This is Your Brain on Skydiving (Queenstown, NZ)

We were scheduled to skydive on day 9 of the trip, which means for 8 days the mental image of the moment you are basically shoved out of an airplane would flash in my mind and I would immediately feel panicked. It wasn’t debilitating or nauseating, just that feeling of something big coming up that you simultaneously can’t wait to do and can’t believe you’re actually going to do. It was like that Sunday marathon weekend; the building anticipation is everything.

It had been cloudy and a little bit rainy, so we stopped by NZone to check if we’d actually get to go up the next morning. Our appointment started at 7am sharp, and the best they could offer was “check back in the morning!”

I was up long before the alarm, looking out at clear blue skies. Yep, this is happening.

Any time I take a big risk my brain tries valiantly to talk me out of it – you’ll be too scared, it’s not worth that anxious-shaking-OMFG feeling, you won’t enjoy it, it’s not safe, just say No and accept that you’re not an adrenaline junkie! I’ve avoided a long list of things that scare the crap out of me, and for good reason. Fear can be a life-saver – but just as much as we need to feel it and be able to sense it, we need to know when to shut it the hell up.

NZone skydiving plane

We were bused out to an open field area about 25 minutes from Queenstown, separated into groups and told to wait for a little bit. By the time we were called up, it was about a 15 minute process from “Your turn!” to “Get in the plane!” No major safety briefing, video, or any tutorial on what to do if something goes wrong. All we were told is this: hold onto your harness until your shoulders are tapped (at which point you can open your arms out); stay in a banana shape with your head up, hips pushing down and feet back; and stick your feet under the plane (in prep for that banana shape) when your tandem guide is getting ready to go.

Getting ready to skydive

HOLD. UP. Stick my feet under the plane?! While it’s at 15,000 feet and moving?! And just wait??? You’ve gotta be effing kidding me. (But nope! They sure weren’t!)

The plane climbs up to 15,000 feet in about 15 minutes. We were stuffed in there watching altimeters on their wrists tick up, and staring at the window thinking random things like “Oh, this is 8,000 feet…oh, this is 10,000 feet…%*$& why are we still going…where did the ground go?!” Suddenly we were above a cloud line and the only thing in sight was clear blue sky with a few white patches. Then they rolled the side door up, and it was GO time.

Mike jumped first, and it sounded like he got sucked into a vacuum as he disappeared in less than one second. Uh, bye! Three people followed before I found my butt being scooted close to that wide-open door. Before you know it your feet are dangling outside of a moving plane, you can see nothing but sky, hear nothing but air moving too quickly and people counting; feel nothing but someone attached to you and fear in its purest and calmest form coming to terms with what you’ve decided to do. That fear takes no less than an instant to accept your decision and call adrenaline up to the plate. Suddenly you’re not scared, you’re just ready. 1, 2, 3….

Skydiving in Queenstown NZone skydiving in Queenstown Queenstown skydiving

No words in my vocabulary do justice to the feeling of free falling through a pure blue sky on a sunny day, looking down at an incredible city in one of the most stunning countries on this Earth. I had no idea when we would stop moving at approximately the speed of light (in my uncalculated estimation), but at the same time didn’t feel like we were moving hardly at all. If it weren’t for the air blowing your cheeks out and your arms flying up in a V because you barely have the capacity to control your muscles and try to bring them down against the force of movement, you’d think you were floating. On the flip side, if it weren’t for a professional being safely attached to me I’d have no idea if I were alive or dead. The lines of reality feel blurred, because YOU’RE FALLING THROUGH THE SKY.

View from skydiving in Queenstown

My legs jolted up and around and I found myself in an awkward seated position, taking a few moments to realize “oh, the parachute is up!” That stupid grin where you can’t even control the fact that you’re smiling exploded on my face. I said “Oh my F*$k, holy s@%t, oh my god” at least ten times. Words escaped me; my limbs felt numb; my eyes tried desperately to take in the surroundings. I could stare straight ahead at the top of an 8,000ft mountain peak, look down at an enormous lake, or at the horizon that went on and on for miles. My brain tried to comprehend this perspective; my consciousness had already forgotten that in order to get here we had to jump out of a plane. I hardly felt like I was moving, yet the ground was getting closer by the second…

I made some stupid small talk with my guide, asking where his first jump was (Christchurch), how many times a day he has this experience (5-6 jumps per day on average), and then I said something about how cold I was but who cares because LOOK at this view!

“Legs straight out! We’re almost there!”

Skydiving landing in Queenstown On the ground

I don’t think I stopped smiling for at least half an hour. I would have gone back up in that plane again in a heartbeat (not solo, of course — there’s a lot to be said for that expert taking care of the hard stuff!).

Skydiving Thoughts

The thing about our fears is that all we have to do is acknowledge them, and as Liz Gilbert would suggest, thank them for their service. Today, I need you on my team. We control them; not the other way around. They’re not for us to hide behind, just to show us what’s going to be a risk worth the reward.

Comments

  1. January 16, 2016

    I’m terrified of heights and don’t think I could ever skydive – ahhhhh! Just reading this made me so nervous. (And obviously you were just fine if you were writing about it, ha.) My brother did airborne school when he was in the Army, and he’s terrified of heights as well. My mom once asked him how he did it, to which he said, “If you don’t jump, they push you.” Gotta love that attitude, ha. It must be fairly safe if these guys jump multiple times per day, and I can only imagine the view! But the risk still gets to me…

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