High on my bucket list, somewhere between staying at an ashram in India and hiking the Inca trail, sits one of life’s greatest thrills. With a big fat tick beside it, the words ‘Skydiving’ are marked out in black ink. In my 24 years of existence, no high has ever come close, and I’m not sure anything else ever will.
In April this year, 12,000 feet above solid Miami ground, I jumped out of the tiny six-seater plane with nothing but determination and an elating freedom. Unwittingly at the time, it inevitably set in motion a chain of events that has lead me to exactly where I am right now. The jump itself just as much a physical act as a leap into the great unknown.
When you talk about skydiving, people tend to fall into one of three categories: a. they’d never do it and they think you’re crazy for even considering it, b. they want to do it but they’re too scared to follow through, and c. they’ve done it once and that’s enough for them. There’s also that fourth category of adrenalin junkies who are addicted to the thrill, but chances are you haven’t met them. For years I fit into the ‘b’ category. Perhaps it was my fear of heights that put me off (cue extreme feet tingling even thinking about standing on a cliff or high edge), or that niggling apprehension that maybe something would go wrong, and by wrong I mean DIE.
Like always, timing was (and is) everything. When I saw a deal on Living Social at the Miami Skydiving Center I knew I had to bite the bullet. What was I afraid of anyway? Mentally drained and overworked, I needed to do something invigorating and the idea of jumping out of a plane seemed to fit the reboot bill perfectly. I hadn’t been this excited about anything in months! Miraculously I convinced my friend Anna to buy one too, despite her extreme fear of flying. One word: amped!
I soon realised that buying it was just the first step. Oh yes, I actually had to go through with it to make it count. Let’s just say the deal sat safely in my inbox for a while before I gathered up the courage to actually do it. Sometimes you just need a little kick in the butt to make something happen though, and mine came in the form of the MTV VJ Search. To enter you had to submit a video to #CONVINCEKATE (Kate being Kate Peck, their Australian VJ) why you should be the next Kiwi host. Dream job? I’d say so. What did I decide to do? Jump out of a plane, of course. That’s crazy enough to stand out, right?
Determined, the mission was back on and between resigning from my job and heading back to LA I had only one day to make this happen to get the video in on time. After booking our jump times all my excitement quickly cascaded into impeding what ifs. What if my parachute fails? What if my back-up parachute fails? What if fall out of my harness? Is it possible to even fall out of the harness? What if the teeny-tiny plane crashes or bursts into flames*? What if the instructor doesn’t pull the cord? What if I get maimed by a tree upon landing? What if I go plunging into the earth at 200km/h? What if I die?
(*This had actually happened to some people few weeks before my jump and I remembered reading about it online.)
Like any good over-thinker I turned to Google for the answers to my very valid (*cough*) questions. What did I find out? Only 24 people died skydiving last year in America out of 3.5 million jumpers. That’s a chance of 0.00000069 chance of dying. I also discovered I have a 1/6700 chance of dying in a car crash and I unwittingly get into a car and drive every day. That little fact in itself was enough to assure me. Phew. Once again, I was pumped. Everything was going to be just fine….
And everything was fine until I woke up the day before our jump to a text from Anna alerting me to the fact that the leading story on CNN was the skydiver in France who had just died in a group jump when her parachute failed to open, and perhaps we should reconsider our potential deaths the following day. Great, thanks for that Anna.
There I was, scared shitless, again. Now not only did I have to reassure myself that everything was going to fine, but I also had to convince her that yes she would be alive to travel to Australia next week (and trust me, for a girl with an extreme flying phobia this was no mean feat). Fortunately when I say I’m going to do something I’m bloody well going to do it. It was too late to back out and we were in this together. Besides, I had a very important video to make!
Despite a nervous night of sweaty palms and even sweatier feet (gross, I know) and a sneaky re-Google of those accident stats, I woke up in the morning completely calm and at ease without so much as a care in the world or a butterfly in my stomach; the opposite of the hot mess I was pre-slumber. I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and in this case whatever was going to happen that day was out of my control. I was jumping, and whatever happened after, well, that was the universe’s decision. See the thing about letting go is it’s totally liberating. I felt f****** great!
With the top down (on the sports car, of course), wind in our hair, sun shining, and the music cranking, life was pretty damn good as we drove to the Miami Skydiving Center; about 45 minutes from South Beach at the Taimami Airport. I was about to tick something off my bucket list and that was enough to make me smile. Forget nervous energy, I was as excited as kid on Christmas Eve, only difference was this present was priceless.
Upon arrival it was the usual sign your life away type forms that ensure if anything bad happened you’d accept responsibility and that under no circumstances was it the company’s fault. My biggest issue at this point was who to put as my emergency contact because my favoured person was standing right next to me. Oh shit. Then came the safety video which I didn’t really watch because I didn’t want to lose any mental momentum (i.e. freak myself out). Afterwards we were shown how to position yourself before jumping, and how to brace yourself while falling. No biggie!
I leaped off the couch at the first second I could to get in my harness and get this airshow on the road. FYI it’s kind of like getting in a giant diaper, all kinds of weird. About this point I met the man I was about to trust with my life. His name was Damien and he was a legend. He reminded me of one of those epic surfer dudes with enough charisma to ease even the most fearful soul. Plus he was funny and this was one of those instances which give meaning to the term comic relief. It’s a strange thing to put your safety in the hands of a stranger; mind you I’d trust a professional more than I would ever trust myself with the vital task of pulling the survival cord. I couldn’t even manage to watch the safety video!
Saddled up, we climbed in the truck with the four other jumpers and headed for the plane. “Hold up,” Damien said walking over. “You’re getting on last. We’re jumping first.” Hell yeah we are!
The scariest part of the whole experience was definitely the flight. I swear if you’re going to die skydiving it will be in the tiny, old plane. I really do hate small planes though; I think they make you hyper-aware of the fact that you’re actually flying (which if you really think about is kind of scary) and unlike in say a 747, you can feel EVERYTHING. Smelling the petrol as soon as the engine revved up probably didn’t help either. Luckily my excitement to jump overcame any case of what I’m dubbing ‘small plane syndrome’.
After around ten minutes of flying and we hit our altitude target of 12,000 feet. About half way up came the semi-awkward moment of clipping myself to the instructor i.e. gluing myself to my instructor’s crotch. But when the door swings open and the cold air surged through the plane it was action mode. Being the first jumper was definitely a bonus because there’s barely even time to think before you’re free falling out of the plane. With the door wide open, we shuffled to the edge. Siting lap-to lap I crossed my arms over my chest and hooked my feet under the plane. Oh my f****** god this is happening. The moment of no return. I leaned forward and that was it. I experienced the most incredible 45 seconds of my entire life. Total and utter freedom, despite the strange man strapped to my back.
What does it feel like to fall? Well, firstly, you don’t lose your stomach. This had been a great concern of mine as I absolutely loathe that feeling. You know the one you get on the Fear Fall at Rainbow’s End or on a roller coaster at a theme park. Even thinking about it now makes me anxious! Do you lose your stomach? was the first question I’d asked every person I spoke to prior to jumping who had done it before, and each and every one of them promised me you didn’t get that feeling. Liars, I thought, how could you not? You’re jumping out of a freaking plane 12,0000ft above the earth!!!!!!! Well, they were right. There is so much air pressure against you that you don’t feel like your plummeting towards the earth at 200km/h. The only giveaway is your very attractive face. I actually spent the whole way down smiling and screaming ‘Woooooo’ with genuine happiness. No joke. It really is quite extraordinary; the free-fall is not like falling, it’s like flying. You’re flying for 45 seconds. How cool is that?
The world looks different when you’re looking down on it. You lose that perspective of depth amidst a blur of green and brown with the odd shape here and there. When you’re that high up the earth seems, and is, so very far away, and it’s in that view my fear of heights fell away. When you’re free falling there’s so much resistance against you I think it takes away a lot of that fear. Time and distance feel a bit warped – everything feels dragged out and compressed simultaneously, if that’s even possible. You barely even get the chance to feel afraid because it’s over before you know it. When your instructor pulls the cord you can breathe a sigh of relief or, like me, wish it wasn’t over. Jolted into parachute position it was time to enjoy the view. Five minutes of floating through paradise on a perfect Miami day.
Can we do it again? The first thing I said when we landed, and if it didn’t cost $300 (plus all the other costs for things like the photos and video) I probably would have. That feeling, that absolute elation and adrenalin rush is undoubtedly the best state in the entire world. And it lasts, for hours. The jump brings you back down to earth, not just physically but also mentally. Throughout the whole experience you’re so totally present in the here and now and so completely aware of everything that’s going on around you, and then upon landing you feel so very alive. One thing’s for sure, adrenalin is the very the best high.
While the rest of Miami slept, or didn’t sleep (it was 8am on a Saturday after all and half of South Beach was probably still out partying), I jumped out of a plane. An epic pre-breakfast achievement if I do say so myself, and I had an impressive video entry for MTV to prove it. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Ten times over.
My skydiving advice: Don’t be afraid. I guarantee you this is one of those experiences you’ll never forget, and probably one of those things you’ll be kicking yourself on your deathbed for not doing. Don’t let your fear of dying (or flying for that matter) get in the way. After all, you don’t get behind the wheel of a car or cross the road or go about your daily life thinking that something terrible is going to happen because chances are it won’t! There’s no point freaking out when you’re up in the plane either; there really is only one way down and it’s not with a seat belt. You may as well just let go and enjoy the ride.
Will it be scary? Probably. Will you lose your stomach? No. Will you be glad you did it? 100%. Will it change your life? Quite possibly. Remember, you only live once. Sometimes you just have to have a little faith… and no regrets.
Side Note: Here’s the video I made for MTV. Did it get me through to the next round? You bet. In fact, I ended up making the final five! The first step in chasing my dream…