To skydive – verb: to jump/fall out of an airplane with a parachute attached. Why? The latest in my series of travel posts is contributed by a great friend and brave guest writer, Amanda Reid
You don’t even have to want to jump particularly. Express a vague interest in the subject and your partner, friend, cousin, uncle will buy it for you for your birthday. This is how most people come to their first skydive.
I hadn’t thought about where, but in the end my hometown Melbourne, Australia turned out to be a really good option. The beauty was in Port Phillip Bay, one of the most elegant bays in the world. Port Phillip has city skyscrapers at the top, then spreads widely on both sides with suburbs, yellow sandy beaches and cliffs reaching down almost 60km to the “Heads”, where two points almost touch, keeping out the roaring ocean at the bottom of the continent.
Despite the city around it, Port Phillip Bay is a fairly clean, healthy and self-contained ecosystem, which includes dolphins, underwater plant life and even some coral. These keep the shallow water clear and bright blue.
I followed my voucher’s instructions to a small portacabin next to the inner-city Elwood Yacht Club. “Skydive the Beach and Beyond” it said. Beyond where, I wondered?
The instructors were a mix of young and old, male and female, but had in common the general relaxed, slightly casual state of reckless adventurers. Help! But sure enough, there was a safety video – most serious accidents are due to the reserve chute getting tangled in the first chute – a one in 100,000 chance apparently. Nervous first-timers smiled at each other. “Is it your first skydive too?” “Have you done this before?”
The one experienced fellow had jumped that very morning and was keen to go again. Heartened by this report, we put on our jumpsuits (lightweight blue coveralls, rather large and flappy but it was strangely reassuring to be covered) and then our harnesses.
A minibus took the eight of us to the local airfield for the upwards journey. We were all doing tandem jumps, that is, with an instructor attached to our back. He or she wears both the main parachute and the reserve so we are harnessed very tightly together.
Alternatively, first-timers can do a “fixed-line jump” where you are initially attached by a line to the plane, which then tears off and automatically opens the parachute. This requires a day of training first, and is normally done from around 3,000 feet. Our tandems are done from much higher.
14,000 feet up
Our little tincan of a propellor plane rose at a steep angle to some 14,000 feet. The door was open the whole time, giving us a small taste of the breeze and temperature outside. I clung with my knees to the bench seat, while my backpack Kris murmured words of encouragement in my ears.
The first one of us to go was nervous, but out they went. A minute later, Kris and I squatted on the edge of the plane’s doorway. I’m not sure if I jumped or was pushed, but there we went. Face down, limbs spread, through the clouds we rushed. Our 7,000 feet freefall lasted around 55 seconds, but felt like 10 minutes. The major sensation was the wind. Apparently we reached our terminal velocity of around 120 miles per hour within 12 seconds. If only the wind would stop, if only the clouds weren’t so damp!
Then, Kris told me to expect a bounce. Sure enough he released the parachute and I had the feeling we were swiftly rising. In fact we were still falling, but relatively it seems quite the opposite. Then I could see what it was all about. The sweep of the bay and the city I knew so well was still far below me, curved like a wide-angle photo. But I wasn’t seeing it from a plane window. I was the plane!
The sun was out and the clouds now above us helped give some 3-D perspective to the circular bay below. I could see the first parachutist below us, and 2 or 3 above. We circled like planes in a holding pattern for a lovely 5 or 6 minutes. I could see landmarks of the city, long stretches of yellow sand, coloured beach boxes at Brighton, the cliffs behind us on the peninsulas.
I was beginning to relax and enjoy it, until I noticed the ground coming up fast. Where was our drop zone? Way over there! Kris manoeuvres us like a kite and points out my family waiting at the park. We stretch our legs out to avoid the most common injury – sprained ankles on landing. And run. The ground! It is a relief but I am too out of breath to say much. Finally I thank Kris and chat. He has another 7 or 8 jumps to do that day so must be off.
Do I recommend it? Yes! Make sure you have beautiful scenery below. And wear goggles!
Not a sponsored post, but if you’re in Australia and want to try skydiving, visit: Skydive the Beach & Beyond (locations across the continent)