The third time was the charm.
It was our last opportunity for my brother, dad and I to check off a bucket list item the three of us had wanted to do together for nearly a decade - skydiving. We were forced to reschedule our two previous time slots because of the low-hanging, full coverage, cloudy skies. The previous afternoon, and the current day's morning was not in the cards for us. We had one last shot - the noon time slot - which was over two hours away. Needless to say, for the next two hours I was looking up at the skies, praying they would clear. It was finally time to check in. With our fingers crossed and hope in our eyes, we arrived back to Skydive Franz in Franz Josef, New Zealand, at 11:30am for the weather call for our 12:00pm time slot. Lily, the manager, looked at me and joyfully smiled. IT WAS HAPPENING! The skies had cleared enough for us to safely dive. The shuttle van was already there to pick us up - we would be the first dive of the day.
Once we arrived at their airfield, our instructors greeted us and began to suit us up. Secured with our flight suit and harness, our instructors videoed a short "before the jump" interview. I felt I had done a great job of not psyching myself up too much. Instead of thinking about falling from the sky, I chose to not think about it at all. I didn't feel nervous or scared to skydive. But as we started the walk to the small aircraft, the nervousness of 10 divers plus the pilot fitting into this small plane and flying 13,000 feet above the ground began to shake my nerves a bit. To be sure the equilibrium of the plane was balanced, they loaded us in their predetermined jump order based on weights. Thus my mom would be first to fly, my brother second, my dad third, which left me to fly last.
The plane was so narrow that I had just enough room sitting next to my brother, shoulder to shoulder. Our Tandem Masters strapped themselves to us at the waist immediately after take off. As we climbed higher, I asked my instructor, Robbie, if he was still attached to me. "Don't worry. I've got you!" he said reassuringly. We all watched out the window as we spiraled upward, above the clouds. At one point, my mom's guide asked us how high we thought we were. "8,000 feet?", my mom said. We all let out a nervous laugh when he showed us his altimeter which read "2,000". Only 11,000 more feet to go.
I can say with full confidence that there is no better place to skydive in the world than where we were at. As we climbed to our 13,000 feet jump, the landscape was surreal. We soared above the zone of accumulation for Franz Josef Glacier, had incredible views of the Tasman Sea of the South Pacific Ocean and of the valleys of West Coast rainforests. At 12,218 feet, we stood face to face with the highest mountain in New Zealand; Mount Cook. It was nearly time for our jump.
Within 15 minutes we were at our jump altitude. The time had finally arrived. The door of the plane was opened, and before I knew it my mom was hanging out of the plane in the banana pose our instructors taught us while we were getting into our harnesses. A fleeting scream was all that I heard as she was whisked away. My brother was next in line, then my dad, and within two blinks of an eye, Robbie and I were the only divers left in the plane. We sat on the plane floor and scooted over to the edge. As I was taught, I dangled my legs past the step outside of the plane, looped my thumbs through the harness, arched my back, pushed by head back into Robbie's chest and looked up at the plane wing. I was in the banana position and ready to dive, waiting for Robbie to push us off the edge.
Then, it happened. The slight push off the plane, and we were flying! I felt like a feather. I never screamed. There was no "stomach drop". I just fell forward and was caught by the wind. After a few seconds I let out a joyful "Woooooo!", and after that I never stopped smiling.
We freefalled at 120 mph for 45 seconds until our parachute opened at around 5,000 feet. The latched of the harness got caught under my helmet, which cranked my neck to the side slightly and began to choke me, but luckily Robbie noticed and was able to pop my helmet off the latch. Free to breath once again. As we flew around, Robbie loosened the harness against us, which left me feeling even more free. We were 5,000 feet above the ground, enjoying the spectacular views. To be honest, I never once thought about how high we actually were. I was just soaking up the views and enjoying the ride in the sky. About half way down while under parachute, Robbie told me to grab the loops he was holding onto. Without question, I did. He let go and exclaimed, "You are flying the parachute!" I pulled my right arm down and we circled right, I straightened back out in the direction of the airfield, and then pulled my left arm down and went left. Robbie then pulled my right arm down hard, and we did a tight, quick circle, in which made me feel the g-force in my stomach. After about 5-7 minutes of flying around, it was time to land. I bent my legs, and stuck them straight out into an 'L', and with a slide and a bump we were on the ground again with my whole family - safe and sound.
The only word I can use that would accurately describe the experience of skydiving would be "unreal". It feels like a wonderful, exhilarating, half remembered dream. I was left with only the feeling of complete, euphoric joy.
We jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. Over glaciers. Above the clouds. Our bodies plummeted 120 mph towards the Earth. We were eagles. We were completely free. And if you're wondering if I would ever do this insane, thrill-seeking experience again? I would answer you with an indubitable "YES!"
Headed to New Zealand and looking to skydive? Go to Franz Josef and check out Skydive Franz!