Going skydiving for the first time changes everything. And I mean, everything.
It’s just you up there — even though you’re strapped on to someone else — that moment is utterly and completely your own. It’s freedom. I’d imagine the experience isn’t ever the same for any two people and varies wildly from one person to the next.
When my First to Know colleague and best friend, Mariam Jehangir, and I finally decided we would take our leap of faith, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
For us, the desire to skydive was always present. But what really turned us on to the idea of skydiving was that we wanted to do something to prove to ourselves that we can take risks and taking these risks can result in something ridiculously amazing. We like to think of ourselves as risk takers and adrenaline junkies, and what’s more adventurous and thrilling than putting your life on the line? If you die, you die. If you have a safe, successful jump, you don’t. And you get to live another day to tell the tale of how you overcame your ultimate fears.
After much thought, watching countless YouTube videos (including every single fail and near-death moment caught on film) and reading first-hand accounts of other peoples’ experiences, we were ready to create our own memories, to make the jump ourselves. And we couldn’t imagine a better way to welcome the New Year than by jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet above Southern California while strapped to a complete stranger.
Of course, we also had our hesitations: What if I freak out? What if I get to the open door and can’t jump out? What if I get motion sick and puke all over myself or pee my pants? What if I faint? Don’t some people spin out of control during free fall? Will I be able to breathe up there? What will happen if my harness comes loose? What if my instructor passes out? Will I get claustrophobic in the sardine-packed Cessna before we reach altitude? What if my chute doesn’t open? Is it possible to have a sudden fear of heights? What if I die? We could die, right?!
But nothing could have prepared us for what came next.
We chose to take the trek up north to Skydive Santa Barbara in Lompoc, located about 184 miles from where we live, and skip out on falling toward the Earth at Skydive Perris. Because if you’re going to jump out of a plane and you can’t make it to Dubai or O’ahu, why not take in the spectacular views of the California coastline and Santa Barbara County? Not to mention, this facility has operated daily for the last 15 years with an untarnished safety record.
The weather was pristine, not a cloud in the sky. It would have been the perfect summer day had it not been mid-December.
Upon arrival, we anticipated having to endure a long wait for our turn (that’s what Yelp will do to your expectations). Anyway, five minutes after barely being able to sign our life away into tiny little boxes because our hands were shaking so much, and being reminded numerous times that WE MIGHT VERY WELL DIE, we were in the hangar meeting our easy going, friendly instructors and learning how to “fall properly” like a banana while being tightly harnessed up and told to “smile” so that our faces wouldn’t look all distorted in our pictures.
The energy in the hangar was contagious. First time skydivers, enthusiastic solo jumpers, and seasoned instructors were waiting side-by-side next to trusted staff busy packing up the chutes. In the background, Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” provided the perfect soundtrack to the day’s activities. How could you not get psyched to do what most people only write down on their bucket list? Skydiving seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. At least, the majority of people we encounter say, “One day I’m going to do it. One day.” But how many people actually choose to willingly push themselves out of a perfectly good airplane? Not many.
All that was left to do was board the tiny aircraft and wait excitedly as we reached altitude.
Nano-seconds before we jumped, we knew that standing on the edge just behind that open door was what all the anxiety and nervousness and excitement and oh-my-god-are-we-really-fucking-doing-this? had been building up to. And when we finally actually jumped, a sense of peace and clarity came over both of us, while experiencing the most insane rush possible. Those are feelings you’d think wouldn’t normally go together, yet, in that moment that’s exactly what happens.
As you exit, there really isn’t a sudden drop feeling that you’d experience when riding on a roller coaster or falling quickly in an elevator. Due to a cushion of air created by the forward speed of the aircraft, your body is supported as you accelerate to terminal velocity! With no other objects to relate the fall to other than the sky, it’s more like a floating sensation.
The entire experience seemed to pass by all too swiftly to even process what was going on. It’s literally a sensory overload the moment you dive head first into the atmosphere and begin free falling at 120 mph. In a way, it reminded me of those lucid dreams you have when sleeping where you’re flying, but only better because this time it was real and probably the closest I’ll ever get to human flight. You try to take in the scenery, the ocean, the mountains, the vastness of the deep, blue sky, the howling of the air rushing past your body and the realization that everything you imagined this moment to be like was just your mind playing tricks on you.
When the parachute opened and swiftly slowed our speed down to a mere 10 mph, my instructor Chris Warnock told me to “look up.” I don’t think I have ever been more relieved to see an open parachute in my entire life. Then, we were just freely floating above the ground. He even let me grab a hold of the reigns for a moment, while he pointed to a few landmarks scattered alongside the Pacific Ocean.
Before long, it was time to prepare to land. With my legs pulled up towards my chest, we quickly approached the soft sand riverbed and I could see Mariam with her instructor, Brendon Alexander, below. When we landed, my legs were so weak from excitement that it took me a moment to get my footing and stand up. But I was happy to be alive and thrilled that I just conquered a fear and a desire all in one afternoon.
Like I said, skydiving really does change things.
The jump lasts about five minutes, but the mental change you go through from the whole ordeal stays with you for much longer. It hasn’t been that long since we jumped, so I don’t know if it’s a life-long change, but at the very least I know the next time either of us are doubting ourselves about doing something because it seems scary, but holds the possibility of a positive result, making the choice to go through with it will be a breeze. And I think that, in itself, is really something.
An experience like this — and I don’t mean just the five minutes worth of free falling and floating mid-air, but from the moment you decide you’re going to do it and everything that follows — gives you a real sense of perspective. And the both of us crave that because we know how easy it is to get lost in our heads sometimes and it’s good to be yanked out from time to time back into reality.
Skydiving is a rush unlike anything else in the world. It’s one of those things in life that you have to experience for yourself to truly understand and appreciate. So, if you’ve been thinking about doing it, but have been too afraid to take the leap, we suggest you make those reservations.