At 13,000 feet nothing else matters

A few weeks ago a coworker of mine decided that he wanted to celebrate his birthday with something big – and came up with the brilliant idea of going skydiving. He had been once before, and he’s a very thrill-seeking kind of guy, as well as a snowboarding instructor in the winter.When he sent out a general invitation to all to join in on the fun, I was initially excited, as this is something I’ve thought about doing, but never really pursued the subject at all. So my initial reactions were mixed – want to go, yes, really! But then the terror of jumping out of a plane? That’s insane!!

Lucky for me, the Saturday he had scheduled for was Yom Kippur, and I was already going to be with my uncle in the local synagogue, and then break the fast with some cousins in New Jersey.

Little did I know that Yom Kippur was going to have just enough rain to keep everyone from skydiving that day, and that everyone left and rescheduled for the following Saturday.

Back at work, hearing this, I immediately jumped on board for the next Saturday’s jump, and put it on my calendar and didn’t schedule anything else.

During the week, I kept on reconsidering, reflecting on whether or not I really wanted to do this. I mean, really, going up into the air, and dropping like a stone from a plane that’s turning right around and landing anyways! How crazy is that!

Turns out, my kind of crazy.

Saturday morning, I head over to Harrison, New Jersey and get picked up by Gavin (whose brilliant idea it was), along with Christophe and his friend Fernando. We meet up with Vincent, Olga, Alex and Marissa. We exchange directions, and head down to South Jersey, a place called Willamstown.

On the way, I call Freefall Adventures to inquire about the weather conditions impacting the day’s activities, and am informed that it’s going to be ok, just a major delay as the early morning was unsuitable for jumps, so everyone got pushed back a few hours. Once we arrived at the location, we met up with Mike S. and Veronica, more friends that live in the closer area and had a much shorter drive.

The we line up for forms and such, and get handed a pile of stuff to read and fill out, waivers and such, who to notify in case of accidents, and whether we have any physical distinguishing marks. The last was the source of many a joke. Much gallows humor had by all.

There were a large crowd of people hanging around, and not much jumping going on. There was some good music playing, and we eventually found a deck of cards, and had lunch, shot some hoops, chatted and had an all-around good time hanging out, with the eternal wait.

We also got called in for the orientation video, where we saw some other jumps and guidelines, as well as the president of the company repeating that this is a dangerous activity and that they will try to keep us safe at all times, but accidents happen. Nothing disillusioning about that.

So we hung out for longer and longer, until finally at around 4:30pm, we get called in to get into harness and get instructed. This goes on for about half an hour, where we learn what we’re going to do and how to react. We also perform some of the stances that we will be in. My pulse is racing.

At about 5:00pm, the sun is starting to drop low in the sky, and 24 of us – a large amount of experienced single jumpers and 6 of our crew and accompanying instructors – board the Otter and take off.

We rapidly climb to about 12,000-13,000 feet (around 2 miles or 4 kilometers, give or take a bit), all the while being checked and double checked for straps, connections and everything else. One instructor, a crazy Frenchman, kept screaming at random intervals, “We’re going streaking!” with no apparent relevance to anything else.

As we near jump height, they open the door, and the first three jump. I’m fourth, and I’m almost freaking out, I can only remember that on the ground they told us that when jumping, the instructor will use the “Ready, set, go!” method while rocking together. My instructor, a huge Brazilian dude named Jonei, dumped us out on “set”, which helped my adrenaline levels skyrocket.

In the 60 seconds of freefall that followed, all I can explain that the completely foreign feeling of falling at of a rate of over 120MPH (more like 200KPH) was so phenomenal and alien that I wish it had gone on much longer.

At about 6,000 feet, Jonei yanks my left arm in front of my face to show me the altimeter dropping fast, and I have about 5 seconds to pull my own ripcord before he does it for me at 5,200 or so. I slowly reach back to my right hip for the toggle, and find Jonei’s hand on it already. As soon as he feels my hand tap, he pulls the cord, and the chute deploys.

If you’ve never gone before, that rapid deployment seems like it’s going to yank you really hard, but it’s actually not that bad. A little unexpected, but not bad. I fold my arms to my chest as Jonei checks the straps and we begin slowly gliding downwards at a much more leisurely rate. I let out a battle whoop, releasing that pent up tension, and feel the blood pounding and rushing. Whoa.

He then proceeds to point out some of the landmarks that you can see from that high above, none of which I can recall right now. We do some crazy turns and spins, stalls and swoops, and he hands me the toggles to control, explaining what they do. I do a few simple maneuvers as he instructs me, hoping that this thing is resilient and won’t drop us to the ground.

He takes back the reins, and then proceeds to freak me out, doing a couple of 360’s almost parallel to the ground, some cool turns, and finally landing in turn after swooping over some trees nearby. We ride in and slide me on my butt, as described as the probable method of landing during the instruction phase.

I collapse and lay down to enjoy the feeling of all that coming to an end, and then Jonei pulls me up, and I head back to turn in my gear.

We all talk exuberantly about the experience, while waiting for our other 4 friends to go up and jump. While they do, we rehash our experiences and have some great laughs.

After our friends’ jump (the final one of the day), we hang out with the skydiving crew in their hangar – very laid back, fun-loving kind of crowd. They crack open some beers, we all joke around, and a few of us try our balance on an Indo Board – with varying degrees of success. Something like that is a pretty cool way to spend your time waiting for your jump.

So we then sat down and watched some of the videos that were taken during the final jump, and had some laughs and and then left to get some food and drinks.

After a delicious dinner at some place called “The Office” in New Jersey, I was dropped off at a PATH station and headed home for a good sleep.

All in all, an awesome way to spend a day. I’m definitely interested in doing this again.