After witnessing two guys disappeared into the sky together in less than a millisecond, I found myself only 5 feet from the opened plane door. The time has finally come. YES, I was ready to jump out of a perfectly good plane for the very first time, from an altitude of – 12,000 feet!
I still could not believe that I was actually up there doing skydiving, the same feeling I had from hopping into a van heading to the skydive drop zone, to fully equipped with full-body jumpsuit with harness, hat, and goggle, and finally to riding in the plane above the mysterious and spectacular Middle-earth. Although I had spent the whole night before searching online for skydive tips and stories, I still did not feel quite prepared for this jump, both physically and mentally. Probably I shouldn’t be mentally prepared at all, because doing things like skydive requires a sense of “foolhardiness” instead of overthinking, especially for someone like me who has not even tried roller coaster before.
During our 20-minute van drive to the drop zone, the van driver pointed at the towering “Mount Remarkable” – the highest mountain in Queenstown, New Zealand.
“You are going to jump twice as high as that peak right there,” the van driver told me.
“Uhhh, it seemed not that bad from this point of view…” I thought to myself.
However, this sheer illusion was heartlessly broken almost immediately after our shark-painted Cessna Supervan 900 speeded down the runway and climbed up the sky. I got the breathtaking panorama of Queenstown within 3 minutes on this mildly cloudy day and thought I was half way there when I felt almost on par with those high mountain ranges. My tandem master, a Czech veteran skydiver with over 7000 jumps under his belt, laughed and corrected me that it was only 3000ft so far and we had 9000 more feet to go.
It was at that moment I really started to get a little bit nervous and anxious. That’s not a good sign. Thus I spent the rest of my plane ride trying hard to prevent myself from getting nervous by enjoying the scenic surroundings and not looking down nor thinking about the upcoming jump. I did a great job because I could not perceive much change of the altitude since then. The only clue I got of us ascending rapidly was by looking at the altimeter on my tandem master’s wrist.
I was crammed in the plane with 4 other first-time skydivers and all of us 14 people (including the tandem masters and cameramen) on the plane were sitting on the floor with each pair of skydiver and tandem master attached together in four points tightly. I was the second in the row, right behind the only male skydiver on the plane. All 5 of us were jumping at 12,000 feet (3658m), but it was actually 11,000 feet above the ground because Queenstown is 1000ft higher above the sea level. But it did not make any difference at such an altitude.
Fifteen minutes after we took off, the plane abruptly leveled off and the door was opened with deafening sound. I was given literally no time to prepare before it was my turn. As I was nudged towards the edge of the plane by my tandem master “glued” on my back, my brain started to automatically shut off and the adrenaline in my body rocketed instantly. The second I put my feet out on the metal step outside, I felt my sneakers almost blown away by the strongest wind I had ever experienced so far (the record would be broken in 10 seconds). Luckily, my tandem master kept my head up in the set position so I did not get scared or distracted by the altitude. The only things I could see were the sky and the encouraging face of my cameraman who was filming the whole process. I could barely hear my tandem master asking (or more like asserting) me “ready?” over the roar of the engine. I closed my eyes, and what followed was an incredibly tranquil state of mind.
I was FALLING.
For the first few seconds I felt like a thousand butterflies bumping in my stomach as we flipped through the sky weightlessly. All the tiredness, pressure, and worries rushed out of my body and mind all at once when I was plummeting faster and faster through the troposphere and the air pressure was building up beneath me. We hit the terminal velocity (the highest speed attainable in freefall) of 120 mph (200 kph) shortly after the adrenaline rush and I could finally open up my arms to embrace the sky.
Then I was FLYING or FLOATING.
It was an indescribable feeling like nothing I had experienced before—I could not feel my weight at all and could rotate freely as fast as I wanted, like lying on an air cushion on my stomach. Maybe the only clue of falling is the incredibly strong and mildly chilly wind rushing right up to me. It was preventing me from taking my arms back together to the front and clenching my fist to show the “floating” cameraman the two lines I wrote on the back of my hands: “JULIA UP” and “Love U [heart]”. The wind also dried out my mouth and nose completely in no time when I was unconsciously putting on the biggest smile ever, thanks to all that adrenaline. It was a 45-second freefall, but it felt like only 20 seconds to me.
Suddenly a strong lift on my back put an end to the crazy sensory overload, and we had to say goodbye to our cameraman as he continued falling. When my tandem master was skillfully navigating the parachute back to the drop zone, I could finally calm myself down and peacefully enjoy the stunning scenery Queenstown has to offer: it was a realism painting of turquoise blue lake, snow-capped mountains, emerald green grassland, and rice-sized sheep.
It was a dizzy but smooth ride before we successfully landed right in front of the cameraman. I had so many things to say about the past 5 minutes but the only thing I could manage after just “restoring” my brain was: “It was amazing!”
But what I really wanted to say was: Skydive is one of the best things in the world.
Lots of people asked me what prompted me to go all the way up there and take that big jump. The answer is really simple: I fell in love with the sky, the vastness, and the freedom up there after flying a plane last year.
“Flying” made all the things possible and different, and was the best thing the idealistic me could ask for – at age 19.
You can contact Sichun Liu at firstname.lastname@example.org.