7 May 2012
3… 2… 1… Jump.
All you see is the ground, a Google Maps composite satellite image rushing up to meet you as you roll over, and over, watching the plane grow smaller above you. So begins your minute-long free fall back to earth.
The #unmapped road trip stopped off at Sky Dive The Beach in Byron Bay, following an unsuccessful first jump in Wollongong a few weeks earlier. It wasn’t so much unsuccessful as it was painful. The weather wasn’t kind to us and we were pummelled with rain on the way down.
Raindrops, at some 120mph, feel like thousands of pieces of gravel flying into your face – which was a memorable experience if nothing else. Today, however, Byron Bay graced us with blue skies, bright sun, and the ever lingering sense of trepidation that comes before you fling yourself out of a plane.
I’d been fortunate enough to complete two tandem skydives previous to this. The first was in Costa Brava last year, the second you’ve already heard about. I imagine that at some point, after you’ve done it a few hundred (or thousand?) times – it all feels very routine. But on the third time, the butterflies were still beating their little party drums inside my stomach to the tune of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. Don’t ask me why – apparently that’s the song butterflies listen to.
Following a short safety briefing from the crew, we hopped in a limousine (yes limousine) for the ride to the local airport. This particular skydive would be slightly different to normal because as well as having our harnesses to attach ourselves to our instructors we also each had an improvised system in order to tether our iPhones to ourselves.
A few days prior, I’d had the genius (?) idea of making some noise on Twitter by having all the #unmapped bloggers jump out of a plane and send a tweet on the way down. This passing comment was soon turned into a reality, and now I was going to have to make good on my promise to do it. Gulp.
We arrived at the airport and climbed into the small plane which was already waiting for us. This was by far the smallest plane I’ve ever been in. There were four of us (two instructors, two victims) sitting on the floor in the back – and the pilot sitting pretty much beside us. He had a parachute on too… which was probably fine.
The journey up is always a painfully long one. It’s really only about 15 minutes, but it feels like an eternity as the plane climbs higher and higher with each passing moment. I always tend to find myself thinking “surely this is high enough…” only to glance at the altimeter and find that we’re less than half way to our target altitude of 14,000ft.
But, eventually, we do reach that altitude – the instructor opens the door of the plane (basically the entire side of the plane) and then everything changes. Being inside a plane, flying through the air, is one thing. You get used to it very quickly – after a while it doesn’t feel real.
You know that you’re inside a small room which bounces a bit, and outside is a nice view. When the door opens, all that security is gone. The wind beats against your face viciously as the vertigo rushes up to greet you. “You’re a moron,” – your brain tells you in a futile little voice that has long ago admitted defeat – “humans aren’t supposed to fly.”
Then you’re falling. It really only feels like falling for the first few seconds – just like when you pass over the crest of a roller coaster. After that, it’s almost peaceful (almost) as the stunning vista of Byron Bay spreads out beneath you. The wind is still stronger than ever, but you don’t really have a sense of altitude any more, and you do actually have plenty of time to look around at the waves breaking all the way up and down the coast. When we went, it was such a clear day that you could see all the way to The Gold Coast – which my instructor was kind enough to point out just before we rolled out of the plane.
Minute-long free fall complete, the chute opens and you’re jolted from terminal velocity down to 18mph in about 2 seconds. Quite a jolt. In Costa Brava this jolt left me with bruises all over my back – but thankfully the harnesses at SkyDive The Beach were much more comfortable. No pain this time.
You still don’t feel like you’re high up once the chute is open, the vertigo is gone. For us this was the moment to pull out iPhones and start snapping photos and sending tweets – which is what I proceeded to do (with some intense concentration on not dropping my phone – despite the tether) for the following few minutes as we circled the landing zone below.
Finally – we made it back down to earth with a gentle landing, and our #unmapped skydiving experience was complete. Cue delayed adrenaline kick.