Sometimes you just have to go and jump out of a plane.
When I embarked on my first big solo trip to Australia in 2017, I had no idea just how many firsts I’d end up experiencing before coming home and somehow skydiving found its way on the list. You might know by now that I am quite impulsive when it comes to travel plans and that I tend to make random last minute decisions, which usually lead to some of the best (and worst) moments of my life. Well, jumping out of a plane at 4,5 km (15.000 feet) was one of them.
Skydiving wasn’t even on my radar when I started planning my Australian adventure (if I’m being completely honest, not a lot of things besides wombats and the coral reef were, as you can read here) and I’d never given it much thought, although it was one of those things that were somewhere in the back of my mind as “stuff I want to try before I die”. However, when I got to Fraser island and met some of the other backpackers doing the typical East coast trip, all they could talk about was the party resorts, beaches and skydiving. I didn’t much care for the first two, but skydiving stuck in my head and by the end of the day I knew I just had to do it.
I looked it up online and it turns out that a tandem jump in Australia costs about 400 €, which isn’t exactly cheap, but it was doable if I cut into my emergency budget. Because yes, that’s what emergency budgets are for, of course. I originally wanted to do the jump in Cairns, where you can get a gorgeous view over the beach and the rainforest, but when I was there the weather wasn’t right and everyone told me it wouldn’t be worth it.
My next destination after Cairns was Melbourne, which was also my last stop in Australia before I flew over to New Zealand. Since it was my last chance, I was determined to do it there and I found a skydiving operator on St. Kilda beach, which wasn’t a bad view option either. I booked an afternoon tandem jump spot almost as soon as I got to Melbourne, where I was couchsurfing with an Italian guy named Dave for 2 days. He was a nice guy who worked at a restaurant, so he’d bring me super tasty leftovers from work, which was awesome. He even considered doing the jump with me, but it didn’t suit his work schedule and since he was rarely home, we didn’t really talk that much.
So, on the afternoon in question I took the public transport to St. Kilda beach, but there was a huge traffic jam and I was running late for my jump, so I had to call the company and they put me on the last plane for the day. I’d booked the jump with Skydive Australia and I have nothing but good words for them – the basic tandem jump package I chose included everything (the gear, the transport to the airport, instructions, certificate etc.) and photos, although I would have had to pay more if I’d wanted a video of the whole thing as well. Also, as it turned out, that was the best traffic delay ever, because we ended up jumping straight into a beautiful sunset on the beach and I couldn’t have picked a better timing.
Sunset over St. Kilda beach
When I finally got there, there were 4 of us doing the tandem jumps and we were given a quick safety briefing before suiting up in the warm blue jumpsuits and pairing up with our skydiving instructors. Apparently, every tandem jump in Australia also counts as the first educational jump that you need to complete to get your own skydiving license to jump solo. Unfortunately it is only valid for a year and I didn’t end up getting my license straight after coming home, because I started with my Masters’ programme abroad, but that is still something I’d like to do in the future and you’ll soon know why.
My skydiving guy’s name was Clay and he was a tall, middle-aged guy with a typical south Australian accent. I vividly remember us sharing a mandarin orange on the bus to the airport, because I was trying to pretend I wasn’t nervous while we were chatting about Slovenia and the skydiving scene there, which is apparently much bigger than I realised. I am proud to say I never had any second thoughts about doing the jump, although my legs did turn to jelly on the way from the bus to the plane.
All of us boarded the small plane and took off straight away. There was barely any space as we were crowded in our instructors’ laps and they began to clip on and tighten all the various straps and bits that would keep us from plummeting towards the ground. The 4 of us tried to bravely keep up with the conversation, while the instructors were talking about the weather, their previous jumps and chatting up the pilot. I was floating in one of those states of nervous excitement, where you are hyper aware of every sound, smell and small movement and it wasn’t until Clay said that we were all geared up that it finally hit me that I was essentially putting my life in his hands. He felt like a solid, confident presence behind my back, so I didn’t allow myself to dwell on the thought too much. If I’d had any second thoughts, they probably would’ve vanished when the pilot mentioned that he hadn’t done many flights before this one, because they regularly use trainee pilots who need the practice hours to keep the costs down. He had an instructor present of course, but somehow the plane suddenly felt less safe than jumping out of it, which wasn’t a bad thing.
When the pilot called out that we’d reached 15.000 feet, they opened the plane door and the first pair got ready to jump out. The rush of air and the hum of the plane engine blended into a sort of white noise and since Clay and I were scheduled to be the last one out, I got to watch the other 3 jump through the door. There was a woman on the first pair who eagerly jumped out and I think she’d said it wasn’t her first jump, while her partner in the second pair asked to be pushed out of the door because he was too nervous. I don’t know what went on with the third pair, but suddenly Clay told me the guy wasn’t going to make the jump and there was a lot of shuffling and moving around to get us to the door. Apparently it’s quite common for people to back out at the last minute, but we’d lost a lot of time and were already at 16.000 feet, so Clay told me it was now or never. I jumped.
Even though it’s been a couple of years, I still remember the exact feeling of that first free fall – the uncomfortable rush of air in my mouth and nose, the pressure against my head, the total euphoria from all the adrenaline and the feeling of absolute freedom and a sort of lightness as we fell towards the sea below. In every sky dive, you are always free falling for the first couple of minutes before opening the parachute and even though you’re rushing down at about 200 km/h, those first few minutes are somehow infintely long. I knew that, because they’d told me, but I was still surprised that Clay and I managed to have a whole short conversation of how awesome it was in between my excited screaming and whooping and I think those are the minutes that determine whether you’ll get addicted or will never want to do it again. For me it was the former and even now as I am writing this almost 4 years later, the feeling is still humming through my veins and I want to do it again. I believe I will.
When Clay finally opened the parachute, we slowed down almost immediately and ended up gently floating above the sea with a gorgeous view over Melbourne. It was such a contrast to soaring down at high speed, that it took a while for my head to clear so I could actually appreciate the view. I was allowed to steer the parachute around so we could watch the sunset and we talked about skydiving, tandem jumps and how different people react to the jump – apparently I was the ideal customer, because I loved it as much as the instructors did.
It was soon time to go back down and as far as I’m concerned, the landing was actually the scariest part of the experience. The rest of it had a sort of dreamy, adrenaline-induced quality and felt amazing, but seeing the grassy ground rush towards me while being told to hold my knees up until it was time to step down was rather terrifying. However, we did it without any problems and when the guys who’d already landed before us run up to help and asked me how it went, my first question was »Can we do it again?«.
The adrenaline rush held me for a few more days and I was ecstatic as I walked back to the city across the beach. Since the whole thing was a bit impromptu because I wanted to make sure the weather wouldn’t spoil my plans again, I hadn’t really told my family what I was doing and I think my dad was quite shocked when I casually mentioned I’d jumped out of a plane that day. It was an absolutely amazing experience though and I’d recommend it to anyone who isn’t scared of heights or roller coasters. I know it’s not for everyone, but there’s something about a good adrenaline rush that clears out your system and makes you appreciate life anew, whether it’s from skydiving, roller coasters, sports or personal achivements when the odds are stacked against you. Yes, I know you can get addicted to the more extreme forms of it and that it can lead to foolish risk taking, but if you do it with a healthy measure of fear and respect for your life, then it’s a great spice of life that a lot of people would benefit from, if you ask me. So, if you can afford it, tandem skydiving jumps with a reputable, professional operator are a great way to safely experience such an extreme rush without any prior knowledge and I really enjoyed my experience.
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