I'd been planning on going skydiving for a long time – years, at least. I'd never actually acted upon it until early senior year at high school, though. I figured it would be a great way to celebrate graduation, and that with college rapidly approaching, I may not have another opportunity anytime soon. Many of my friends expressed an interest, and I slowly began to organize the First Unofficial St. Bernard's Skydiving Club (without my parents' knowledge, of course – since my father's brother was once a jumpmaster, but strapped up some young lad incorrectly once…). When the time finally came, though, my friends were either cheap, under age, or uninterested. I ended up going with my brother, Steve.
We drove up to Orange, Massachusetts, first, since that's from where I'd received the most information about jumping. This was a Friday, June 6th, and as it turns out, Orange only jumps on weekends. We drove back home and went to near-by Pepperell airport. There were plenty of jumpers already there and a very friendly staff ready to get us going. The cost was a bit higher, but so was the altitude. An option of videotaping the jump for $75/person extra seemed too expensive to me, but Steve ended up paying for it all as a graduation gift! Amazing.
We filled out some forms, watched some videos, and sat around… for a long time. Apparently only two tandem jumps can be made per flight, due to the limited number of experienced jumpmasters available. We watched many people float from the sky, noticing what a great day it'd be for our jump, especially since we'd be jumping from above the clouds and would fall through them on the way down. ("Let go of the cloud!" "I can't! I'm scared!") We got some hotdogs while we waited, and played with the half-a-dozen stray dogs wandering the 'port.
Finally, it was our turn. We each were assigned a skydiver and cameraman: me to Joe and Ricco, Steve to Christian and Q. We were suited up, took a quick "dirt dive" out of a wingless, grounded plane, and that's all the practice we got. Soon, we were off!
Those were the most anxious moments of my life, waiting for the plane to reach 13,500 feet. I checked and re-checked my harness to make sure it was all correct, although I wouldn't've known if it wasn't. Finally, it was time to go. I went second-to-last, and Steve went after me. Joe, his chest strapped to my back in the one big harness, stood up with me as we hobbled to the exit door. Ricco stood just outside the plane on a handhold to tape us. I picked up my feet as Joe screamed in my ear, basically hanging from him… and then he jumped – I just went along for the ride. If it had been up to me to jump, I'd prolly still be standing at that door.
At first, it all seemed surreal… Since I hadn't been the one to actually jump, I couldn't tell if we had. The sensation of complete nothingness, save for the wind in my face, had me utterly confused. At that point, the only thing on my mind was how to get back into the plane, which at that point seemed completely logical! I just held my breath and waited for the ride to stop, as if it'd be over in a moment. I couldn't tell if the sounds in my ears were the air or Joe screaming at me. Finally I figured out that I'd forgotten to do one of the only two things I was supposed to remember on the jump: I hadn't assumed the "arch" position immediately after exiting the plane. Joe's nudges reminded me to lock my feet (as opposed to helplessly kicking at nothingness), and he grabbed my arms from my chest and threw them out.
Ricco had told me not to just look down because then I'd have a video of the top of my head. I couldn't tell, but we were spinning around almost uncontrollably. Joe thought I had bad form, and he kept tring to "adjust me", but later, watching the video, he said the strappings were not perfectly aligned. Occassionally I recovered my wits to look at the camera for a brief moment. Sometimes it seemed Ricco was yelling at me to do something, but I couldn't tell with all the wind. He did, though, pull in for a close-up, which I anxiously shooed away. I was too busy watching the ground rush up. I know I should've been thinking to made a good video – I wanted to get Steve's money's worth – but being surrounded by complete sky had me dumbstruck. At least Joe thought to look at Ricco now and then, along with is altimeter. I grew tired of looking back and forth between the camera and the ground; then, watching Ricco fall with us, I remembered: should we still be falling? That was the second thing I was supposed to do on this jump, is pull the ripcord! I adjusted my altimeter (which told me how high I was, in feet), and suddenly felt a sharp jerk. "Oh god, I loosened the harness when I moved, I'm going to plummet to my death…" Then I realized it was simply the kickback of the parachute deploying after Joe pulled the ripcord; apparently he didn't want to risk that I'd forget to pull.
The parachuting part of the fall was almost better than the freefall. Looking all around, it's a view I'd seen from an airplane before, but here there's no window, wall, ceiling, floor… Nothing. Just me between the ground and the clouds, my feet dangling in emptiness, as if I were standing in the sky. I cannot elaborate… I recall looking above me and seeing Steve, and we hearing each other's hollers to a higher deity…
Joe and I landed well, on our feet, and after letting the wind pull us around by the open parachute for a second, detached ourselves. I then rushed over to see if Steve had survived his dive (he had, much to my delight/chagrin). He regretted having that hotdog, but he and his hair were otherwise undamaged. We then waited for Q and Ricco to finish making our videos, which came with a roll of film, still-photos taken from the video.
I recommend that anyone who wants the most out of life, skydive at least once. It's an unforgettable experience you'll carry with you forever. And although it's great just to say that you've done it, get the video, in case nobody believes you. <grin> I would definitely like to go again. I was too scared the first time to fully enjoy the experience… Maybe someday when I have money, I'll take a summer and go through all the lessons and buy my own equipment, so that I can take a solo jump whenever I feel like it. (renting space on the plane when it's going up anyway is quite cheap)
Thanks for reading. I hope you've enjoyed it.
This article is copyright (c) 1997, 2002 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.