It’s a bit fuzzy because I was probably four when this happened, but I do know that I was up in a crane, really high up, and I watched my dad fall off of the edge of the platform. And then he sprang back up about halfway. Then fell again, in shorter waves until it was done. Then the crane was lowered. This was totally the late 80s or early 90s, because there’s no way that there would be random bungee jumping from a crane on the side of the road, and they definitely wouldn’t take a little kid up there to watch. But it happened, and that experience kind of set the tone for the kinds of thrill seeking to come.
From racetracks to ziplines to rollercoasters, my dad and I are definitely adrenaline junkies. We like to get each other experience gifts and last Christmas I found a Groupon for skydiving. We each bought one as a present to the other and decided we’d go when the weather was warmer – spoiler alert: I’m glad we did. And on Sept. 16, we trekked down to Andrews, South Carolina to go fall out of a plane.
The Groupon is for Skydive Charleston, but be aware, it is not near Charleston. It’s almost closer to Myrtle Beach, and from Columbia we took 26 east to 301 to 95 to 521 to get there. It’s a lot of back country roads, which were actually much better than the interstate. Overall it took about two and a half hours to get there.
The Andrews Airport is… basically a runway, a shed, and a little brick building. They had two planes out and a few people already lined up to jump. Our appointment was at 11, and once we got checked in, they told us we’d have to wait about an hour for our turn. That actually turned out to be just fine, because we got to see two sets of people jump, which was reassuring. I was worried about landing hard, but these folks landed pretty easily, some even standing up on their feet with no issue, though those were more experienced solo jumpers.
They and the people after us kept asking if we were ready or nervous. I really wasn’t feeling anything. I have a great ability to block out feelings, which I was doing in full force with this. I was excited for it, but I wasn’t letting my mind go anywhere else except, “Here’s the thing that’s happening, just do it.”
We got suited up and introduced to the guys that would be strapped to our backs. They had each already jumped a few times that day, and this was all routine to them. They explained to us how to get out of the plane and how to position our bodies during each phase. It was fairly simple. We loaded into the plane which felt like an old Dooley pickup truck. The pilot had a seat, but the four of us were just sitting on the floorboard of this prop plane, listening to the instructors yell over the noise of the engine, just having a conversation like they weren’t thousands of feet in the air, unsecured.
My emotional block was in place until we lifted off after taxiing down the runway for an extremely short amount of time. That’s when I begin to think, well this isn’t not going to happen now, this is it. I was never afraid of what everyone is when it comes to this, malfunctioning equipment or smashing into the earth, and I don’t think fear describes the feelings. I think I was anxious to just experience this unknown thing, whatever it was. As much as you imagine what it must feel like, it absolutely does not and will not compare. At about 7000 feet, the instructors started strapping themselves to us. My dad went first, and the look on his face was indescribable but the best way to convey it is that you knew he wasn’t sure he was ready but it was too late. The wind from the door is insane, and I’m glad there was someone behind me hustling me out. Once your feet go out the door onto the ledge, you look out into the hazy blueness of the sky, with the greenness of the land vaguely visible below, and then all of a sudden it’s that feeling when you’ve missed a step times a million. I tucked my legs, arched my back, and screamed JAYSUS CHRISTTTTTTTTT. Then the feeling of air rushing past you at 120 miles per hour (an estimated 140 for my dad due to being larger) is cold. So cold, but in a refreshing way, like the first few moments of entering a walk-in freezer. I felt my lips flapping in the breeze and tried to keep them closed. After about 30 seconds of rushing towards the earth, the instructor pulls the parachute and a loud rush of wind fills your ears. Then a hard tug on the straps pulls against your midsection and groin, which wasn’t pleasant for me. And then just like that, you’re floating peacefully over the world. I asked him, “How is this your life?” because he said this was his full-time, five days a week job.
My instructor asked if I wanted to float or swoop, so I said, let’s try a swoop. We swirled around for a while, me trying not to focus on the pressure of the straps. He did unhook some of the straps which relieved some pressure from my torso. About three quarters of the way down, I asked him to stop swooping. My stomach was feeling nauseous, but not like I was going to throw up, just very tight. I tried to breathe deeply to make it go away, which it did enough for me to keep enjoying the descent.
We swirled around to the landing field and it was hard to judge when I needed to put my legs up so I kept them up earlier than I probably needed to. Once we landed, the instructor unclipped all of the straps and I laid on the ground for a minute. Thanks to a sinus problem the week before my internal pressure was all out of whack. I held my nose and blew and one ear popped. I got up after a minute, and that was it. We had skydived.
It was interesting comparing notes on the experience. We both got that ill feeling about the same distance down, which is apparently due to the change in speed of your body. Even though neither of us are prone to motion sickness, some Dramamine would be in order for next time, or something I’ll recommend to anyone else who goes.
By the time we got out of the harnesses and I detangled some of my hair, the guy who jumped with me was back up in the plane going again. And we got our certificates and got back in the truck to drive back home, the best part of the day, and our skydiving plans, done.
As fun as it was, I don’t think I’ve got the skydiving bug. I would do it again, but I’m not itching to line up my next jump… maybe in a few years or so. Until then, our sights are set on the need for speed, at one of the NASCAR driving experience schools!