is a life-changing experience. If you’ve ever considered skydiving, don’t wait. You never know, you might find yourself coming back for more.