Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Jenny Hayes taking on the highest tandem skydive in the UK
Have you ever had that dream where you’re flying? Soaring through the air, riding the currents and watching the land sweep past you below? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to experience that for real? Well, readers, there is a way. But you’ll have to plummet 15,000ft from a plane in the process. Welcome to skydiving.
If you think I’m being melodramatic, think again. This sport is pure drama. From the moment you even begin to contemplate signing up for a skydive, your heart starts beating a little bit faster. Then you book your jump and for the rest of the day your pulse is racing and you feel a little dizzy – was that really a good idea? Too late now. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend the weeks leading up to the jump obsessively watching YouTube videos just to see if you’ll be able to stomach it. I wasn’t at all sure I could.
Fortunately, I choose to jump with GoSkydive, the UK’s tandem jump specialists who are expert at dealing with nervy first-timers like me. Every member of staff I spoke to had experienced the rush of a skydive themselves, and that meant they were uniquely equipped to reassure me about what I was about to do. They too had been in my quaking boots as a terrified novice jumper, so they could completely understand my apprehension. But they’d also come out the other side, and absolutely loved their skydive, so they had nothing but enthusiasm for the amazing experience I had ahead of me. To say they gave me a confidence boost would be an understatement – they transformed me from quivering jelly to really quite excited human being, which was little short of a miracle.
So, once I’d been calmed down, checked in, and regained the use of my legs, it was into a safety briefing with customer experience manager, Laura, who was the perfect woman for the job. Not only did she explain every step of the day ahead with great clarity, she also peppered it with a dry humour that was much appreciated by a room full of nervous first-time skydivers. No question was left unanswered – refreshingly truthfully – and by the time she’d finished the briefing I couldn’t wait to get up in that plane.
But, as is the nature of such sports, wait is exactly what I had to do. I have to say though, I think it did me good. There’s just no way I could sustain the kind of nervous energy I’d arrived with over several hours, so I began to relax – physically and mentally. Although I still didn’t risk grabbing a bite to eat despite the tasty looking offerings at the on-site café because, excuse me for being blunt, I really didn’t want to meet my lunch again on the way out the plane later.
I think it was a sensible decision, because my nerves were bubbling away again by the time I went to get kitted out and meet the two men who’d be diving with me – Roman, the cameraman who’d record every second of my 10,000ft freefall, and Shane, the skydiving superhero/instructor I’d be strapped to. Just like the rest of the team at GoSkydive, these guys were relaxed and easy-going, which was a big help. After all, if they could take jumping out a plane at 15,000ft so lightly, I wasn’t about to look like a scaredy-cat. Although, my Spidey sense did start tingling when I realised Shane and I were boarding the plane last. Erm, doesn’t last in mean first out?
Sensibly, Shane evaded my question and distracted me with some much-needed small talk all the way up. But I was brought back to me senses when he showed me that his altimeter read 10,000ft and said, “Time to get ready.” Then, without further ado, he strapped my harness to his and gave Roman the nod to open the plane door. Yes, that’s right. To open the plane door. At 15,000ft.
And I can tell you now, that is a very surreal and disconcerting moment. My mind snapped to attention with a splurge of totally unhelpful thoughts – ‘What on earth am I doing? This is madness! I can’t do it. I can’t not do it. Oh my god.’ Fortunately, this is the point at which your instructor takes over and does all the (arguably) rational thinking for you. So while I was busy panic-procrastinating, Shane grabbed my harness, hauled me over to the open door, tugged my goggles over my eyes… and threw me out the plane.
That split second, as we hung in gravity-defying suspension between exit and freefall, was one of the most incredible of my life. My brain totally short-circuited, wiping itself almost completely blank except for one brilliant realisation – this is unbelievable.
Then gravity kicked in and we fell. That’s when it got intense. For the first few seconds the force at which the air whistled past my face made it hard to breathe, but Laura had described this sensation in our training session so I followed her advice and tried to relax into the fall and breathe more easily. It worked, and from then on in it was just a beautiful, crazy, all-consuming adrenalin rush. And I mean adrenalin in its purest form – when it transports you out of your body and mind so that all you can do is ride high on the feeling.
I was also so glad to that Roman had jumped with me to capture these moments, because as I fell I was oblivious to Shane behind me so it was both reassuring to have someone with me throughout the 60 second freefall, and also really fun. All the way, Roman was swooping in and out, smiling and giving me thumbs ups to make me laugh. I never thought I could be so happy and relaxed plummeting 10,000ft at 125mph, but I genuinely felt as if I’d transcended the world to hang on a moment of perfection.
Of course I hadn’t. I was hurtling to earth at an alarming speed so when my minute was up Shane pulled the paracute and the thrill of freefall was replaced with the calm wonder of the canopy ride over Salisbury Plain. As we floated down, it really did feel like we were flying – drifting through the sky and drinking in the effortless feeling of soaring above the ground. I didn’t want it to end, but eventually Shane had to bring me back down to earth – which he did with a very gentle bump. Elated, exhausted and emotional, I wobbled back to the airbase, and to a well-deserved pint. So, would I do it again?
You’ll have to watch the video online to find out.
GoSkydive offer two tandem jumps – 10,000ft priced at £249, and 15,000ft priced at £308. Video recordings of your jump cost extra. GoSkydive is fully registered and affiliated with the British Parachute Association, and uses the very best, industry leading parachute technology. The small team of instructors are all professionally qualified, and have amassed over 30,000 jumps between them. GoSkydive, Old Sarum Airfield, Salisbury, SP4 6DZ. For more information tel: 01722 568 237 or visit: www.goskydive.com
— GOSkydive (@GoSkydiveUK) July 28, 2015
— GOSkydive (@GoSkydiveUK) July 28, 2015
Images courtesy of Will Dodd