November 2007

In Case You Were Wondering...but were too Afraid to Ask!

Author: Lindsey Hawkins

Skydiving!

All you should focus on is repeating yes to the question, “Are you ready?” I can recall being in prior situations where this was a requirement, but never a situation where if my partner wasn’t ready, I could die.

So, at 13,000 feet in the air, I said yes, I do want to forward-roll three times out of this tiny airplane into the sky, while air force ripples my loose, facial skin, and drool, accompanied by tears of joy, gets blown out of the sides of my mouth and eyes as I plummet to the earth with a permanent smile. Hello fellow islanders, this month is my ode to skydiving.

In case you were wondering…

When thinking about the so-called “extremely hazardous” sport in which you have to sign a contract relieving your instructors of any liability affiliated with any injury or death while under their watchful supervision, I often wonder who did this first on their own account.

It all started with parachuting concepts invented by the Chinese in the 1100s and parachuting designs by Leonardo DaVinci, who attempted to solve the whole “how to make humans fly” mystery. These concepts included wood-framed parachutes and jumping from cliffs and rooftops.

But it took until the end of the 18th century, not to mention the invention of the hot-air balloon, for a Frenchman, Andre Jacques Garnerin, to take the plunge that started it all. He would jump from gas-filled balloons using parachutes pre-opened by support poles, much like the original design of DaVinci.

Nearly a century later, American, Tom Baldwin, took the first limp-parachute jump, and then women started to join in on these circus-type daredevil groups, who jumped for show.

As the parachute concept grew, the invention of the airplane and the hand-operated parachute came into play. By 1914, a woman by the name of Tiny Broadwick became the first of her gender to free-fall from an aircraft and parachute to safety.

However, it wasn’t until the military started utilizing parachuting and free-falling as a means of escape from falling planes during war that the concept really started becoming a skilled procedure called skydiving. Soldiers actually utilized skydiving in World War II to land surprise attacks which have been partially credited for winning the war.

After WWII, it has been said that many of the surviving soldiers enjoyed the skydiving aspect of their training and took it on as an active hobby. The hobby turned into a competitive sport within the military, and by the 1960s, skydiving became a public activity where anyone could go and participate if they dared.

Here is what you were too afraid to ask…

For the record, this is not a first time account of my skydiving venture. I did skydive for the first time last March and have just done it again to remind myself of the awesome adrenaline rush.

I have never jumped out of a plane by myself. Both jumps were called tandem jumps in which I was harnessed with straps and hooks to an instructor who has been certified with FAA licenses, located at a drop zone affiliated with the United States Parachute Association (USPA). Do the research friends. Do not jump just anywhere.

The first time I participated in skydiving, it wasn’t planned. I actually spent six hours at a place called Skydive Palatka, just outside of Gainesville, Fla., with the sole intent of writing an article about the University of Florida skydive team for the local paper. By the end of my stay, the team had me convinced that I couldn’t possibly write a worthy article without experiencing the sport. Unfortunately, they conned me into doing it by simply waiving any fees. Of course, I secretly wanted to do it but wouldn’t have if I had to pay the $200. I was a broke college student.

A year ago, I jumped 13,000 feet above the Earth’s surface, closed my eyes part of the way and never had a chance to really take it all in or even feel scared. I was proud I did it and bragged to all my friends, but when I decided to do it this time, the whole experience was different.

My friend and I researched some local skydiving facilities and found that the closest to the island was Skydive Walterboro. They are certified and affiliated, but I swear, the whole 45 minute drive to skydive again I thought this might be it for me. Honestly, why play with fire a second time?

Well, according to the USPA, the odds of fatality due to a motor vehicle are 1 in 6,212 and the odds of a skydiving fatality are 1 in 116, 666. Hypothetically, we could say that skydiving is almost 2,000 percent safer than riding in a car. Plus, the majority of reported fatalities are usually experienced divers who pushed the limits too far.

All this said, I can’t believe I was actually scared to do a second tandem jump. When you first get to the airport the employees joke about how their equipment is old and how they forgot how to pack the parachute in an attempt to scare you even more than you already are. I paid my $175 cash and signed the extensive legal contract stating that the facility and the makers of the products used are not responsible for injury or death.

Next, I met my tandem instructor, trained for 30 minutes and got suited up to board the plane, if you can call it a plane. The plane we were on looked like a two-seater, but five of us, including the pilot, went up 10,000 feet in it. On the way up, my ears popped and I discovered that what looked like 10,000 feet was actually only 800 feet, and I had 20 more minutes of traveling before they opened the airplane door and pushed me out.

In all honesty, when the plane door flew open, there was a moment in which I knew this was a mistake, and I lost my breath. The day was perfect, but at that altitude, the wind was blowing and it was cold. Before I could think, I was tumbling out of the plane.

This time I kept my goggled eyes opened for the 60-second 120 mph freefall, and there was part of me I just let go. I know saying it was spiritual is a little cheesy, but that’s what it was. You come to terms with fear and death when you fall 7,000 feet in one minute. And then I got jerked up by the force of the parachute the man I forgot was strapped to my back pulled open.

At this point, for about six minutes, you really do see the world from a different point of view. My depth perception was off and the world actually looked a little round. You really do find peace and feel alive.

The closer I got to landing the more my instructor reminded me of what to do. Basically, you pull down on the parachute handles and step onto the ground like you hopped off your chair. I, however, decided to keep my legs pointed out straight and landed on my ass. It didn’t hurt and was equivalent to some one picking you up and sitting you down, but it wasn’t the most graceful, professional landing.

The only advice I can give you is to go for it and don’t forget to wear something comfortable. I wore yoga pants and a t-shirt that read “Celebrate we will because life is short but sweet for certain.” (Dave Matthews).

In loving memory of Patrick Brett.

For more information call Skydive Walterboro, Inc. at 1.800.549.JUMP, or your closest USPA affiliated drop zone.

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