|My First Tandem Jump|
By David L. Roush - firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a reflection on my first tandem skydive, made on June 17, 2001 at "Above the Poconos Skydivers" in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
It all started with me seeing skydiving on television - movies - commercials - wherever. Then, way back in 1995 when our family first hit the Internet, I began reading about the sport, and learning more about how one goes about doing it.
For the past four years, each summer I have talked about going skydiving (since age 15). The first barrier: What I believed to be the minimum age limit: 16. Okay, one year down - must wait for next year when I'll be 16, then I can jump. Next year came. I was 16. Then I learned more about what it means to be a legal adult and able to sign waivers, and legal documents. My mom would have to sign for me to jump... when pigs fly. Damn - two more years to wait. The first year went by and more anticipation built as the second rolled around... I would be 18.
During the school year, I tried to find friends from my high school who would be willing to take the plunge with me. Lots of them said "yea, what a great idea.." and "yeah, I'll do that.." but when it came right down to doing it, everyone was all talk and no action. I refused to go by myself. Another year shot. I looked forward to college.. where I would meet new friends, be my own person, and enjoy new and exciting experiences.
Enter Alex. Alex lived down the hall from me in my dorm building. Alex and I met about half way through my third semester. I had explained to him that another student and I wanted to start a skydiving club at Penn State. He replied that his dad had done something similar involving a club and parachuting. So he told me that he was all for it and would be happy to go skydiving with me.
So the question became - would this be another hometown talk-it-up, or would he really do it? Summer came, and I began chatting with him over IM to set up our jump. He again stuck to his guns and said he would go. We decided on a date and location, and I said mail me the non-refundable deposit, so I could combine it with mine and mail it off. This was the ultimate test. Surely enough, not three days later his deposit arrived in my mailbox.
My brother and I had to drive to Virginia for a job interview. He had the interview, so I took along some paperwork to keep busy. One item of business: Mailing the deposit. I prepared the deposit while he interviewed, then, after remembering passing the post office in Staunton, VA earlier that day, I drove his car over and mailed it off. This was without a doubt the hardest letter I've ever had to drop in a mailbox.
That was it - I was confirmed. No way would I lose fifty bucks by chickening out. The next thing was to wait for June 17th to arrive.. about two and a half weeks or so. In the mean time, we both tried to find additional people to come, but again the same - all talk, no action.
One to two days before the jump, I got a little bit nervous. Weather.com was predicting scattered showers and a 50% chance of rain. "Just my luck," I thought... we could reschedule if it was too bad, but I didn't want to.
Alex and I had a final prep-chat the night before, on June 16th, until 2:00 am. So much for getting a good night's sleep. I made sure to set three alarms to make sure I was up and ready to go on jump day. All three worked - I got up... packed up.. and hit the road.. two hours, fifteen minutes to the airport, to be exact.
Once there, I met a nice family who had another 19 year old jumping. I awaited anxiously as the tiny spot in the sky took on a human form and slowly descended to the grassy runway. His expression on landing was priceless.
Alex and I went in and got to watch a 20 minute video of some lawyer sitting in her kitchen reading legalities to us, as well as a "guru" with a four-foot beard who taught us all about the history of tandem skydiving and the fact that it is considered experimental. TV was low enough that we couldn't hear enough to care. Darlene, taught us the proper exit technique, all of which I figured would be gone from memory once I got into the plane. "Your brain may not remember the position, but your muscles will." -Ha! That requires that you have muscles to remember it. Time to suit up.. I always wondered what a jump suit would be like. It was nothing special. I had purple grips on my shoulders. I hate purple. At least I didn't accept the camouflage harness, I got a red one. The camouflage one reminded me of my ex-stepfather who was a military nut case. The harness was well encompassing, and when tightened, made normal walking difficult. It felt good to be tight. Tight was reassuring.
We moved out to the waiting bench, then began to board the Cessna 185.. putting two jumpers, two tandemmasters, two videographers and a pilot into this sardine can was pure chaos. The videographers gave us a quick ground interview, and then we packed in. Arms on legs.. feet across legs, heads on arms.. you name it. We were "as close as people can get without being intimate." How we would ever adjust to open the door was beyond me.. and guess who was seated propped against the door.. yours truly!
This was a double experience for me, in that it was my first time ever riding in an airplane, so just taxiing and taking off were quite a fun time for me. The entire time drawing up to now - weeks prior.. day of.. never did I get scared. Not scared like I expected to be scared. I blame that on three things - the yearning to jump for so many years, the serenity of watching the world go on 10,000 feet below us, and the fact that there is just nothing scary about skydiving (okay okay - so some may disagree with me on that one..).
I watched the airplane altimeter climb to 10,000 feet. First, I thought we were jumping from 13,500 like the web site stated. Hmm.. must have gotten gipped there.. oh well.. so then the airplane's altimeter climbs past 10,000 feet. By this time, my feet are completely numb and aching from sitting on my knees since about 6,500 feet. I finally realized that the airplane's altimeter was taking into consideration absolute altitude- that is, from the sea level, not from the ground. I then switched over to watching my tandemmasters' altimeter. FINALLY! 10,000 feet.. my feet and legs would soon find relief... at 125 mph.
The door swung open - now that made sense... a huge rush of air blasted my face and contact lenses - I hoped they wouldn't dry out on me.. my cameraflyer climbed out to the wing.. something I wouldn't do for any less than 200 bucks.
"CUT!!!!!!!!!!" Was I in a movie?? Was it time to stop filming?? OH!!!! Cut the ENGINE.. I thought as the overpowering noise came to a rest... "KNEES OUT".. before I knew what was happening, i was turning upside down then hurtling towards ole mother earth at 125 mph. So surreal.. my stomach didn't have the "roller coaster" sickness that it did when the plane leveled off every so-many-thousand feet.
Everyone wants to know what freefall feels like.. I will try to explain it, although its not quite something words can describe. To me, it felt like "hanging" or "floating" above earth, while being blown by an overpowering wind. It really did not feel like falling at all. The earth did not come rushing at me as I had expected. Breathing was natural. I had a hard time actually realizing that I was losing altitude. The cameraflyer flew into my face to grab a shot of a thumbs up and a smile.. it was so weird to see him come right up at me while we were both falling towards earth. I felt like a curiosity in a cage at the local zoo.
Then I pulled my arms in and the chute opened. The opening shock was much more smooth and gentle than I had expected. There was a rather high amount of pressure on my inner thighs for about 2 seconds... but once my fall rate slowed, I was fine. Now this was cool. I felt like I was nearly 10,000 feet high (everything still looked just about as tiny as it did from above) This was so exciting. My tandemmaster allowed me to steer.. we did a few spins that really put the g-forces on me, and finally guided me in for a smooth, sit down and slide landing. It was so much fun to watch the earth slowly grow larger as we approached it. I got to see Alex zoom by in his chute, and a loud "WOOO HOOO!!" seemed appropriate for the time.
We slid along the wet grassy ground, had a post-flight interview with the cameraman, in which, I was left completely and totally speechless. I immediately walked over to Alex to congratulate him on his jump. After exchanging a low-five and half-hug, we walked back to the terminal discussing how neither of us was actually scared, and how we both loved the experience and would be back for more. We took off our suits and harnesses and spent the rest of the day cruising the town and eating a large (celebratory) steak dinner.
I have to say that choosing Above the Poconos Skydivers was one of the best choices I could have made throughout this whole experience. It was well worth a 2 hr 15 min drive to get there. Their staff was wonderful, welcoming, and helpful. They have a 100% safety record, they claim to be the longest continually operating dropzone in the US, and their head owner-guy is the Guinness record holder for most jumps in a lifetime. As of our jump, he was over 31,000.
I want to especially thank "The Ripcords" at Hazleton Airport, as well as the USPA for sending me promotional materials on starting a club at Penn State, and I want to especially thank the readers of the rec.skydiving Usenet newsgroup. They have given me encouragement, answered questions, and instilled the drive in me to want to experience skydiving. I am forever grateful. And as for the traditional case of beer on first jump, our instructors got none because we're both 19 and I forgot to have my 22 year old brother pick us up a case the day before. Sorry, Ripcords.