Saturday, January 2, 2021

Taking the leap: skydiving for the fun of it

The pure thrill of flying!

A rush of cold air presses against my body as the door of the small airplane opens. I try to hang my legs outside and step onto the wing support as instructed—so I can fling myself into the nothingness of wispy clouds. But, at 10,000 feet altitude, the force of the wind is stronger than anticipated, and I have trouble getting my body out the door.

Getting ready to leave the plane!

Quickly, the jumpmaster, who is harnessed snugly to my backside, counts one-two-three, and together we heave our bodies into the silent sky.

Exhilaration kicks in as I realize this is it! I’ve jumped out of a perfectly good airplane for the thrill of freefalling up to 130 mph straight down to earth.

I’m on a tandem flight with Matt, jumpmaster at Texas Skydiving Center near Lexington, Texas (about 50 miles east of Austin). This is my first skydive, but it’s free fall number 1,601 for him. Despite almost total coverage in body art--which puts Matt in a very different generation from mine--he is personable, professional, and reassuring.

We are airborne!

Before arriving, I had been instructed on what to eat and wear—for my comfort. At the skydiving center Matt gave instructions on land about what to expect as he carefully explained procedures for the jump. In the air, he keeps me informed of each step in the process—all of which is being recorded by a videographer. He wears the parachute, and it’s his job to steer during our soaring descent. I’m just along for the ride.

The pure thrill of flying

Once out of the plane, I’m surprisingly calm. The sensation I feel is of floating, not falling. I let go of all anxieties and trust Matt with my life. It’s his life, too, so I feel perfectly safe.

We flow through the air, above the clouds at first, and I wave to the videographer who is filming us from a camera attached to his helmet. The videographer is having one heck of a ride, much friskier than ours, as he maneuvers into positions for the best shots of Matt and me, the disappearing plane, and the approaching ground below.

Matt, my tandem partner, plays
hide and seek for the photographer.
The air is cold and eerily quiet.  My mouth is dry because I’m gasping from pure enjoyment and trying to smile for the camera (Note to self: Keep your mouth closed next time).

We plunge 5,000 feet in 40 seconds, although there’s little awareness of downward movement.  I wave to the videographer. Only later will I realize how comical I look--hair and facial skin stretched back tightly from the forceful wind.

Too soon, I feel a slight tug when Matt deploys the rainbow-hued, rectangular parachute that slows our downward descent. It’s now okay to remove the tight goggles necessary during the free fall. 

Now there’s time to appreciate the scenery--views of lakes and farmland in the rural landscape below. In about five or six minutes we zoom in for an upright landing exactly on the drop zone-- the perfect ending to my first skydive experience.

We're soaring above the clouds!

Tandem jumping is ideal for anyone with an adventurous spirit who doesn’t want to take the time to learn the technicalities of a full solo jump—at least the first time out. You get all the thrills of skydiving without the responsibility of remembering when and how to deploy the parachute.

Skydiving has gone mainstream

Judging from multiple offers found on group discount buying websites like Living Social and Groupon, more people are stepping out (literally) and taking the plunge. Has the public become more daring, or is the attraction of a large discount luring participants to this thrilling adventure?  When I first took advantage of such an offer, I thought it was a novelty and a one-time splurge. But then a year later I did it again—and my husband joined me—using such vouchers.

A perfect landing in nearby field.

Perhaps—like me—people are marking things off their bucket lists. Each year I find myself becoming braver and more willing to tackle activities that once seemed too crazy—and discovered that skydiving is not nearly as scary as I thought it might be. I decided to take the leap for no other reason than Why not?  

Some skydiving centers take only one or two people up at a time for tandem jumps; others take a plane load of participants who jump in rapid succession.  Of course, they will teach you how to jump on your own, if you’re so inclined. Videos and still images are an extra charge, but you’ll want this excellent remembrance of your brave adventure—and it gives you undisputable bragging rights.

 Photos by Larry Burmeier and Texas Skydiving Center.


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