Suddenly I found myself wanting to jump out of a plane.
It took a while to get from the idea to actually doing it. The price and the season stood in my way at first. While chatting with my colleague Kosak, he revealed to me that he did his own jumps. When I asked him more details, he offered to introduce me to his sky diving school. This meant that I would take a course and do the jump myself. This sounded terrifying but I was now even more determined.
Soon I discovered that you had to pass a test first to prove that you were psychologically sound. “Yeah… I’m not going to pass that” I chucked to myself. It was now close to the end of summer and I would have to wait till next year if I took this route. I was tired of waiting so I returned to the original idea of tandem skydiving.
A month later, I felt like a tourist again. Everyone else in my group were only visiting Prague. Chatting with the Korean guy sitting next to me in the van, he admitted that he was starting to feel nervous. The 2-hour drive to the airport and waiting for our turn probably didn’t help him either. It was a long wait for an experience that only lasted a few minutes. On the other hand, I was surprised to find that I was not very nervous. I casually addressed the fact that I might die in a few hours. Instead I was more amused that I was actually doing it.
Sitting on the floor, we were two columns of people lined up along the length of the plane. I was in the back with my tandem pilot behind me and the person in front sitting between my legs. In any other situation, this would have been an awkward position to be in. But now there were bigger things to worry about. I was playing shooting stars in my head, it was going to be my memory key for this experience. As I peered out of the small oval window, I saw the ground far below us and small white patches floating around. Soon we were going to be falling through that.
As my pilot strapped us together, he put his arm in front of me to do the front strap. I noticed that the altimeter on his hand read 3.6. We are almost there. Suddenly, the back door was open and the tandem couples starting jumping out. I watched as they all disappeared out of the door. It was so fast. Now everyone else was gone and it was our turn.
In the quick training we got before, they told us about the positions we needed to make when jumping out and landing. They had cutely named the first one the “banana” position. At the edge of the plane door, my tandem pilot told me to do the banana. I folded my knees back and rested my head against his shoulder. “Banana!” he called out again. So I wasn’t doing it right. I wondered how many people did it wrong or chickened out at this point. He pulled my head to his other shoulder and pushed it back several times. As I looked at the blue sky above us through the door, he pushed us out.
Suddenly it felt like I was being pushed in every direction. The ground was a long way off and the force was immense. It was like the air wanted to crumple us into ball. The pilot tapped my shoulder to signal that I can stretch out my arms. It didn’t help, the force was still stronger than ever. Straining to breath, I opened my mouth wide. I figured what the hell and screamed at the top of my voice. But the sound only went back into my throat. Why do people do this for fun!? I pondered in my head. I pondered whether I should close my eyes. “No” I said to myself, I am going to see this.
I used to have nightmares where I was falling into darkness. I would bolt awake with fear soon afterwards. But this felt nothing like that. It was just the crushing force. It was like the downward swing of a pendulum ride except the feeling lasted much longer. And just like those pendulum rides, you have no control. You are strapped in, hoping that everything goes alright.
Soon my pilot opened the parachute. I was dreading this moment, expecting a sudden jolt like those seen in the movies. But it didn’t happen. As we gradually slowed down, the intensity reduced a thousand fold. Now everything seemed calm. “Congratulations, you did it!” said my pilot. “Thanks for keeping me alive man” I replied.
Compared to the terror of freefall, gliding on a parachute was blissful. The view was incredible, with the buildings, grasslands and small mountains spread out over the distance. “We need to make some spirals, is that OK?” my pilot asked me. “Sure” I replied without knowing what a spiral was. Telling me to look at the horizon, he executed a turn on the parachute. I groaned as the force came back, this time from a different direction. I should have said no.
After more gliding and terrifying swivels, we were now approaching the ground. I pulled my legs straight as instructed before. “I am in position” acknowledged my pilot, nudging the parachute down to land us on the grass. We were still alive!
Thanking my pilot and camera man, I started walking towards the building. The ground felt weird. I was still processing what just happened. I was stunned to realize that I remembered very little. Either the terror affected my memory or I have unknowingly closed my eyes. But I still had snapshots of emotion and force. “Will I do this again?” I pondered. “Maybe” I decided. But I want to be in control next time.