Most rational people I converse with about skydiving believe the best part to be when the parachute opens successfully.
That was certainly an interesting moment – and I remember being very curious about the outcome right before the time came to pull – but it was not the highlight.
In fact, it was hardly even relieving compared to how I felt when we finally boarded the plane, when we packed in and I knew for sure we would get to jump that day after a “wind delay” that sent us off into the Wine Ghetto.
You are not supposed to drink/do drugs eight hours before you jump out of a plane, FYI.
It wasn’t our fault, though.
Following an impatient and anxious forty-five minute drive from Santa Barbara to Lompoc (through wine country, albeit), we paid for our jumps and watched a video that provided no instructions – only informed us of the dangers/risks of skydiving.
Then after being shuffled over to the hanger an instructor told us it was too windy to jump, that we wouldn’t be jumping today. At their recommendation, we rescheduled for the next morning at 7 a.m.
Talk about a bummer, man.
So with our tremendous leap of discovery and salutation on hold – as well as our trip to Los Angeles – we went straight for the Wine Ghetto to wash the bad taste out of our mouths.
The name is spot on – it’s a bunch of storage units that have been converted into tasting rooms. There are cheap signs with arrows guiding you inside each one. We threw a dart and landed on Zotovich. The wine was all right, the crackers were excellent. Honestly the best crackers I’ve ever had at a winery.
We were about finished when the call came that plans had changed and there was no longer a wind delay. All of us sort of looked at each other, noticing that the wind was blowing harder then than it was before. But we were all too excited to truly think about it and we drove back to the airfield (it is sort of weird to look back and think how trusting I was of another person).
We were unfortunately split up into groups of three and four – and I’m not going to get into it here, mainly because the whole situation is baffling to me still – but the three Hokies stuck together and it was nice to have them on the plane, as well as an additional long-time friend (nothing against you other dudes!).
They stacked us like sardines on long benches in the plane and I sat in front of my guide, my back to the pilot, the next person’s guide in front of me, and so on. As the plane climbed into the sky I saw the guides checking their wrists, watching the elevation closely.
That brings us to the highlight of the day, when the door opened at 13,000 feet and people began jumping out. Everything happened quickly, which left little time to second guess myself. The sight of my friend falling out of the plane – disappearing so fast it was as if he was sucked into a vacuum – is something I’ll never forget.
The rest of the experience is very surreal, like a dream I had once. But I remember the feelings very clearly – similar to zip lining in Puerto Rico. Once I was out of the plane I was completely at peace. The free fall in the beginning was intense, but after terminal velocity was reached the sensation of falling was lost, and from then it seemed as if I was hovering, views of the Pacific flooding my eyes.
Tough thing to describe. It has something to do with complete freedom, something to do with overcoming my physical boundaries, and a little to do with preferring death to normalcy.
One thing I will say about the opening of the parachute – you are still 5000-6000 feet up. Not sure why, but the distance remaining between myself and the earth shocked me. Going from 120mph to a near-complete stop in a few seconds may have contributed to the disbelief as well.
You will never meet anyone who did not like it.
One other thing I know for sure: I will never forget April 16th, 2011.