Last Christmas, a good friend casually said she wanted to go skydiving for her 40th birthday. I said I’d go with her.
Last Saturday was the day. We drove to a small airport north of Santa Barbara, went through the preliminaries (a video and lots of waiver-signing), and got all harnessed up. The plane was interesting; Very small, with two long benches that everyone straddled and slid down when it was their turn. There was a plexiglass panel on the side that got rolled up when the plane reached altitude – 13,000 feet for us.
It was more of a flop than a jump. Then there were a few seconds when I couldn’t tell which direction we were facing. Then 60 seconds of freefall. Only it didn’t feel like falling… Turns out, with that much wind in your face and nothing going past you visually, it just kind of feels like you’re facing a very big fan, surrounded by amazing scenery. I could feel my chest getting windburned. I was surprised by the sudden change from cold, high-altitude air to warm ground air. And then the parachute opened, and OUCH. (My tandem guy confirmed that, thanks to gusty wind, we had a very rough chute opening.)
With the chute open, he and I could talk to each other. He gave me the chute handles (yes, there are handles) and showed me how to turn, but I was getting queasy, so he did a couple more cool maneuvers and then we just floated down. I was impressed with his precision – Twelve tandem pairs landed within a gravel area about 20′x40′. I was pretty lightheaded, so I sat right down. (My friend’s tandem guy said people risk one of the 4 P’s – peeing, pooping, puking, and passing out. I’m proud to say I did none of them.)
My friend had a magical experience; she wanted to go up again right away. My windburn, queasiness, and bruised butt made me a little more circumspect. In a weird way, I found it just like hot air ballooning, but with way more physical discomfort. I find myself replaying the moment of exiting the plane over and over again in my head… But the rest of it I could take or leave.
I feel a bit freakish – I’ve never heard anyone go skydiving and say ‘meh’ afterwards. Maybe I’m just hard to impress. I may do it again someday, now that I know what to look out for. Or I may try bungee jumping next time. Or hang gliding. Is there champagne after hang gliding? Because there’s champagne after hot air ballooning. So that’s gonna be hard to beat.