Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A leap into the unknown - skydiving in New Zealand

I have a confession............I am a gigantic wuss. In fact have a whole list of things which give me the heebie-jeebies - spiders (check), snakes (ummm have you seen the film Anaconda??), deep water, serial killers (I think this one is justified but perhaps less justifiable is my habit of checking in cupboards and under beds before I go to sleep in case one has slipped in ready to jump out and murder me in the middle of the night). 

Pretty high on that list of things which makes my belly do flip-flops is heights - as a child going too high on the swings would even terrify me. So it is may seem a bit surprising that a couple of weeks ago whilst on a roadtrip across New Zealand I decided it would be 'fun' to throw myself out of a plane.

But before we get to that let's start with the context. So basically it all started with me writing my first ever bucket list about a decade ago. Among this wishlist were several entries which seemed like total pipe dreams at the time - running a marathon, living in New York City and doing a skydive.

Well just over three years ago on a bit of a whim I signed up to do the London Marathon and went from being a running novice to crossing the finish line (albeit very slowly!) - a massive personal challenge. Similarly one weekend in my late 20's after a call from my best friend I handed in my notice in my job and flat and moved from London to a super cute little flat of my own in the West Village in the Big Apple to follow that dream (at least until my visa ran out) - an incredible experience which I will always cherish. 

So you can see how when my sister and her boyfriend mentioned their plans to do a skydive when in New Zealand despite my fears I might find myself pipping up, "Me too!!"

We were due to undertake the jump over the crystal-clear waters of the famed jump site in Lake Wanaka. However as the day of the skydive drew near the nerves well and truly set in. 

That morning I woke at 3am with a start and found my palms were sweating profusely. Unable to go back to sleep I had used insomnia's nemesis Mr Google to research skydive accidents. By the time everyone was awake I was a tightly wound bundle of nerves. However the weather came to my rescue as I soon found out that the jump had to be cancelled due to cloud coverage. Relief flooded over me, followed by something I hadn't expected........a twinge of disappointment.

A couple of days later my sister and her boyfriend found another jump site, Skydive Abel Tasman (enroute to Abel Tasman National Park) and I was faced with the same question - to jump or not to jump. This time round I had a realistic view of the risks (on average tandem skydive fatalities are just 0.002% - a tiny risk compared to other activities we wouldn't think twice about doing) and had time to consider and chat to others who I had known had done a skydive (including my friend's granny who did a birthday skydive in her 90's) so all things considered I decided that if I didn't make that leap I would always regret it.

And so I found myself strapped to a perfect stranger (who bore an uncanny resemblance to one of the brothers from the noughties pop group Hanson), squeezing myself into a tiny plane and ascending to 13,000 feet. 

The scenery was beautiful and I felt strangely calm on the ascent. That was until the dreaded moment came - the side door of the plane was swung open, noise filled the space and my fate was imminent. My camerawoman clambered out and held on to the side of the plane to capture my jump and my instructor and I swung round so that I was hanging outside the plane, We rocked backwards and forwards and then before I had a chance to say, "Wait there! Hold on a second I've changed my mind!" I made that giant leap into the unknown.

Those first few seconds when we were tumbling out of the plane in freefall were utterly terrifying and ridiculously exhilarating at exactly the same time. I distinctly remember thinking "Ah so this is how I'm going to die" - a thought that had zero basis at all as I was strapped to a seasoned instructor who didn't have a death wish but it's hard to be rational when you are in freefall.

However I quickly reached terminal velocity and at that point, it's a pretty incredible feeling because............I was flying! Up in the clouds, with my arms outstretched, with what felt like a giant fan below me it no longer felt like I was plummeting to my death. In face it was an indescribable and utterly unique experience.

I looked up and there was my camerwoman flying in front of me, I did a couple of poses to the camera before my instructor indicated it was time to open the parachute. There was a rip and a whoosh as the force of the parachute bounced us back upwards towards the stars, then a quietness and stillness descended and I slowly began floating back to the ground enjoying the incredible views of mountains, trees, fields and lakes from a unique vantage point. It was the ideal end to an unforgettable experience. As we neared the ground following the advice of my instructor I lifted up my feet up and landed very gracefully on my bum. 

And that was it. It's was all over...........and I had survived. My legs were like jelly and I was unable to stand up straight away but I was so proud and happy that I had faced my fears and had a chance to experience something so unique and special that I threw my arms round my instructor and gave him a massive hug. 

And like doing anything outside your comfort zone it has spawned a whole new list of things that I am keen to try that I would never have considered before.

I would wholeheartedly recommend that you consider doing a skydive at least once in your lifetime whether you are scared of heights or simply have a healthy sense of self-preservation. It's one of those experiences which you're going to think back on when you are old and grey and smile at how brave (or crazy) and badass you were. 

Hopefully this post has made you realise if I can do it then can too. So what are you waiting for? Ready.........Set...................JUMP!!


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