It was close to the end of 2013 that I got an opportunity every Indian software engineer looks forward to – onsite !! I had to travel to the United Kingdom for an year’s stay. The organization had its own plans for sending me there and I made a few of mine as well. And top of my list was – SKYDIVING !!
Here’s what I had planned :
1) Do one single tandem skydive – where you are tied to an instructor who does everything for you, you just hang in there and enjoy the “fall” !!
2) Go on a Euro-Road-trip.
3) Watch an EPL match of the club I follow – Liverpool – at Anfield, the home-ground of Liverpool.
4) Explore as much of the UK as possible – London, Scotland and a few other places.
But then that’s not how it happened !! One of my seniors was also in London at the same time. Ketan Sir had done the tandem skydive before and he suggested we both do something more exciting this time – a solo skydive !!.
I was absolutely thrilled at the idea; more so because till then I hadn’t imagined it was within my reach – mentally, physically and of course financially !!
A solo skydive was the perfect opportunity to do something really really exclusive !!
It was something both of us had learnt at our military school – to push our limits and keep doing something different. I also realized that all other things on my itinerary could be done even at the age of 60 or 70 but not this – this had to be done right now !!
There was just a small twist though – we were in the December of 2013 – peak winter time and the skydiving season doesn’t start before March or April. And thus began the desperate waiting period – I used to check the sunrise / sunset times every single day and feel better that slowly but steadily, the days were getting longer !!
FIRST DAY AT THE SKYDIVING CENTER:
Finally, the English Winter was behind us and the days were much brighter and longer. And so the day came when we finally reached the skydiving center.
It was a sunny, pleasant morning in the beautiful English countryside somewhere out of Leicester. I was absolutely excited to be at the center and couldn’t stop myself from clicking some pics ….
The first day was to be spent – on the ground – in the training room where we would be taught all the procedures to be followed right from boarding the plane up to landing back on the ground. This is quite a detailed and serious training because YOU are going to do a lot of activities yourself in the skydive; unlike the tandem skydive which I had initially thought of doing !!
The tandem skydive is the easier one where you have pretty much nothing to do other than pose for the camera – something like this …
Of course, that also makes the tandem skydive a lot more stress-free and enjoyable. And that should be reason enough for everybody to try it !! I strongly feel there are very few things that are as much fun as a skydive !! The side-effect, of course is, you will no longer be afraid of any roller-coaster in the WORLD – take that from me !!
So we were 4 of us waiting to be trained when a tall, smart and beautiful British girl in a jump suit walked up to us and said “Hi, I am Becks (Rebecca) and I’ll be your trainer for today”.
Did I need a better start to the day ??!!! No, I didn’t imagine myself to be the Farhan or Hrithik of ZNMD, Becks was simply out of my league and ……….. a bit older too !!
Off we followed Becks to the training room with a lot more “eagerness and interest” to learn the basics of skydiving. Of course, Becks was a thorough professional and got down to business right away. We also realized pretty soon that we had to focus on the training rather than Becks if we had to land on the ground – alive !!
We were taught all the basics, sequence and procedures involved in a solo skydive. Becks ensured she didn’t frighten us a lot but at the same time ensured we realize the importance of following all the procedures to the T. This was a very serious adventure sport and LIVES were definitely at stake. We were told that our first jump would be next morning and so we returned home, just a bit dejected and restless. A jump on the same day would have been amazing !!
The FIRST JUMP:
We reached the center early in the morning next day. We were taken through a detailed refresher session of everything that was covered the previous day and we were now ready for our first solo skydive.
There were a 1000 things going through my head now !! I had been thinking about this every single day for the past three months and here I was just minutes away from jumping out of the plane !! I was excited, thrilled, anxious and what not !!
It’s a very special and exciting feeling to see your name on the manifest. That’s also the confirmation that you are jumping, pretty soon ……
My heart started pounding as I walked past this sign-board …
As the plane arrived closer, the gravity of what I was about to do, started dawning upon me !! All kinds of thoughts were crossing my mind !!
The instructors do realize this so they try and keep you all peeped up !! They’ll keep talking to you, keep revising the stuff, crack some jokes – basically divert your mind from the anxiety and fear !!
The plane took off and started climbing up to the designated height of 13,000 ft. (approx 4 kms in the sky). I was monitoring the altitude on my altimeter knowing at one point it would read 13,000 ft. !!
Since we were being trained to be solo-skydivers, we had two instructors with each of us. The job of the instructors is to keep the student stable in the free fall.
Finally the plane stopped climbing and was completely stable. The chief instructor, sitting at the door, flung it open and a sudden gush of air entered the plane. My feet went cold and throat dry !!! The experienced, certified skydivers started jumping one after the other. My instructors were slowly dragging me closer to the door and also asking me if I was ready to jump !! Amidst all the anxiety and fear I was going through at that moment, I knew one thing – I just cannot back out at this moment. I said a loud YES and all 3 of us were at the door.
I somehow gathered the strength to do the mandatory actions giving a final confirmation to the instructors that I am diving ……..
Words are just not enough and capable of explaining everything I experienced for the next few seconds !!
The fear, anxiety was all gone. I had never felt so “mindful” ever before !! Neither had I felt all of my senses so strong ever in the past !!
This free-fall lasts for about 45 seconds during which I was constantly monitoring my altimeter – I had to deploy my parachute at 5000 ft. I did the mandatory actions to prove to my instructors that I was completely in my senses and would deploy the parachute in time !!
Once I pulled the knob of my parachute, my instructors moved away from me and I was all alone ……….
With the parachute deployed, the fall comes almost to a stand-still. Its time to relax a bit and enjoy the amazing view that only a skydive can offer !!
I remember shouting to myself – ” This is it…. this is it …”
Having deployed the parachute successfully I knew the most risky part of the dive is behind me. I had never felt so good and confident about myself in a long long time !!
I had the parachute completely in my control. My instructors instructed me over the radio, to have some fun with the chute. So I pulled it left and right a few times to enjoy the 360 degree view of the sky, clouds, farms, the roads ……. everything !!!
After the free-fall, the second most exciting part of the skydive is – the landing.
From 13,000 ft., you are supposed to land in an area which is just about the size of a football field. It sounds very challenging but the point of jump is planned according to the wind direction. So, unless something nasty happens in your free fall OR you have screwed up big time in the basics, your jump is directed towards the landing zone.
The first sight of the landing zone is assurance that your skydive is going absolutely perfect ……
And finallyyyyyy ………
I completed the mandatory de-brief of the skydive with my instructor, who told me all that had gone right and wrong during the free fall. With an amazing sense of achievement I returned home, desperately looking forward to the next weekend, when I would be doing two more of these jumps !!
I completed the next two jumps enjoying every single bit of it and in turn clearing the first stage !!
The Fourth and the Fifth:
These jumps were even more special than the first three – I jumped out of the plane all alone …….
I will refrain myself from describing the experience of these two jumps because I have already exhausted all the adjectives and superlatives above !!!
For the records, I failed to clear this level of the course since I wasn’t stable enough in the free-fall. However what my instructor said after I landed will stay with me forever :
“More than 90% of the students freeze and back-out when they are alone at that door. You didn’t ….!! You jumped, stabilized with a little help from the instructor and opened the chute at the designated height – on your own !! And that’s all that matters, everything in between can be taught, practiced and improved !! Well done !!
For someone who desperately aspired to be a pilot but couldn’t, these 5 jumps gave me a reason to keep ……… Smiling At Destiny !!
I owe this blog to Ketan Sir, for fuelling the idea to take up solo skydiving and
my dear friend Aarti, for convincing me to put this experience into words!!
Here’s what a famous Hollywood star had to say about his skydiving experience :