Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tandem Jump at Skydive DeLand

I did a tandem skydive this morning, which was an extreme thrill. Check out the video of my skydive! I also bought a DVD of my skydive, which includes the jump video (at the link) plus some footage on the plane.

Drop Zone

I was mildly interested in try a tandem jump last year, after seeing Krisanne get into the sport. I didn't go when Gail and I went to see Krisanne jump, because I was training for IMCdA and I didn't want to risk twisting my ankle or any slight injury at all. Now, with no huge event commitment, I decided it would be good timing to go this weekend, since Krisanne is visiting and taking a skydiving course at Skydive DeLand.

I booked a tandem jump for yesterday, but it was rainy and the drop zone called to inform me the weather probably wouldn't clear. So I rescheduled for today, which was sunny, clear, but with gusty winds.

I arrived at the drop zone, signed up, and watched a brief video about skydiving that explained various risks. After initialing a very long waiver, I was called back to staging room along with another tandem jumper who was celebrating his birthday. We put on our jump suits, and then Ray, my tandem jump master, held a harness for me while I stepped into it. Ray cinched everything up and explained we would finish the rigging in the plane while we were seated. After this we walked out to the edge of the runway to wait for the plane.

When it arrived, we tandem jumpers loaded first, because we would jump out at a higher altitude. The seats were actually benches we straddled with our legs, and it was a tight fit as the load included a group of four skydivers that were practicing formations. The plane took off and began a near constant climb to 10,000 feet. The rollup door slid open, and after a few seconds to get set, the group of four jumped out.

I looked through the windows, admiring the view, thinking about the upcoming jump. I believe in engineering, physics, careful preparation and practice to lessen risks... still I felt a bit anxious as the plane kept climbing and banking. Ray told me to lean forward and I could feel him snapping his harness to mine, and then he told me to sit in his lap, and he cinched up the straps as tight as possible.

We reached our target altitude of ~13,000 feet and the door slid opened again. The other tandem jumper went first, and then it was my turn. Ray and I inched forward and at the door, I basically sat and let my feet dangle outside. After a countdown, Ray leaned forward and we were out of the plane! We did a backflip and then arched and held my arms in the bent position familiar to me from my minutes at the SkyVenture wind tunnel.

It is hard to describe - it didn't really feel like falling. We got close to the camerman and he motioned for me to smile and give a thumbs up and so forth. I looked from the ground to the horizon while Ray put us into a few spins. Skydiving is surprisingly loud, and the force of the air was strong and I felt my hand pushed hard occasionally. Still, the view was beautiful and I looked about as best as I could. About halfway through the freefall I felt my ears protesting the pressure change - I am sensitive about that for whatever reason - and I started to yawn, swallow and hold my nose and blow, in order to equalize the pressure. It was painful until I got one ear partially equalized which really helped.

The camerman pulled away and I knew we were about to deploy our chute. I was expecting a jolt, but it was gentle - hardly a pull at all. Now that I was vertical I could breathe easier and I kept looking around, trying to spot our landing zone. Ray said he would loosen some straps to make it more comfortable, and for a split second I had the fear I would fall out of the harness. He loosened a chest strap and both leg straps, but I could tell I was still snug in the harness.

We cruised around, making several turns, while descending. The canopy ride was fun and I enjoyed it even more after I finally cleared my ears and thus didn't feel so dizzy when Ray made a turn. I was so wild eyed from looking around and enjoying the view I didn't spot the landing zone until nearly the end - I could see the large circular spot of rocks getting larger and larger until we made our final turn and landed.

Krisanne came up and congratulated me for the jump and for becoming a skydiver! It was very exciting and I felt woozy trying to stand while Ray unhooked the harness.

Jump Certificate

As for another jump... I must admit afterwards I had a huge "I just went skydiving" grin on my face, plus a huge rush of adrenalin in my bloodstream... but now that I'm home I'm ready to just take it easy. It was lots of fun, but I'm not sure I would really enjoy going on my own - on a tandem, I could just relax (so to speak) and enjoy the view, and not worry much about steering, air stability, wind conditions, landing, and so forth. I think skydiving is a mentally taxing sport since you need to be 100% focused on what is going on to keep safe. The nearest analogy I can make is with bike riding - at all times when you are on the road you have to remain situationally aware of surrounding traffic, road conditions, other riders, etc. This is all fine but along with my ear pressure equalization troubles, I'm not sure I would enjoy going very often. It was painful until I partially cleared an ear towards the end of freefall, and I wouldn't want to be dealing with that while also being responsible for tracking my orientation and altitude, and deploying my chute.

I certainly had a great experience though. It was extremely exciting and I'm glad I tried it. :)

Afterwards I hung out with Krisanne for a bit, and we watched a few more skydivers come in. The winds were gusting pretty strong and Krisanne didn't feel comfortable diving - great call, this is a sport where patience for the right conditions is key.

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