Well guess what? At the weekend I skydived again with team #MMskydive but there was a big difference. I was still very much afraid but this time I didn’t hate it.
When you arrive at a skydiving centre for a tandem jump you will have to sign waivers and the like, the small print of this can be frightening enough. You might be asked to sign medical forms and you will be asked about next of kin. Some centres will also ask you to step on the scales, despite how nosey this might feel it is a wise thing to know, planes are often loaded up to make the weight as even as possible. Also if you are deceptively heavy for your appearance (as I allegedly am) you need to be with a tandem partner who will cope with a person your size just in case there is an issue. There probably won’t be, but thinking safely is better than being reckless.
Then you wait, and wait, and wait some more. Depending on the time you arrive and complete registration you will be assigned to a briefing group. It’s best to be there early in the morning, I actually camped out at Hinton Skydiving Centre this time to be near the front of the queue.
The briefing, training session or whatever you want to call it tells you the basics of tandem jumping. How to be safe, and things that are a really bad idea. Expect some physical training as they often make you lie down on the floor and pretend to be in the freefall position – arching your back with your arms out and up, and your legs bent backwards at the thighs with your knees bent. On the floor this is not easy! You will look like a plank, and the experienced divers will giggle at you.
Every tandem instructor I have met has a slightly mental sense of humour. You’re going to get heckled, mocked and possibly some innuendo for good measure. Embrace it, go with it – laughing on the way down beats screaming. When you agree to a tandem jump you are entrusting your life to that stranger, the one that is enjoying laughing at you.
My hero/sadist this weekend was Neil Long. He’s bloody funny, and very very cheeky. He started his friendly bullying on the ground, when he told me that face scarves are for idiots and he didn’t fancy jumping with an idiot. Cheers Neil, haha. On the way to the plane I was a wreck as I have a very real fear of heights. He recognised the difference between my nervousness in general about the jump and my blind fear of heights. He toned the banter down a few levels and tried to reassure me.
Sadly he tried the usual “it’s not that bad” and I quickly reply “I know what it feels like love and it is that bad”. Poor bloke, I gave him a lot of abrupt responses to his encouraging words. In the plane I kept swearing, I warned everyone in the plane that I would freak out and I kept my word. “I don’t want to jump. I’m too f*cking frightened. Neil I don’t want to dammit.” He just giggled and said something like “yeah you want to, you made it this far Jules”. I told him stop calling me Jules so he kept saying it, git. 😉
Something else he said in the plane was immensely helpful. I said it felt like drowning the previous times I had jumped, and he said “think about it, freefall is the hard bit right? I bet you can hold your breath for a minute.” He was right, I can. So I told myself in my head if you can’t breathe just don’t. Simple right? Why has no one told me this before! Also “any idiot can jump once, it takes balls to do this more than once” especially with a phobia. This chap is seriously loaded with one-liners “I’d rather jump with a frightened person than an overly confident one. If you weren’t afraid I’d be worried, only stupid people aren’t a bit afraid“.
We exit the plane, with me swearing then screaming. He gave me all the signals for what was happening and when I needed to do things. He tapped hard on my shoulder which means arms out, I defied him and instead put my hands in a face shielding position to alter the air flow to my face. He didn’t slap me so I figure he was cool with it.
The hand position I adopted meant the wind felt like a household fan on my nose and mouth – this has a downside though epic face wobble. This was a vast improvement on my previous jumps where the air in my face was like a car testing wind tunnel, where the air speed and sheer volume of it forcing it’s way into my body felt like drowning.
I even felt calm enough to stick my tongue out at Steve – the jumper with a camera strapped to his helmet, the lovely chap who filmed the video in this post. Amazingly Steve had been my camera guy two years ago (my first jump) as well. He’s good at editing out swearing. When freefall ends and your tandem partner pulls the cords you are going to feel it, it won’t feel like slowing down, nope. It’s going to feel like you are suddenly going upwards for a moment until you adjust, then just enjoy the view and drift back to earth.
Now is normally where I start crying but not this time, I was screaming but in a non panicked way. I was enjoying this, and that was a bit of a shock. Adrenaline also kicks in and you might talk b*ll*cks at this stage “Neil I love you mate” and such.
Tandem jumping top tips
Get a good night’s sleep and get here early.
If nervous do not eat much breakfast, most centres have cafés you can visit after the jump.
Go for a pee before you get in that harness to save embarrassing moments.
If you can’t breath hold your breathe.
Oh and Scarves aren’t cool!
Watch me and laugh ….
You can still donate over on my #MMskydive page if you want. Money raised goes to the lullaby trust who are a wonderful small charity that want to end Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.