The small round light turned green, the plane decreased speed to the point of hover (or so it seemed), and the bottom of the garage-like metal door began to creak its slow, ominous rise. Strapped into my tandem jumpmaster as snuggly as I would allow without dinner and a movie, there was no turning back now.
I was over the north shore of Oahu, about to jump out a perfectly good plane. Skydiving has been on my bucket list for… well, forever. A drop site where the view would be as breathtaking as the jump would be exhilarating was worth waiting for.
With two girlfriends in tow, I arrived at the Pacific Skydiving field at Dillingham airfield at 9:30 a.m. I was introduced to my jumpmaster, Marcello, and Breen, my personal videographer, and we began the pre-jump safety instructions. After a lengthy wait of nearly two hours, Rebecca, Marie and I went off, all harnessed and ready for the biggest leap of faith we’ll probably ever take.
Carrying around a dozen passengers, our small plane took 20 minutes to ascend to nearly 15,000 feet – the highest from which you can jump without oxygen – in relative silence. Perhaps some were praying, some meditating. Me? My backpack was so tight I could barely breathe, let alone speak. Oh wait… that’s not a backpack, it’s Marcello.
It was time. I was fearless. With my arms crossed over my chest, and my head back toward Marcello’s shoulder, we crouched in the open doorway over the drop zone for two seconds. That was one second too long. But before I could say, “Go NOW!” Marcello leaned forward and we were gone.
Briefly tumbling head-over-heels, Marcello swiftly deployed the small drogue shoot that slowed us down a bit from the 200 mph drop. He gained total control and there we were, floating in beautiful form for the one-minute freefall part of the jump. I just stretched out, back arched, and enjoyed the ride while Marcello handled all the technical aspects of the jump.
The wind in my face approaching 120 miles an hour was pretty extreme, but the goggles protected my eyes so I wouldn’t miss a second of the panoramic 360˚ view. I have to admit, it was pretty hard to breathe with my wide mouth open in a perpetual grin, but I couldn’t stop. Pure, unadulterated adrenaline. The sensation is total freedom.
Breen skillfully “flew” around and maneuvered to be near us to record everything and to interact, including reaching out to hold my hand! When he suddenly signaled goodbye, it was a clue something was about to happen. At around 5,000 feet Marcello deployed our main chute; bye-bye Breen, see you on the ground. If I thought the harness was tight before, I was wrong. I remember lamenting that the straps had just altered me from a C-cup to a B-cup. But I digress…
It felt like we were jerked back up, which is impossible and just an illusion. The descent is slowed substantially, albeit a bit painfully due to the tightening of straps. This was soon remedied by Marcello, who removed my goggles and loosened the straps a bit so I could enjoy a pain-free view of Hawaii’s north — shore so stunning that it is hard to describe.
Funny, but it was Dr. Seuss that came to mind: “Oh, the places you’ll go.”
Marcello then swirled our parachute around, over, sideways, up, down, and every which way. I lost track of the horizon. I almost lost my breakfast. I closed my eyes, took a series of deep breaths and pulled myself together. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had!” I said to Marcello, who had been effortlessly chatting and laughing with me since deploying the chute.
As land closed in, I lifted my legs and feet up and let Marcello do all the hard work of landing us, after which I allowed my toes to daintily touch the ground. Nicely done! And will you look at that – there was Breen who had landed before, us ready to record my reactions!
“Is it safe?” people will ask me. “No,” I say, “I jumped out of a moving airplane!” However, since I have a better chance of getting hurt driving my car within one mile of my house, I’m likely to do it again. And again.
A short video of the skydive, set to music, can be seen here.
If you go: Pacific Skydiving: $169 for tandem jump at 15,000 feet; $125-$190 for photos and/or DVD
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and photographer. A self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie,” she specializes in women’s adventure travel and has traveled throughout most of the United States and more than forty countries abroad. Her byline has appeared in dozens of print and online publications. Her blog is: www.luggageandlipstick.com.