I’m sitting in a plane with the side door wide open, clear goggles squeezing my ears together, engine noise blaring behind me, legs dangling off the side, and heart racing because I’m about to jump! I’m about to free-fall from 10,000 feet.
I’m about to go skydiving.
Some of my friends raved about what an exhilarating experience it was. Some of my other friends had heard that it was cheap in Cape Town, South Africa. I’d never really even thought about skydiving before… not that it seemed unappealing, it had just never entered my mind.
But now it was all anyone could talk about. So I jumped on the bandwagon.
When I return home I researched skydiving online. I found out that its more official title is “parachuting.” I read that choosing where and when to skydive is a crucial decision that one should consider before they even decide to go. Some companies are not certified and others have higher accident rates, so many articles recommend researching which companies have more experienced instructors. Jumping from thousands of feet is dangerous; the average death due to parachuting is 30 out of every 100,000 jumps.
I definitely missed all those memos.
In fact, I didn’t even think about the risks or technicalities involved. I did absolutely no research for my upcoming adventure. I was only going to be in Africa for a week and I was going to do something outrageous.
Skydive South Africa is a member of the Parachute Association of South Africa, a governing organization that keeps parachuting companies certified, ensuring that they meet safety standards. The organization’s website says that all first-time skydivers are required to sign a safety waiver before they jump. As I signed, a friend recorded. “Hey Mom and Dad -I’m signing my life away,” I joked into the camera. What I didn’t know at the time was that they should have been there with me. Legally, persons under 21 who skydive in South Africa need written permission from their guardians.
The Parachute Association’s website also explains that first timers must take a 6-hour instructional safety class before they even go up in the plane. I think my entire skydiving process -including driving to and from the site— took about half that. The guides strapped me into some coils and carabineers and practically threw me onto that rickety little puddle-jumper. Before I could even blink I was in the air, plane door open, with my instructor in my ear telling me it was time to go.
Most people are slightly scarred, if not terrified, to fall thousands of feet. There is a great deal of fear and anxiety that goes along with this extreme sport, and understandably so. It’s risky, especially if you haven’t done your research.
But I don’t think I would have ever gone if I had to search for the right location with specialized instructors. My experience was intensified because I had limited resources and only a few days to plan.
Back into to the air. I about to tandem jump with my instructor attached to my back to pull my parachute. He tells me to put my arms above my head and let my body fall naturally whenever I’m ready. There’s no hesitation- I will only get nervous if I think seriously about what I was doing.
I raise my arms, and fall.
For three minutes that feel like 3 seconds my body catapults across the skyline. Lips flapping and entire body tingling. I don’t think I blink once. I don’t breathe. I’m screaming out of excitement and the indescribable, overpowering adrenaline flowing throughout every inch of me. This is the most alive I have ever felt.
And I think I am still coming down.