“It’s a perfect day today, for a sky-jump, you sure you want to book for tomorrow?” We were standing in the hostel reception desk, having met up with our friends and were arranging a sky-jump for the following day. A quick weather check on the internet though and it appeared that tomorrow might be a washout. The girl behind the desk ran through to check, “Yeah, how about in a couple hours? Sure thing.” We’d opted for the 15,000 feet jump, the highest altitude possible without the use of oxygen masks. Well, might as well do it properly, I reasoned. A flock of butterflies performed acrobatics in my stomach. At least there wasn’t time to fret about it. “Most fun you can have with your clothes on” I’d been promised. I wasn’t convinced, but I’d give it a try. Get on the plane, take off, jump out, how hard could it be?
Arriving at the air-strip and waiting patiently for our turn, we watched the colourful parachutes faintly appear in the air, one after another, twisting in the air and floating to the ground. I was a little nervous but it didn’t seem so bad, I reckoned I could handle this. A few feet away a van was serving up burgers and sandwiches though how anyone could contemplate eating before jumping out of a plane, I couldn’t imagine. My bladder was beginning to feel the pressure and I went to use the toilet. There was one single small window overlooking the opposite side of the skydiving centre with intimidating steel bars across the window-frame, presumably to prevent anyone from making a break for it, after last-minute nerves. I can’t say that I wasn’t tempted.
A short instructional video, accompanied to a pounding techno soundtrack explained how we would be fastened to a professional diving partner, before falling to the ground with all the aerodynamic ability of a wet bag of concrete for a full minute, before the parachute would open and we’d float gently to the ground. Pulling on our jump-suits, gloves, Biggles style goggles and crash helmets we were introduced to our tandem diving partners. Mine seemed like a decent bloke, not very chatty, but at least he didn't seem deranged or suicidal, which was the important thing. The light airplane landed nearby, skipping quickly across the short airstrip and we clambered aboard, sitting on the floor, our jump partners behind us. Accelerating along the airstrip, we left the safety of the ground behind, the view through the clear plastic slide door becaming more and more distant. At five thousand feet the sky-dive centre looked like a toytown, it was at this altitude that our ‘chute would open. Climbing further, at 10,000 feet the temperature began to drop dramatically, clouds of carbon dioxide gasped from our mouths as we smiled nervously at one another.
Lake Taupo, below us, looked barely larger than a puddle, despite the lake being only slightly smaller than the whole of Singapore. Until this moment, I had been remarkably composed, enjoying the view, my brain in utter denial of what was about to happen. Jump out of a plane? Don’t be silly! I was closest to the door and would be the first to jump, as we gave one another a final thumbs-up. My jump partner, attached the clips, fastening us together and all of a sudden the slide door was flung open. Creeping towards the howling terrifying gale blowing into the already freezing un-pressurised plane I smiled weakly at the digital camera, as the blood drained from my face, aghast at the dawning realisation of what was about to happen next.
The first thing I noticed as my body accelerated towards the ground was a glimpse of the plane disappearing in the distance. Tumbling and somersaulting through the air I briefly spotted the small plane quickly as it vanished from view. Releasing my arms from the harness, I felt the air currents crashing violently against me like a howling gale.
Disorientated and freezing cold, my mind was still in some state of shock, as it concentrated upon holding my terrified sanity together. Despite falling at a terrific speed, at such a height, my mind didn’t seem to register that I was falling to the ground. Instead I seemed to be falling in every direction and as if things couldn’t get any worse, motion sickness violently kicked in, the constant tumbling, spinning and somersaulting taking their toll. By the time we reached five thousand feet, I had been plummeting towards the earth for an entire minute, my face rippling in the air currents as we reached speeds of two hundred kilometres per hour.
Somewhere in the deafening roar, I heard a shout, my partner signalling that I grip hold of the harness. The chute suddenly shot open, with the sound of rattling canvas and as if a giant hand had plucked us from the air, the winds ceased and instead we began to float. I attempted a loud ‘WOOHOO“ but it came out more like a feeble and relieved ‘wooo’. I felt like my entire body had undergone the single most traumatising event in its twenty-eight year history. Just a few more seconds, I thought, just hang on a little longer.
“YOU ALRIGHT, MEEETE???” my diving buddy hollered, as he threw the parachute into another series of dramatic tailspins and violent twists and turns. I gave it to him straight. I replied...
“IF YOU DON’T STOP DOING THAT, I’M GOING TO BE SICK ON YOU!!!”
My overenthusiastic diving partner, decided to calm our descent and for the first moment since falling out of the plane I felt something close to enjoyment, although I think it was probably relief as the sky-dive centre appeared increasingly close beneath us. Within a few short seconds, I was lifting my feet up and landing softly in a large pile of shingle. I ran my gloved hands through the little stones in sweet appreciation of being home again and even kissed the ground.