I was (well, not anymore!) acrophobic - scared of great heights. In childhood, I could not even look down from a 3-storied building. To obviate this phobia, skydiving had been on my to-do list for a long time. Most of us fantasize about flying like a bird. Skydiving is the closest a human being can get to flying. Since skydiving is not available in India yet, I decided to check this item off my list during my first visit to the US. Monterey Bay was the nearest skydiving destination from the place I was staying while in California.
I decided to finish it once and for all on one of the weekends. I convinced three of my friends to accompany me. They hadn't gathered enough courage for the skydive yet and hence they had decided to visit Monterey Bay Aquarium instead, during the time I'd be doing my skydive. I won't boast of my convincing power, but by the time of registration, they were all in for the kill ;-) We did all the registration formalities and signed on a number of documents declaring that we ourselves would be responsible for our own demise. We were given a few instructions by our jumpmasters and were given harnesses and goggles to wear.
The next step was to board the plane. It was a small aircraft with 12 of us in it, including 4 of us, 4 jumpmasters and 4 cameramen. We enjoyed the bird's eye view of Monterey from the top and the plane came to a standstill at the height of 18,000ft. That's it. It was time. It was time to inhibit all the fears. It was time to fly like a free bird. It was time for the jump. I could hear my heart throbbing. I dragged my feet towards the exit door. I looked down from the door and my heart nearly came out of my mouth. I was ready to pay any price, if someone could get me out of that situation.
The jumpmaster shouted "Jump" and before I could fathom anything, I was falling down from the height of 18,000ft at the speed of more than 120 mph. I shouted, I cried, I shrilled! I was flying like a free bird! A strong wind was blowing and I could feel my skin fluttering like a lifeless piece of cloth against the strong wind. Those were the most interesting and thrilling seconds that I have ever experienced. After a few seconds, I came to my senses and could see my cameraman filming my free fall. I did some air maneuvers into the camera. It was a beautiful view from thousands of feet above. The Sun kissing the sea on one side, mesmerizing land holding tiny people on the other. A random thought crossed my mind that I should have learnt swimming in case we end up landing in the sea.
After about 90 seconds of free-fall, the jumpmaster checked his altimeter and gave a "5-5" signal to the cameraman. The parachute opened, I felt a little jerk and the next thing I know...we were floating in the air like an eagle. My jumpmaster, a nice chap, taught me a couple of lessons in parachuting. He pulled a cord and the parachute went round and round and round. What an aesthetic experience it was! We flew our parachute to the drop zone and to my surprise, we landed very smoothly on the ground. I was so ecstatic, as if I saw the land after a million years. While a cab was taking us from the landing back to the waiting lounge, we hardly spoke anything. So much had happened in the last few minutes that we needed some time to soak in all the beautiful memories. Bliss!
- Skydiving is a must-do activity and everyone must try it at least once in their lifetime. I can guarantee you that it will be an unforgettable experience for you too!
- Do wear a cap to shield your ears against the strong wind. During the free fall, the wind was so feisty that I was sure it had ruptured my eardrums.
- Don't hesitate to shell out a few extra bucks for the video shooting. It's totally worth the price. They do a nice job of compiling the video and you also get to choose the songs to be embedded in the video. Remember, you can do your first skydive only once.
- Wear a collarless t-shirt for the skydive. They anyways instruct you to tuck in the collar, if there's one. The wind is so wild out there that it wouldn't mind digging a hole in your skin with the collar of the shirt.
- Please check over the phone before going there, whether skydiving is available on that day. They sometimes cancel the dives if the weather is rough.
- Contrary to my belief that it would be very cold out there at that much altitude, it was pretty sunny and warm up there. Thankfully, they had instructed us against wearing a jacket on that day.
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit in properly. One of friends' shoe nearly came off and most of his dive time was wasted protecting the shoe from falling down. Again, don't waste time protecting the shoe if it comes off. The price you pay for the dive is much more than the price of your shoe.
- Don't make a fool out of yourself in front of the camera. The video will remain with you for the rest of your life or perhaps even after that.
P.S.: After reading this blog, if someone decides to experience skydiving, then the blog has served its purpose.