“This was a huge mistake. A huge, reckless mistake and I hate myself for this.” —Pre-jump thoughts as the tiniest plane I’ve ever been in crept skyward to 13,000 feet and my exit time was rapidly approaching.
We made the decision to skydive on our drive up to Lake Tahoe on the 4th of July weekend this past summer. I have never truly wanted to go skydiving — the risk factor seemed so profound in comparison to the 2 minutes or less you spend actually experiencing the thrill that it never seemed worth it. Why be scared? Why put myself through something stressful and dangerous? Just for an awesome ‘gram? WHY?
However, what was driving this decision to do this at this time was what drove me to become scuba certified. I hated sharks, the thought of the open ocean filled me dread, and breathing through a fallible tube 90 feet below water’s surface was unfathomable to me. So the fall semester of college that I overcame that phobia (or at least took dramatic steps towards overcoming it) instilled a sense of confidence that I believe should be renewed every so often, simply to remind ourselves that our fears and phobias, while legitimate, shouldn't box us in.
And there I was climbing into a prop plane in at Lodi Skydive Center at 9 am, accompanied by a rowdy group of Australian ex-pats (who seemed to live in some sort of tent-like commune behind the skydive facility) and a 120-pound guy named Happy preparing to strap himself to my back. As someone who already does not enjoy flying, the minuscule plane combined with the 20+ people packed into it did absolutely nothing to calm my nerves (despite the fact that Happy aptly reminded me if the plane does crash at least we have a parachute…).
The feeling of skydiving will never be adequately articulated until you try it for yourself but here’s a rundown of how the entire process went for me:
+Arrive, pay, sign waiver (without reading it because result of skydiving is sometimes death).
+Begin sweating profusely
+Meet the person filming my skydive (GoPro strapped to his helmet) and meet my tandem partner (Happy).
+Start getting strapped in — this is awkward and about the point when panicky feelings start setting in.
+Watch as parachuters effortlessly glide down to the grassy field (landing strip) below.
+Plane arrives — pile in with around 15-20 other people. Two wooden benches on either side of the plane — sit directly in front of your tandem jumping partner (being this physically close to a complete stranger almost as terrifying as the actual jump).
+Tandem jumping partner starts strapping himself to you through a series of unseen hooks and clips and your goggles go on — nerves at all time high and you find out you’re only at 3,000 ft altitude.
+You are reminded multiple times that the only way down is by jumping.
+You reach 13,000 ft — door of plane opens and cold air hits you like a brick wall. Think about the amazing Instagram you’re going to get from this. Think about how mad your parents would be if you died for an Instagram.
+Watch fellow divers scoot forward on benches, stand up and topple, one-by-one, out of the side of the plane.
+Your turn — GoPro guy goes first. Tip back, tip foward, tip back, tip forward, and you’re out. Eyes are closed (don’t do this, seriously) and the 60 second free fall you’re experiencing feels like eternity.
+Parachute has deployed. You're flying now but still screaming. Happy is laughing.
+Happy assures you nothing bad can happen now so relax and enjoy the ride down. Take in the most amazing bird’s eye view of California you’ll ever get. Steer the parachute, turn circles, and float down back to Earth.
+Approaching land, pull legs up and slide into a perfect landing.
Aaaaand there’s that elusive feeling of pure adrenaline mixed with epic proportions of relief and a healthy dose of confidence.
Skydiving can be a completely amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience — the key is feeling comfortable where you go.
Tips and Tricks for the First Time:
+Be comfortable and research where you’re going to skydive. It definitely helps calm the nerves if your skydive facility communicates safety information adequately.
+Wear comfortable and simple clothing. I wore leggings, a t-shirt, and sneakers with hair pulled up in a high pony.
+Go early. Ride the adrenaline high for the rest of your day (or weekend). We went at 9 am on a Friday and felt invincible for the next 72 hours.
+Go with a group. It makes the whole experience more memorable and you can commiserate about nervousness with others!
+Tune it out. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who broke a limb skydiving (or worse, died). It’s a high risk activity and everyone will want to tell you their horror stories before you go — try not to let it inform your decision.
+Deep breaths — the only thing that calmed me down. How I learned to relax while scuba diving also helped me skydive — focus on the breath.
+Have fun. It's an amazing experience and something not everyone can say they’ve done. Now throw it on the ‘gram!
Disclaimer: About three weeks after we jumped at Lodi Skydive Center, a first time skydiver and his tandem jumper died after their parachute failed to deploy. Hearing this was extremely disturbing -- again, research and go where you're comfortable!