Jump!!!

Posted on December 4, 2014 with tags adventure, life.

What

  • Tandem skydive! or alternatively: a real “one-way” plane ticket ☺
  • Start point: ~4’250 meters above the ocean (14’000ft)
  • End point: on the beach
  • Total time: less than ten minutes
  • Time in “real” free fall: according to Wikipedia, around 12 seconds, with most of the terminal velocity being reached at about 8 seconds
  • Terminal velocity: ~190Km/h, ~120mph (again, according to Wikipedia)
  • Time in “fake” free fall until the chute opened: around one minute
  • Time spent going slowly down, with a few fun manoeuvres: don’t remember, 3-5 minutes?

Why

At the end of November, we had a team offsite planned, with lots of fun and exciting activities in a somewhat exotic location. I was quite looking forward to it, when - less than two weeks before the event - a colleague asked if anyone is interested in going skydiving as an extra activity. Without thinking too much, I said “yes” immediately, because: a) I’ve never done it before, and b) it sounded really cool! Other people said yes as well, so we were set up to have a really good time!

Of course, as the time counted down and we were approaching the offsite, I was thinking: OK, this sounds cool, but: will I be fine? do I have altitude sickness? All kinds of such, rather logistical, questions. In order to not think too much, I did exactly zero research on the topic (all mentions of Wikipedia above are from post-fact reading).

So, we went on the offsite - which was itself cool - and then, on the last day, right before going back, the skydive event!

How it went

The weather on the day of the jump was nice, the sky not perfectly clear, just a bit of small clouds and some haze. We waited for our turn, got the instruction for what to do (and not to do!), got hooked into the harness, prepared everything, and then boarded the plane; it needed only a very short run before taking off the ground.

It took around ten minutes or so to get to the jump altitude, which I spent partially looking forward to it, partially trying to calm the various emotions I had - a very interesting mix. It was actually annoying just having to wait and wait the ten long minutes, I wished that we actually get to the jumping altitude faster. The altimeter on the instructor’s hand was showing 4’000, then 4’100, 4’150, then he reminded me again what I need to do (or rather, not to do), and then - people were already jumping from the plane! I was third from our team to jump, and I had the opportunity to see how people were not simply “exiting” the plane, but rather - exiting and then immediately disappearing from view!

Finally we were on the edge of the door, a push and then - I’m looking down, more than two and a half miles of nothing between me and the ground. Just air and the thought - “Why did I do this”? - as I start falling. For the first around ten seconds, it’s actually a free fall, gaining speed almost at standard acceleration, and the result - Weightlessness - it’s the weirdest feeling ever: all your organs floating in your body, no compression or torsion forces. Much more weird a roller-coaster that never ends; then most I had on roller-coasters was around one second of such acceleration, and you still are in contact with the chair or the restraints, whereas this long fall was very confusing for my brain - it felt somewhat like when you’re tripping and you need to do something to regain balance, except in sky-diving you can’t do anything, of course. There’s nothing to grab, nothing to hold on, and you keep falling.

After ten long seconds we reached terminal velocity, phase 1 ends, and phase 2 begins, in which - while still falling - the friction with the air compensates exactly the earth’s pull and one is falling at a constant speed and it’s the most wonderful state ever. Like floating on the air, except that you’re actually falling at almost 200kph, and yes, the closest feeling to flying, I guess. It doesn’t hurt that you’re no longer weightless, which means back to some level of normality.

The location of the skydive was very beautiful: the blue ocean beneath, the blue sky above, somewhere to the side the beach, and the air filling the mouth and lungs without any effort is the only sign that I’m moving really fast. The way this whole thing feels is very alien if you never jumped before, but one gets accustomed to it quite fast - and that means I got too comfortable and excited and forgot the correct position to keep my legs in, the instructor reminded me, and as I put my legs back in the correct position, which is (among others) with the soles of the feet pointing up, I felt again the air going strongly into my shoes, and a thought crossed my mind: what if I the air blows off one of my shoes (the right one, more precisely) and I lose it? How do I get to the airport for the trip back? Will I look suspicious at the security check? The banality of this thought, given that I was still up in the air somewhere and travelling quite fast, was so comical that I started laughing ☺

And then, an unexpected noise, the chute opens, and I feel like someone is pulling me strongly up. Of course nobody is pulling “up”, I’m just slowing down very fast on this final phase (Wikipedia says: 3 to 4g). And then, once at the new terminal velocity, the lack of wind noise and the quietness of everything around gives a different kind of awesome - more majestic and serene this time, rather than the adrenaline-filled moments before.

Because one is still up and the beach looks small, you actually feel that you’re suspended in the air, almost frozen. Of course, that feeling goes away quickly when the instructor start telling me to pull the strings, and we enter a fast spin - so fast that my body is almost horizontal again - a reminder that we’re still in the air, going somewhat fast, and not in “normal” conditions.

I’m again reminded of the speed once we get closer to the earth, the people on the beach start to get bigger fast, and now we’re gliding over the beach and finally land in the sand. The adventure is over, but I’m still pumped up and my body is still full of adrenaline, and I feel like you’ve just been in heaven - which is true, for some definitions of ☺.

The first thing I realise is that the earth is very solid. And not moving at all. Everything is very very slow… which is both good and bad. My body is confused at the very fast sequence of events, and why did everything stop??

Conclusion

I learned all about the terminal velocity, how fast you get there, and so on a day later, from Wikipedia and other sources. It helped explain and clarify the things I experienced during the dive, because there in the air I was quite confused (and my body even more so). Knowing this in advance would have spoiled the surprise, but on the other hand would have allowed me to enjoy the experience slightly better.

Looking back, I can say a few of things. First, it was really awesome - not what I was expecting, much more awesome (in the real sense of awe) than I thought, but also not as easy or trivial as I believed from just seeing videos of people “floating” during their dive. Yep, worth doing, and hard to actually put in words (I tried to, but I think this rambling is more confusing than helping).

Phase one was too long (and a bit scary), phase two was too short (and the best thing), phase three was relaxing (and just the right length).

I also wonder how it is to jump alone - without the complicated and heavy harness, without an instructor, just you up there. Oh, and the parachute. And the reserve parachute ☺, of course. Point is, this was awesome, but I was mostly a passive spectator, so I wonder what it feels like to be actually in control (as much as one can be, falling down) and responsible.

And finally, as we left the offsite location just a couple of hours after the skydive, and we had a 4½ hours flight back, I couldn’t believe myself how slow everything was. I never experienced quite such a thing, I was sitting in this normal airplane flying high and fast, but for me everything was going in slow motion and I was bored out of my mind. Adrenaline aftershock or something like that? Also interesting!