“Make no mistake, skydiving is a dangerous sport. Jumping out of a plane with a parachute is a risky venture and can lead to serious injury or death.” I look at the presenter saying these words on a projector screen and think “These guys need to work on their sales pitch”. I’m at a small airstrip in Cookstown near Toronto. The video I’m watching is a part of my orientation/training for my first skydive.
The next hour is a blur. My instructor, Oleg, is also going to be my tandem master. That’s a fancy way of saying that I’m going to jump while being quite literally, attached to this guy. I’m only mildly disappointed that with a name like “Oleg” the man isn’t a six and a half foot Viking with a horned helmet. That being said, I doubt a frothing barbarian would be as friendly and professional as the man in front of me.
I put on my jump suit, don my Para helmet and strap on the altimeter. We go over the motions, precautions and procedures more times than I care to remember. Now all that’s left is to wait for the little prop plane to come back after it dumps its last load of thrill seekers. Clichéd as it sounds, waiting is the hardest part. I’ve wanted to do this for as long as I can remember.
Suddenly, there’s a camera in my face. I’m so wrapped up in my own thoughts that it takes me by surprise. “So why the hell would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane man?” the camera man jokingly asks. Good question. There are many things I could say. “It’s a childhood dream” “I’m an adrenaline junkie” “Looked like fun on TV” etc etc. Instead I end up saying this: “Because the door’s gonna be open” Muffy (the cameraman) and I share a laugh and it takes every ounce of my willpower to not facepalm. Luckily, the plane has already landed taking away the opportunity to make me look like an even bigger jackass.
One final gear check and I’m on the plane with six other death defying heroes/ fools. Before I know it, the plane takes off.
The mood in the plane is light, albeit tinged with excitement. Apart from me, everyone here is a seasoned skydiver. I keep expecting some sort of fear to hit me. “It’s going to happen” I tell myself. At some point my brain is going to show me just how stupid an idea this is. “Birds fly. Birds have wings. You don’t, moron.” Mr. Brain has never been much of an optimist. “Six hundred dollars to end up like a stain on the ground. Brilliant move genius.” So on and so forth. It does not happen. It dawns on me that I really, really want to do this.
The door opens; the plane is at 15000 feet. The vets line up along the length of the small aircraft. They start to jump. Just like that, I’m like a hound straining on my leash. I literally just want to run after them. Oleg holds me back. He may not be an axe wielding Viking but the man’s grip is like iron. He checks all my straps and hooks and confirms everything is in order. Three more steps and we are at the door. The ground is really far away. I won’t lie; there is a millisecond of apprehension. Not fear. Just Mr. Brain trying to comprehend what exactly the rest of me is going to do. Regardless, I’m smiling. Oleg holds on to the doorway while I hang my torso out of the plane, getting into position. The roar of the engine is muted a little by the rush of wind. The air up here is impossibly pure. The ground still looks goddamned far. “Holy crap” I think to myself “I’m actually doing this”
Oleg shouts into my ear. “Three, two, one, GO!” We fall as one. There is a second where it actually feels like falling. Like the sensation in one’s belly when a rollercoaster begins its descent. Only amplify that a hundred times over.
Right off the bat I’m screaming. And laughing. And screaming some more. Almost as soon as I register the sensation of falling, it is gone. What I experience now is impossible to describe. Screw birds and their wings. THIS is flying! You feel this Mr. Brain? THIS is where I totally belong. Flying towards the earth at a hundred and twenty miles an hour. Throwing up the horns to Muffy who jumped after us.
And all the while, laughing like a mad man as the ground gets closer. Oleg proceeds to spin us around a few times, guiding our trajectory with subtle positioning of his limbs. Clockwise, then anticlockwise. Up here, physiology dictates aerodynamics which dictates adrenaline. Biology and physics coalesce, culminating in absolute freedom. We are our own little orchestra, hurtling earthwards at terminal velocity. The centerpiece of this manic symphony? My vocal cords. This is what it means to truly let go. In this moment, I am truly alive.
After thirty blissful seconds of free-fall, Oleg points to my altimeter. It’s my cue to deploy the parachute. I fumble twice before pulling the ripcord. The lifesaving canopy blossoms above us, its bright colors in stark contrast to the clear blue sky. There is an audible “Whooosh” as it unfurls and free-fall ends. The thrills are not quite done though. Oleg treats me to some extra stunts. Twirling us around at sharp angles to the point where I actually feel a little dizzy. This controlled descent will last a few minutes so he lets me take control of the parachute for a bit. My screams of joy have now been replaced with disturbing giggles. We go through some clouds and I realize that the ground is not that far now.
All too soon, it’s time to land. I hand over the controls to Oleg who chooses the angle of approach expertly. With a few deft moves, he all but kills our speed while telling me to assume the correct posture. The landing is perfect. I’m still laughing.
A few seconds later Muffy and his trusty camera are back in my face. “So how was it dude?” he asks.
“Oh I am so doing that again!” For once Mr. Brain agrees.