I first went skydiving the day before my 35th birthday," says Dan, 38, who lives
in San Francisco.
"My friend, Greg, who has probably tried just about every extreme sport on earth,
told me that from 35 on out I needed to experience more than just going to the
bars and gym. Greg had been skydiving about a dozen times before, mostly with past
boyfriends he wanted to impress. What's funny, though, is that I think all of those
guys thought he was trying to kill them! Anyway, on the eve of my 35th he drove me out
for a full day of skydiving training, which culminated in an actual tandem freefall."
"The training part of the day actually only lasted about an hour. They demonstrate
the safety features, like the many different ways you can release the back-up chute,
which is supposedly "fail-safe," if your main chute doesn't open of if you start
pissing your pants and forget everything you just learned back on the ground.
Okay, I thought, why would they make the back-up fail-safe but not the main chute?
Obviously, the other people there, two girls, four straight guys and Greg, were
thinking the same thing: one of the girls piped up. "The main chute has never failed
to open on us around here," the instructor assured us, but that didn't stop them
from having us sign a paper that said they were in no way responsible if we end
up splatting all over the ground.
"Once we'd practiced climbing out onto the wing of a "skeleton" plane - okay,
first word of advice: don't say the word "skeleton" to a group of people about to
jump from 11,000 feet - and making sure all the manoeuvres are second-nature to us,
they took us up in groups of four. Of course, Greg insisted that we go first.
Greg was going solo, but for the first dive they want you to go tandem, which means
an instructor holds onto you as you fall just to make sure everything goes right.
They turned off the engine and my instructor yelled, "Let's skydive!" and I yelled
back, "Let's skydive!" although I had to muster up all of my enthusiasm. I looked
at Greg, who gave me a big smile and a thumbs up, then my instructor guided me
out onto the wing. I tried not to look down, but it was hard not to notice how
high you are up. In fact, the reason I probably didn't freak out more is because
it seemed so unreal at the time. Before I knew it, I'm looking back at the shrinking
plane above. For the next few seconds I go into auto-pilot, throwing out my arms and
legs and slightly arching my back to keep myself from 'rolling' out of control.
Between 5,000 and 5,500 feet, which you can gauge thanks to an altimetre, I signalled
to my instructor that I am ready to pull the cord. There's a split second between
reaching for the cord and before the chute jerks you upward that you start thinking,
Fuck, this is the end. But then the chute opened and I couldn't believe how easy
it was to descend to the ground. That part lasts about five minutes, during
which time I made sure I hadn't pissed my pants.
However, after I realized that I wasn't going to die, I found the courage to enjoy
the view. It was amazing. The parachute was a rectangular shape, which supposedly
makes it easier to manoeuvre. I pulled the cord left to circle around and get a
360-degree view. The wind felt great on my face, and I almost forgot to start planning
where I was going to land - although the field below was wide open, so I could've
pretty much landed anywhere.
"The landing was a breeze, too, and when Greg finally made it down, I gave him a
hug and told him that he was an asshole for trying to kill me."
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