The bug, in this case, is skydiving…it is so hard to explain the feeling, particularly in text. Needless to say, I am addicted to it now, just after one dosage. I am only 24 jumps from becoming certified! That is the goal, probably won’t happen for a year or two, but as long as I go more than once every six months, I am good to go.
So, the jump. First I had about 5 hours worth of ground training, which actually was kinda scary at first. We covered pretty much every malfunction that could happen and how to remedy it (most of those remedies consisted of pulling the red velcro and then pulling the emergency chute) but were reassured by the jump master that most of them were rare and that most did not apply because of the beginning rigs that we would be using to jump with. So after we covered how to exit the plane, how to operate a parachute, and how to land properly, the rest of the class prepared to make their static line jumps, which just means they went up to 3500 ft and fell out of the plane while the parachute was deployed for them, much like you see in military movies with paratroopers. Myself, I was doing step one of the Accelerated Freefall and so I went to have another two hours of training on how to exit the plane for freefall, body positioning for freefall, and the jump script. The script was the list of maneuvers I would have to perform during freefall to pass level 1.
After practicing quite a bit, both with the instructor and in my head, it was time to get geared up. The parachute pack weighs 32 pounds but it didn’t really feel awkward (no more so than say football pads). What was cool the whole time I was getting ready was that I felt the same way I did before every season opening game of football. Not so much nervous; more curious as to what the experience would be like and then remembering that no matter what, I was probably going to love it and want more. One more practice run through with my instructors and then I boarded the plane with a few other divers and my instructors. On the way up, I rehearsed verbally all the steps I would be executing to my instructor, got my goggles on and checked over my pack one last time. Hitting 14,000 feet, the first couple of jumpers dove and I got to watch them for a moment. On the way up, they were all very somber, visualizing their jump script and anticipating possible hazards. This had a calming effect on me because I did not feel like I was freaking out about every little detail, but simply going through all the checks and visualizing the perfect dive. It felt a lot like during a football game, pre-snap, when I judge down, distance, and situation and try to figure out what I am most likely to see and how I’ll react. The parallels between my sports career and this first jump probably helped me stay calm and business-like throughout the process.
My turn. I am jumping with two instructors, one on each side of me to help me stabilize after exiting the plane, correcting my body position, and generally ensuring I remember to pull my cord! Exiting with both of them is a little different from exiting solo. I had to get my feet pointed towards the front of the plane and as close to the opening as possible. Then, because of my height, I was basically kneeling with my knees pointed at the ground below, my face and shoulders outside the plane with just my right hand holding me in. At this point, the jump is entirely in my power. No one goes until I initiate the jump. I did not hesitate once I got into position. Checking in and then out with both instructors, I bobbed up, down, and then jumped! The bobbing was the signal to the instructors letting them know it was go time and so they could get in sync with me.
I honestly don’t remember the first couple seconds because all I saw were blurs. Once we stabilized and I got myself into the correct freefall position, I didn’t have time to realize that I was falling at 120 mph towards an unforgiving planet. I was on a business trip and had things to do. I only had a minute of freefall, so I had to smooth and not erratic. Checking my altimeter, I then practiced three touches of my ripcord. This was to ensure I knew where it was during freefall so when we hit our pull altitude, I could find that sucker without freaking out. After that, it was alternating between checking my altimeter and waving to the cameraman. The instructors did spin me 360 degrees at one point which was pretty cool. That minute went by so quickly that I almost missed my pull altitude. I was supposed to pull at 5500 feet but did not actually begin to pull until around 5000 ft. I fumbled a bit with the rip cord because on the ground they had asked me not to lose it so I was making sure I had a good hold of it. My parachute actually deployed closer to 4500 ft which, in talking with my instructor afterwards was okay but I had had them a bit worried they were going to have to pull it for me, which would have meant I would have to redo stage 1.
The parachute deployed perfectly, no cord twists, inflated cells, tears, rips; essentially none of the ‘high speed’ or ‘low speed’ malfunctions that had been taught to me on the ground occurred. The parachute ride down was very relaxing compared to the freefall. With my huge beginner’s parachute and a guide on the ground radioing to me about turning and finding the airport. The parachute is very maneuverable, though I know this only from watching the experienced divers handle theirs. I did some 90 and 180 degree turns and some practice flaring, which is like putting on air brakes, then basically guided myself back to the airport and enjoyed the surrounding countryside. Landing went perfectly with the impact comparable to stepping off a chair; this was through no effort of mine, but my guide telling me when to flare. On the ground, I packed up my parachute and reentered the hanger.
I have many reflections on the whole experience but that would extend the length of this post to too-long lengths. In short, I loved the entire experience and look forward to doing the next phase, where I get to learn how to turn left and right and go forward through the air. After my jump, my instructor and I went through that script so that I could practice it at home until I came back.
Briefly, a misconception I had before had was that all you do is fall and then pull; there is significantly more involved with just keeping yourself stable, let alone performing turns and other tricks in the air. I found that I had quite an adrenaline rush but not out of fear. Maybe it was just how the instructors taught me, but when I was standing on the side of the plane 14,000 ft up with only my hand keeping me in, all I was thinking of was my script. No time for fear. Anyway, I have video of the whole thing and am going to post it once I rip it off the DVD. Hopefully I can capture some stills from it as well. Can’t wait to do my next dive!!!