“It’ll be your coming of age.” The words my stepmum uttered to me as it was revealed to me on my 18th birthday that she had booked for us to go skydiving. I remember vividly looking down at that voucher with a face like a horse’s arse. Little did my stepmum realise that I was scared of flying. To make matters even worse, it was revealed that the whole experience would be filmed and consequently there was no chance to tell loved ones that I’d made the whole experience look more casual than it was. So after 11 months of trying to avoid thinking about having to throw myself out into the sky at 10 000 feet, I finally summoned the courage to travel to Swindon to tackle my fears.
The nonchalant, casual atmosphere at the airfield was surprisingly helpful. The instructors had endless experiences in jumping from various heights and with all forms of equipment. Resultantly, my fear was certainly not taken seriously. When I told my instructor it was my first time jumping I received the reassuring reply of “no worries, it’s my first jump too.” After a 20 minute briefing about the procedures which were in place to prevent any freak accidents, it was time to be costumed up in a blue jumpsuit. Now resembling a skinny Buzz Lightyear it was time to get into the tiny biplane and to make the 20 minute journey up to 1000 feet before plummeting down to Earth at terminal velocity. The plane had a capacity of seven immediately making a very personal atmosphere as I was placed on my instructors lap and I was now clamped onto the 4000 jump veteran.
As we rose I was filmed at various heights. 2500 feet saw me smiling full of excitement, however my excitement was certainly inversely proportional to how high we were above the ground, and by the time we reached our jumping height of 10 000 feet I resembled a deer in the headlights. Naturally the instructors who were accompanying us on the journey took my petrified state as an opportunity to mess around. Once we reached the height we were jumping from the three instructors inside the plane began to make rowing gestures and elegantly sang the words “row row row your boat gently cross the sky, here we go here we go off the plane to die.” I don’t think I will ever hear a more memorable rendition of a nursery rhyme in my lifetime.
Unfortunately we were not able to jump once the door was first open. We were prevented from exiting the plane as a glider was flying around beneath us. However, after waiting for the flying path to clear, it was finally my time to dive out of the plane. A terrified shuffle brought me to the edge of the plane. I was then left dangling in the air with my legs tucked behind me as my instructor positioned himself. Finally my face was directed towards the entertained cameraman before the three of us dived back towards solid ground. Within five seconds of being away from the plane, the sensation of flying kicked in and there is no way I can describe such an experience. There is no retching or jumping in your stomach like when you go on a roller-coaster, but rather the feeling of complete freedom. After 35 seconds of freefalling, travelling down through a cloud as well as having an awesome view of the surrounding countryside the parachute was pulled. A gentle deceleration brought us to a more manageable speed and it was now time to chill in the sky. With the glorious view of Swindon to look down on, I was educated on the whereabouts of the Honda factory, and where Crimewatch had been filmed, before landing back on the floor.
My landing was certainly not glorious as I tried to stand up rather than stick my legs in the air so we could land on our bums. Either way I was back on safe ground and with my personal cameraman to interview me about what the experience was like. Having watched the footage back, I don’t think I’ll ever see myself look happier to be stuck in the middle of a field strapped to a middle aged man. As I was first to jump from the plane I watched family members come in to land and watch my 52 year old Dad look just as chill as he had done before we had taken off.
Skydiving is certainly not something that excludes people because of their age or physical ability. Our instructors informed us that they had had a 80-year-old man jump that morning. I would recommend everyone to try skydiving fear or no fear. There is no experience which can match it.