The alarm broke the silence of the six bed dorm but I did not stir as I had been awake for an hour or so. Walking down the hallway I peered outside the door to see that it was still pitch black outside. I swiped myself into the communal bathroom and splashed cold water in my face to regain full consciousness. It was a restless night as I came to terms with what lay ahead of me. I would be jumping out of a plane.
In the dark I bounded with nervous energy to the bus stop, trying to pump myself up. Despite the lack of sleep it was impossible to fathom a nap on the two hour trip to Byron Bay. Slowing drifting away, I felt calm until being handed the disclaimer form with one line stating ‘successfully surviving a skydive is down to luck’.
After deciding to jump from 14,000 ft (the highest in Australia) and choosing the best picture package, all there was left to do was to hang around. The setting was an aircraft hanger with parachute bags lying on the floor, giddy skydivers in their jump shoots and the tandem instructors giving demonstrations on how to act when in the air. We watched the divers board a small aircraft that tamely taxied around a runway before taking off into the sky. The sky. It looked so vast without a cloud smearing its blue canvas. Intimidating but peaceful at the same time.
My group was suddenly called up and we were summoned to the gate that lead to the airfield. A stocky man with blonde hair approached me, “I take it you are Ryan”. He was my tandem partner and he talked me through the basics and that I had nothing to worry about, he had done this hundred times before. The plane had refueled and I was the first one to board. The aircraft was tiny and basic. The entire back compartment was stripped bare bar two long rectangle bags that we sat on. The plane took a leisurely drive to the edge of the runway before hitting full power and lifting into the sky. There was no turning back now.
The ground begun to escape from the corner of my eye as the nose of the plane pointed to space. Lethargically, my tandem instructor started to buckle himself to the straps in my back. Due to its size, the slightest pocket of turbulence was magnified in the plane. It took me a few minutes to make myself look outside the window. The sight was beautiful. The hair line of the beach made the border between Australia and the Pacific Ocean, with tiny waves crashing towards the continent. It was tranquil on the senses. I was totally in the zone. No fear. No anxiety. Game face.
One of the instructors opened the door and an icy chill filled the cabin. The only solo diver was first up and he enthusiastically took his place at the exit before hurling himself out of the plane. Before I knew what was happening, my instructor was pushing me down the rectangular cushion. The instructor was then telling me to rest my head back on his shoulder and to tuck my legs underneath the aircraft. My legs were dangling in the open air, 2.7 miles above the ground. Then we fell out of the plane.
The first few seconds disappeared into oblivion as we tumbled towards the Earth. I could not scream even if I wanted to with the sheer G force and fall velocity. We finally leveled out and the instructor tapped me on the shoulder to spread my arms. I was flying!! Never before in my life had I experienced such a surreal moment. Hurtling towards the ground at what seemed a million miles per hour and air just slicing past my body. The view was spectacular with the ocean and green fields of New South Wales spread out all the way to the curvature of the Earth.
All of a sudden the instructor started spinning us around through the air. It felt like a roller-coaster with my organs shifting inside my body. I realised I was holding my breath through the rotations and forced myself to take in some thin altitude air. I felt the tug of the parachute and seconds later, I was jerked backwards. For the first time I let out a triumphant shout as we were now drifting gently in the morning sun. Rob and Gina had warned me that the instructor would unbuckle me and that I would drop a bit further away to be more comfortable. There was no objections from me when I was unbuckled and I happily shifted around in my harness to make myself snug to take in the view.
I noticed the other jumpers before me, spinning crazily towards the ground. Is that normal? One of their parachutes leveled out so it looked like it was some daredevil antics by her instructor. My instructor then said to me, “our turn!” With his pulleys he sent us off on another thrill ride, descending rapidly to our target area. I could see the commotion below as the skydiving assistants waited for our landing. We came in smoothly into the field and as I was about to hit the ground the instructor pulled up to soften the impact. After being unbuckled, I was helped off the ground and I went to thank my instructor for his brilliant diving. I had survived!!!