Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Falling. With Style.

Since everyone keeps asking, here's my take on skydiving:

@ Taupo: 18/01/08

Today I flew.

Not much like a bird, or a flying squirrel, or even Superman. No, not quite.

What I technically did was fall. Fall with style.

I fell from a height of 12,000 feet bound to Eric, the dive master, and all that kept me from inevitable death was a bunch of nylon straps and some cloth. Oh, humans and their nifty contraptions!

This morning I had psyched myself up so much to the point where I had filled my stomach with fear and nervousness. At 10.30 am, I was a bundle of nerves - trembling with energy and excitement that can only come from a mixture of adrenaline and panic.

"12,000 feet! That's mental," my gray matter up there screamed.

Every cell in my body said no. My bladder which had already been emptied three times by then was rejecting the notion that falling from 12,000 feet could possibly end well. The muffin bar I had for breakfast sat undigested in my stomach that was already overfilled with trepidation and the previously mentioned emotions. Every atom in my body said no. Yet the confirmation call that went through to Skydive Taupo affirmed my earlier booking. How did that happen?

11.00 am came and the courtesy limo came to pick us mentals up. Charm and I signed away our lives as we filled out the liability form. It was happening then. No turning back. The falling would be happening. And I, a girl, just shy of her 21st birthday would be partaking in said falling.

We got to the centre. Immediately we watched a DVD that briefly chronicled a standard jump. Alright then, that didn’t seem too scary at all, sarcastic quotes in full use. Let's put on our suits and our harness and have the 'safety talk'. My body should have been permeated with nausea by then, yet somehow a strange calm had settled. Everything that I had experienced at 10.30 am that morning was but a distant memory. I was the Zen Master. I was ready to rock and roll.

Having a fantastic dive master helped of course. Eric, from Zimbabwe, was the consummate professional. Cheeky, of course, as most people whose career involve insane amounts of adrenaline. When asked what I should do if the straps didn’t hold, he answered, “Can you flap your arms like a pair of wings?” Brilliant. We waited for our turn and watched as people jumped and completed their parachute ride down. My body was still in its strange Zen mode. The earlier freak outs remained gone.

Finally it was our turn. We climbed up a pink ‘airplane’ - if you’re feeling particularly generous. That flying contraption was honestly nothing but an engine, aluminum and ply glass melded together to resemble an airplane. Small quarters meant that us 9 (4 jumpers, 4 dive masters and 1 pilot) were cramped together. As we ascended, the temperature dropped. The plane got creakier. The ground became smaller. On my left, out the window, I saw clouds in the near distance. This day was beautiful and the jump was going to be awesome.

Now I was strapped on and had my full gear on. It was time. Charm went ahead first and her descent looked perfect. After going through the instructions again, I hopped on over to where the door opened out to blue sky. My feet dangled over the airplane and wind gushed around my it as Eric readied me for the jump.

"Right. No turning back now. Let's do this. And try not to crap my pants while doing it!"

One thumbs up later and we're off. Being in the 'smiling banana' position, sky became ground as we jumped from the plane. Awesomeness just happened. Sitting roller coasters my whole life had prepared me for the dizzying visual sensation but not the next. We're falling!! Wind streamed past my ears and my mind immediately went to that scene with the whale in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Ahhh! Woooh! What's happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What's my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I? Okay okay, calm down calm down get a grip now. Ooh, this is an interesting sensation. What is it? Its a sort of tingling in my... well I suppose I better start finding names for things. Lets call it a... tail! Yeah! Tail! And hey, what's this roaring sound, whooshing past what I'm suddenly gonna call my head? Wind! Is that a good name? It'll do. Yeah, this is really exciting. I'm dizzy with anticipation! Or is it the wind? There's an awful lot of that now isn't it? And what's this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like 'Ow', 'Ownge', 'Round', 'Ground'! That's it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it'll be friends with me? Hello Ground!

There was lots of wind. I remember that. And gorgeous views of the land as we fell. We were traveling at speeds of up to 200 km/ph! We continued to fall till 5000 feet when the parachute was pulled. A quick jerk at the hips and we’re falling like a leaf as gravity worked its magic and the parachute glided down to where solid ground was.

I got unbelievable views of the Central Plateau, the town of Taupo and the airstrip. I chatted with Eric about solo jumps. The highest he's ever jumped off is 22,000 feet. Parachutes are deployed at 2000 feet with solo jumps. He did a twirl with the parachute and the ground went 360.

That was madness, yes it was and I am mad for doing it. As I walked across town later today, all I could think as I passed people on the streets was, "Well, I just jumped 12,000 feet today. What did you do?"

As I finish up this unbearable essay, I remain in my Zen Master mode. Strange how this calm endures as normalcy resumes.