The bright orange of my overall was the only thing that was lighting up my face at this point. I look at Meagaan’s face, and am somewhat glad that it is marked by a certain nervousness. My travel buddy is not impervious to pre-skydive jitters after all, despite her constant efforts of trying to talk me into jumping out of a plane.
Needless to say, her efforts paid off. All kitted out with bright colourful overalls, tandem harness, aviator fleece hats, aerodynamic goggles and warm gloves, I stood in the departure lounge of Skydive Wanaka, in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, feeling lost. Stripped of my phones, camera, sunglasses and day-pack, I felt a bit exposed – I was about to do one of the craziest things ever, and had nothing to document or fiddle with but my safety harness. Not even the foosball tables could distract me. I tried to take comfort in the fact we’d be jumping off a bridge the same day, but to no avail.
The moment of nervousness and no photo taking was short-lived though, as my fellow jumpers and I were greeted by our tandem masters; wearing big smiles, kick-ass overalls and some serious-looking equipment, they looked like they knew what they were doing. Geoff came over and introduced himself, the only Kiwi tandem master at Skydive Wanaka, checking that my equipment was all good to go, and off we were, climbing onto the stylish orange airplane, after taking a few more photos of proof on the ground.
Scenic flight meets emergency exit
From that moment onwards, everything was so foreign and curious, I had no time to be nervous. Who’s ever sat on a plane straddling a bench? The atmosphere on the plane was hilarious – lots of photos being shot and videos being recorded, jokes being pulled, Geoff pointing out the landmarks, it was a weird but wonderful cross of scenic flight meets emergency exit procedure – you get to enjoy the marvellous views but you still have to jump off!
And then the moment came – we were at 12,000 ft, and the camera flyer next to me opened the door. HANG ON A MINUTE!!! Oh wait, I guess that was part of the deal. At that moment, it sunk in. I wasn’t here to enjoy the views from the plane.
The scariest part
The contentedness of knowing Geoff and I were not the first ones to jump was short-lived when my jaw dropped watching the scenes unfolding in front of my eyes. The camera flyer stepped outside – yes, he stepped onto the narrow railing, clinging to the plane with Spiderman-like elegance. The first tandem jumpers got in position, sitting at the exit, and with a synchronous nod from the camera flyer and the tandem master, they jumped. And they dropped out of sight. Very. Quickly.
My heart was racing. I had just witnessed the most badass thing ever, but Geoff suddenly started moving, and since I was tightly strapped to him, so was I.
My turn to pull a James Bond!
And with an encouraging last few words, Geoff and I were off to the exit:
So, are you going to take care of me for the next 10 minutes, Christina?
Yeah right mate, is what I thought, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Although the way to the exit was the longest few seconds of my life, once I had reached the exit, I had accepted what was going to happen and was, strangely enough, practically free from fear; or perhaps, close to fainting. Legs tucked under the plane, head back on Geoff’s shoulder and hands on my harness, all I could see was the bright blue sky, as with one quick push, we had stepped outside for some air!
I suddenly saw the beauty that is the orange plane above me, quickly followed by white cloud and the amazingly blue Lake Wanaka and the mountains.
I let go of my harness as Geoff tapped me on the shoulder, and put my arms out. Man, flying feels awesome! Well, technically it’s falling, but let’s just roll with flying. Truthfully, it didn’t feel like falling at all. I guess when you’re that high up, you don’t realise the ground is coming closer at about 60m per second. So flying it is!
For 45 seconds we were floating horizontally. The wind was quite fierce and loud, and I was, excuse the pun, totally blown away. All I could say was:
My face has frozen off!
And of course:
Nonstop. I’m astonished to this day that Geoff is not deaf after jumping with me!
The 45 seconds were over all too soon, and with a slight tug, I was being dragged upwards. It all happened so quickly that I was momentarily bewildered until I saw the bright yellow canvas of the parachute unravelling above our heads. I felt so exhilarated, and, admittedly, although unconsciously, relieved, I had to give Geoff an impromptu reverse hug and thank him for this amazing experience!
And so I was enjoying looking at Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountains 3km above the ground. It is hard to find the words describing what it means to float in the sky without being enclosed by an airplane or surrounded by the metal and glass of a helicopter and marvelling at the breathtaking scenery. I have to say, my vocabulary was pretty limited coming down. It consisted mostly of “Wicked!” as a verbal outburst of uncontrollable euphoria. There may also have been a few expletives on jumping out of the plane, but my memory might betray me…
At one point the ground seemed an awful lot closer, and the crawling ants morphed back into cars and people moving about near the airport. And right on cue, Geoff prompted me to practise the landing position – lifting my outstretched legs up, and a few moments later, we had an ace landing – not dragging our bums across the lawn, but elegantly setting foot on the ground, jogging to a halt.
Well if the adrenalin hadn’t kicked in earlier, this was the point when my body realised just how much it could produce. Jumping up and down I ran over to my buddy Meagaan who had just touched down as well, and we couldn’t believe what we had just done!
A word of warning on skydiving
It is highly addictive. #JustSayin.
And let’s not forget why I did all this: I jumped off a plane to raise funds for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal, as part of my fundraising tour through New Zealand for the Blog4NZ project. You can still donate until the end of January, and your donation will be doubled by Microsoft. The money will allow the appeal to support the people of Christchurch with much-needed social and community projects.
A BIG BIG THANK YOU to Geoff, Jools and the crew at Skydive Wanaka for an awesome and unforgettable experience. I can honestly say, I love skydiving. Even more than bungy. I’m going to have to come back and pull a James Bond form 15,000 ft!