You may have noticed I’ve been banging on about a skydive for the last seven weeks? Yesterday, that day finally arrived…
So I’ve said I was going to do a jump for quite a few years, but friends never wanted to put their money down, or couldn’t make the weight limit, and the idea just came and went.
In the last few years my finance’s father, her twin sister, my Step Dad, and my Babcia (Polish Nan) have all had very aggressive cancer and survived. Unfortunately, my Step Dad – Victor Dovey – had his return at the end of 2017, and he died in February.
These things put life into perspective and make you realise you need to do stuff while you can!
I was sat at work with the parachuting idea in my head again to raise some money to thank Primrose Hospice for how they cared for Vic in his final weeks, and looked after all my family, but could see the “yeah right” look in the eyes of the lad I was speaking to about it.
When he came back five minutes later I proudly told him that I’d booked a tandem skydive for seven weeks time!
A lot of very generous people started donating, and I soon realised that money would ensure I couldn’t back out, this time! Incidentally, I wanted some way for people to be able to donate online (it’s the future!) so chose JustGiving – but in actual fact the split is about 50-50 between online and offline totals!
I’m a racing driver, a bit of an adrenaline junky… but I don’t actually like heights! This could be interesting…
I heard lots of stories over those weeks about people who done it and loved it, and their experience, though to one who’d broken his neck landing in a ditch and another who also got very badly injured when they landed – where they were attacked by a goat!
Soon the day was here, and I picked up my Mum, Fiance and brother (an Anton, not a monk) and shot down (towards Silverstone race circuit, actually) to Hinton Airfield near Brackley, down a tiny single track lane, and got there in beautiful blazing sunshine for 8am.
There were quite a few other cars arriving, and amongst the activity it was hard to tell who was there for a first jump from those who were in their tens of thousands of jumps.
I went in and filled in another form (you need to take a medical self declaration or Doctor signed one if you have any conditions) and queued up to book in. Here they weighed me and told me to wait until I was called for a briefing. They strongly recommend you also take out their insurance for £30, which is good, but I found my own cover from Sports Cover Direct for about £18.
I could see quite a few charity t-shirts around as we sat on one of the picnic benches outside the cafe, and there was still a lot of activity with people packing parachutes etc, but the atmosphere was charged but still relaxed. We’d taken a picnic and I was trying to force down a light breakfast when they called my name in for the briefing.
We all sat as the instructor when through a very relaxed (and hilarious!) version of what was about to happen, and what we had to do while we were falling towards the ground “like a homesick fridge”.
There’s not really much to do, but with the adrenaline going it’s also hard to take it all in. Don’t worry – they’ll be expecting that because it’s natural, and you’ll get told what you need to do several times before you actually need to do it.
Then they send you all off again to sit and chat outside (and go for a nervous wee!) until they call you again, when you’ll need to kit up.
We sat and watched the first few plane loads climb up into the sky and then the chutes appeared out of nowhere as more experienced jumpers did their thing. They actually land right next to you, coming low and directly overhead as they land, so you can get a good idea of what it’s going to be like.
Then they called my name again, and my group went to the manifest hut where they told us who we’d be jumping with.
I shook hands with Geoff, and then he took me back inside where I slipped into a rather fetching blue jump suit that goes over your clothes to ‘smooth you out’, and then he straps your harness over the top (take EVERYTHING out of your pockets is my recommendation, or you could be in for a world of pain!).
Then I walked back outside for last minute hugs and photo’s (note the flat cap in honour of Vic!) before we all walked towards the tiny little propeller driven plane that we’d have to cram into, with Geoff still tightening straps and cinching my harness up as we went.
I was first into the plane with Geoff, and it wasn’t exactly like a Ryan Air flight.
There were two padded benches running the length of the plane and we all sat straddling them with each others legs around the one in front, so tight we were also touching those on the bench to our side.
Geoff clipped my harness to his – two at the hips, two at the shoulders – and put my stupid leather hat on. This, apparently, is not anything to help you, but for your instructor so you don’t smash your head into his face.
Once packed in, the plane taxied to the runway, turns, powers down, and you’re lifting into the air before you know what’s happening.
There isn’t much banter on that plane.
It’s too noisy to have much of a conversation, anyway. I did ask Geoff where Silverstone race circuit was, and he duly pointed it out as we climbed for 15 minutes to reach jump altitude.
The journey up is pretty relaxing, with great views out of the window. Geoff gave me the altitude every so often, checking I was ok and cinching the harness tighter.
I kept feeling him yawn, and he told me that to him this was just his commute to work!
As we reached 13,500 feet, the silly leather hats went back on along with our goggles, and an ominous red light appeared next to the roller-shutter door.
Someone rolled the door up and the light turned amber, and Geoff gave a final briefing on what to do: scoot up to the door, dangle my legs out, tuck them under the plane, and then cross my arms across my chest.
The people in front of me on the bench didn’t really register as they all started jumping out of the door and dropping into the sky out of sight, but it all seemed to be happening pretty fast!
When I stuck my legs out of the plane I could feel there was absolutely no way I could stop this happening, so I might as well go with it. It seemed like a split second and then I was rolling head first out through the door…
This is the most extreme part, because I had no idea what to expect, or how it would feel or look or anything. Your stomach turns as you drop like a stone, but you’re also turning as well as you Geoff will get your position right for free falling.
I put my hands up and thrust my hips forward slightly, arching my back, as we’d been shown, resisting the urge to look down and lifting my head up.
Weirdly, after a few seconds of this you get used to it and just go with it.
If I’m honest, I didn’t really like the freefall much. I found it very hard to breathe with the air flow battering my nose, ramming air up into my sinuses. I knew it would feel like this as I’ve opened my visor on my motorbike at high speed and it’s the same thing, and I think it’s more because I’ve broken my nose a few times that it affects me so much.
I put my head back further, as they’d said that your chin should break the airflow so you can breath, and whilst this worked for the first few seconds, as we picked up more speed it stopped working for me.
I could breathe out of my mouth fine, but the air being rammed into my nose felt like being waterboarded. Like drowning.
I didn’t panic, though, as I knew the freefall was only for around 45 seconds. I pulled my hand in and put it under my nose for a few seconds to take a couple of breaths, then went back to the skydive position.
Geoff pulled the main parachute open and my head lurched down a bit when it opened, but other than that I didn’t really feel much happen! Then he banked sharply and I’m pretty sure I let out a “Whoaaaa!!!”.
It felt great, and he flicked my goggles off to get a better view around.
It’s quite surreal seeing all the patchwork fields below you but it doesn’t feel like you’re falling towards them.
Geoff slipped the parachute controls – two looped straps – into my hands so I had control, and then just tugged at the straps to help me turn.
He pointed out a few things on the way down, like a Harrier jump jet in someone’s garden, and we had abut four minutes of graceful descent until we were close to the jump centre.
As we flew over I waved to my crew on the ground as Geoff had the controls again, and he banked hard in above them as we went in for landing.
He had a slightly different way to do the landing, and I put my feet on top of his and then lifted my legs up. It’s very important not to put your legs down before the person on your back, or you’re going to get hurt or at least faceplant!
Our landing was pretty good, with a quick slide of the feet and then we were stood up and it was all over.
And I didn’t get attacked by a goat, which is a bonus!
I had a bit of a wobbly moment as I readjusted to terra firma as my harness was unclipped, then shook hands with Geoff as the photographer took a few pictures.
Then I walked the short distance to get the hugs in to my crew!
It was an awesome experience, even for me – and I’m known for controlling it all pretty well before stuff like this! The Hinton staff were all great and this will help calm your nerves – I’d say just do your best to relax and put all your trust in them and the equipment.
Even with the ‘waterboarding’ I still enjoyed it overall, and am left wondering: can I get the right angle of my head to eliminate the breathing issue? What else can we do in the skydiving bit like going head first for speed? Should I have done a loop-de-loop on the parachute part?
I think there are more than enough questions to make me want to do it again, and it does leave you with a bit of a ‘down’ feeling knowing you’ve done something like that… so maybe there’s only one way to cure that?
Massive thanks to everyone who has donated, and feel free to still click the link if you haven’t and enjoyed this write-up!
To date I’ve raised a total of £647 for Primrose Hospice, but some more is trickling in – that will make a difference to them and give them valuable funding for their services!
And please feel free to ask me any questions about it.