There are some things in life that you do despite their glaring stupidity—like quaffing 11 tequila shots in one evening. Or skydiving. I can’t remember what happened on the tequila-fuelled night, but I’ll never forget my first dive.
When you skydive, you basically pay somebody to strap you to another person and lob you out of a plane, so it’s a good idea to choose a skydiving operator carefully, after lots of research, and not in a bar after 11 tequilas. I’m not saying that’s what happened.
For my first dive in Queenstown in 2008, I chose nZone, one of New Zealand’s highest-rated skydiving services. I made my way to their office downtown and filled out some forms that attested I was medically fit to make the jump. Then, they drove me and a few other first-timers, out to the middle of nowhere, and had us change into jump suits. We were introduced to professional skydivers who would train us and be our jump partners.
Much of the training revolved around the art of hanging off the door of an airplane, with our limbs positioned in the right manner—arms across the chest, and legs folded. When the time came to jump, we would assume the same position, with our instructors bearing our weight. The most important thing, we were told, was not to panic, no matter what happened. We were essentially being trained not to get in the way of the instructors strapped to our backs. We were just passengers along for the ride.
Pleasantries finished, we were bundled into the 12-seater Cessna, and off we went, climbing steadily to 12,000 feet. I remember watching the ground get very, very small. I remember making funny faces for the cameraman who would leap out with me. I remember thinking that this was probably the most foolhardy thing I had ever done.
As we reached jump height, a buzzer and red light went off. The door slid open, and a rush of cold, thin air flooded the plane. Scott, my dive partner, rechecked all the harnesses and equipment. I felt unimaginable terror, but it was time to pay the piper.
When I first jumped, my brain switched off for about five seconds and so I have little memory of the actual moment that I leapt from the plane. I imagine this was my brain’s way of saying “You’re voluntarily jumping out of a perfectly good plane. So if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to shut down now, and just not deal with this.”
My eyes opened after those five seconds, to be met by cold, blue sky, and a receding speck of plane above. I was in free-fall for forty seconds, hitting speeds of close to 200 kmph, kept stable by Scott, and the little pilot chute he had deployed just after we jumped out. The wind howled through my ears, which popped spectacularly, the sheer force of the air obliterating a blockage created by a horrible cold I’d had for a week. I realised I was screaming. The open sky was all around me as I hurtled past mountaintops. Somehow, as the ground got closer, I felt no dread, just the sheer ecstasy of putting my life on a line thinner than a razor’s edge. I’m told now that feeling was probably on account of a lack of oxygen.
When the chute flew open, after almost a minute of falling, the howling was replaced by complete silence. I realised Scott had a hold of my head—to prevent it from jerking back violently with the sudden change in pace. We had suddenly slowed to a pace so sedate, it felt as though the world had hit a pause button. I was frozen in the sky.
Two gentle minutes later, we touched down. I stretched out my legs horizontally; as I’d been instructed to (it can be rather clumsy to make a running landing with two disjointed pairs of feet). I was back on land again. There was cheering, highfiving, and fevered hugging. Ten minutes later, I was sipping coffee, exhausted. The adrenaline had left my system just as quickly as it had flooded it.
I was strongly urged during training to get a video of my jump. Initially, it struck me as a way for the operators to make an extra hundred dollars, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a worthwhile investment to have my first ever skydive recorded for posterity, to relive the madness over and over again.
Appeared in the February 2013 issue as “Falling To Earth”.
There are excellent skydiving facilities in countries across Asia.
Skydive Dubai organises tandem dives over the Palm Jumeirah, as well as the deserts surrounding Dubai almost every day. They should ideally be booked several weeks in advance, and reservations can be made online. Enthusiasts can also join Skydive Dubai’s school for AFF (accelerated freefall) training and instruction rating courses (+971-43-778888; www.skydivedubai.ae; tandem dives from ₹36,811).
Thai Sky Adventures at Nong Kho Reservoir, 40 km from Pattaya organises tandem jumps for over 300 days a year. It also conducts AFF, A-License and canopy courses (+66-85-9003412; www.thaiskyadventures.com; tandem dives from ₹20,425).
Although it isn’t as easily accessible as the Asian destinations, New Zealand is widely considered the skydiving capital of the world. There are skydiving operators all across the country, but Queenstown in the country’s southwest is considered one of the best spots. nZone Skydive has three categories of tandem dive, depending on the height (9,000-15,000 ft) from which they are made (+64-3-4425867; www.nzone.biz; tandem dives from ₹13,075).