I’ve always had the urge to do a skydive, to jump out of a plane from a great height. I joked about doing it for my stag do, but an opportunity never arose. Until two months ago when friends Marek and Linda decided it was something they both wanted to do and that they should just do it. I decided to tag along.
One month later we had a date and it was booked, with UK parachuting. For a month, more and more, I grew nervous. The mere thought of it made my stomach turn, but I always put it to the back of my mind. At least until Saturday July 21st, the big day.
After an internal Last.fm hack day, Marek, Linda and I headed down to Brighton, had some Japanese takeaway and filled in the paperwork. Then an early night and an early start, leaving at 7:30am to get to Beccles, in Suffolk, for midday.
After a false start, and a few hours drive north, to the tunes of M83, we arrived at Beccles airfield, nerves frayed and anxious to get on with it. Marek had turned a slightly paler shade of white. Looking up, there were seven colourful parachutes coming down to earth.
We paid our cashmonies, I bought the video (a guy will be flying down with me filming the whole thing), and we swiftly proceeded to the hangar for our briefing.
A stocky fella you wouldn’t want to mess with gave us the briefing for our tandem dives. We’ll be attached at the shoulders and the waist, he said, holding a black harness up for everyone to see. These are the positions you need to take for the jump; bend your legs back behind you, cross your arms on your chest and put your head back; for landing make sure you put your legs up as high as possible. He waved photos in front of us, and we made mental notes, weary of doing anything wrong. And here are your jumpsuits.
We put on the tight, but rather stylish, blue jumpsuits and were transformed into geeky superheroes. Then we donned the harness which was ever so tight on the groin, these things clearly weren’t made for walking in. And then the leather cap to finish it off, it covered our ears and held the goggles in place.
By this time most of my nerves had gone, it’s always the waiting that’s worst. This whole time people were landing next to us, completing their jumps, and every few minutes a new plane went up, the routine was comforting. We stood on the runway and waited for our ride and tandem partners. The stocky guy that gave the briefing would be strapped to my back.
The aircraft was tiny, and without seats. Seven of us were jumping, and we squeezed in, sitting between each others legs. It would take ten minutes to reach the jumping altitude of 10,000ft. And off we went, climbing higher and higher, the great flat expanse of Suffolk growing beneath us. Higher and higher, there’s no turning back now. Towards the clouds, through the clouds and above the clouds.
Then the aircraft slowed down, and the time had come. The hatch opened and the girl in front of me was gone, falling to the ground. My turn next. No time to think, do what they say, feet out and crossed behind the plane, lean back, look at the camera. Jump.
OH SHIT! My genuine first thought, as the unnatural feeling of weightlessness takes hold. We roll over, and I look up at the clear blue sky and the underbelly of the plane flying off.
Now the weightlessness disappears, and all you can feel is the rush of air against you, getting stronger and stronger as you accelerate up to 120mph. But as you’re falling you have time to think, to notice that the cloud is getting closer, to think about your breathing as the wind tries to take your breath away. And to think, this is amazing, this is magnificent. I was breathless and awestruck.
I put my arms out and felt the air fly past me, and then we hit the cloud, and we’re falling through fog. The moisture gathers on my face, and it’s refreshing. Then the parachute is deployed, a sharp halt and I switch from a falling to a standing position. I watch as my cameraman disappears into the fog beneath me, like some weird scene in The Neverending Story. And all is quiet again, the rushing wind stops and the fog clears.
I look up and see the blue parachute above me. I look down, I see my feet, my familiar Converse shoes, and then a field, a long long way down. I am floating in the sky, it is silent, and wonderful. Except perhaps for the tightness across my chest.
The silence was unexpected, the guy on my back points out the sights as we descend. Great Yarmouth, Norwich, the sea, and so on.
Then, unexpectedly, it’s my turn to control. I put my hands in the yellow parachute chords and my instructor tells me what to do. Pull your right arm down, I do, and we swing downwards to the right, I lift up, and we stop. So responsive. Then the left arm, and we turn to the left, the more I pull down the sharper we turn. Then round and round and round, and now I’m just queasy from the dizziness.
Beneath me I see the plane landing, and the landing zone. I relinquish control and we come in for our landing, legs up, legs up, and down, bums skidding across the grass, back on solid ground. With an ear to ear grin, I shake the guys hand and sit back to watch Marek and Linda landing behind me.
Woooo! Wow. Wow. How incredibly amazing was that? I celebrated with a victory croissant and we drove into Beccles for some lunch.
The fluffy white clouds cleared, and for the rest of the day we sat on the beautiful sandy Lowestoft beach. The English summer had finally arrived, and what a way to celebrate it. After some paddling, resting on the sand, a discussion about the best sand castle technique and some ice cream and Dr Pepper, we headed home.
The long drive south went faster this time. Over the QEII bridge at Dartford, the London skyline looked fabulous against the setting sun. We finished up with A Bob Dylan album, and we parted ways at Gatwick.
Would I do it again? Of course! But we may wait for Google Glass first.