My typical idea of adventure is something like climbing a mountain, hiking into a jungle, or sailing to a deserted island. It’s about the journey and for a while I have kind of associated a “good” adventure with something that takes time and patience to achieve. Man, was I wrong! I just landed safely back on Earth after the team at Skydive Australia hurled me out of an airplane 14,000 feet above the stunning coastline and hinterland of one of Australia’s national treasures, Byron Bay. The whole experience felt like it only took a matter of seconds, but I’m told it’s been almost thirty minutes since I waved goodbye to my friends on the runway, still a skydiving virgin.
Contrary to my former beliefs, skydiving, though quick, is undoubtedly an adventure. There is planning, courage, nerves, adrenaline, uncertainty, and a deep satisfaction after the fact; all the ingredients are there. Skydiving is like taking all the elements of a more traditional adventure and condensing it down to one thirty minute experience; I guess that’s why they call it a rush.
I’ll admit skydiving scares me, and I think that’s a good thing. At the very least, it seems healthy to have some sort of aversion to jumping out of airplanes thousands of feet in the sky, which is why it felt odd that in the early hours of the morning before the jump, I didn’t feel nervous. A big part of the reason I wanted to jump was because I like doing things that scare me; they force you to grow. Now, I just felt ready. Maybe all that facing your fears stuff is finally starting to pay off.
On arrival, I was greeted by the staff at Skydive Australia’s Byron Bay location and they couldn’t have been more hospitable. Each employee seemed to be beaming with enthusiasm. You could tell they were passionate about what they do. It wasn’t long before I was all kitted up and briefed on the proper procedure for my tandem jump.
They say the scariest part is the plane ride up, and thirty seconds after take-off, was right about the time the unusual bout of calmness I was feeling started to disappear. You have no frame of reference for how high 14,000 ft is. You don’t know how the ground is a supposed to look or how many layers of cloud you need to go through before you reach your vertical destination. All the time that you are climbing, it becomes increasingly more apparent that eventually you will reach that destination and there’s only one way back to the ground.
The pilot raised his thumb in the air as we hit the drop zone. The first solo diver pulled the plastic door separating us from, for want of a better word, the sky. My first memory is that of sheer terror, a sinking feeling in my stomach that comes from sudden changes in altitude and then, strangely, relief. After about three seconds of free fall, you realize that there literally is no turning back as you continue your extremely rapid decent toward the ground. That moment of relief comes paradoxically in the realization that everything is now out of your control.
You are at the mercy of the elements and in the case of tandem jumps, your pilot’s preparation and skill. Thankfully, this was Matt’s (my tandem pilot) 8,200th jump so I felt I could trust he’d get me safely to the ground. All that’s left for you to do is enjoy the experience and believe me that’s not a very difficult thing to do when you are rocketing through the sky like a human missile.
It’s almost meditative giving up control in a situation like that. For those brief seconds of free fall, life is simple. There’s only one decision left to make at the point, when to pull that shoot and jolt you out of the fantasy of flight. It happens so seamlessly; one moment you are spinning and tumbling through the sky, then all of a sudden, a comparatively gentle tug and you’re floating above the world. All the beauty of the Byron Bay coast comes flooding back into focus. I could have stayed up there for hours, taking in the breathtaking views of one of the best beaches in world, but eventually my feet did safely touch the ground, again.
Back on Earth, I looked up fondly at the sky as I finally started to process just how incredible an adventure I had just experienced. I’m hooked; I can’t wait to throw myself out of a plane again and as soon as possible. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that feeling. Speaking to Matt after the jump, he told me that there is an entire worldwide community devoted to that feeling. It’s an extravagant thing to do and experience, and it fills you full of awe and wonder to think it can even be done. Matt said, that jumping out of airplanes saved his life. It took him out of a bad place and allowed him to share his passion with people on a daily basis. To some, it seems like skydiving is a lifestyle and now I can understand the appeal.
Coming from a person who suffers from a fear of heights, you can trust me in saying that no matter what fears you may have, skydiving is something you need to cross of your bucket list. If you are in Australia, I can’t recommend the Skydive Australia team enough. They have locations all over the country, but I think it would be hard to beat the views and the staff at their Byron Bay location. They are even offering readers, AUD$30 off jumps across all of their locations in Australia if you enter the code word BUCKET on online bookings. You can check out their website here.