Skydiving, or how I signed my life away for a cheap thrill

After a highly dedicated Meditation March, in which I spent time every day on something that I didn’t necessarily feel I had time for, I wanted to give myself a break in April. I was excited to check off a bucket list item that wouldn’t require a month of commitment to complete. Skydiving, here I come.

Somehow, I have made it to 39 years of age without jumping out of a plane. You would think that at some point during my travels in my teens and 20’s, or during my unrestrained college or grad school years, I would have had the chance. But no. So it seemed like the perfect candidate for my year of 40: something that I can try for the first time, either enjoying it and deciding to keep it in the new Jill rotation (hello, veganism) or putting it aside as an “I did that; now I never have to do it again.” Guess which camp skydiving falls into?

At face value, skydiving seemed like the kind of activity I’d love. I’m pretty risk tolerant, and I tend to enjoy adrenaline-rush activities: roller coasters, water slides, snowboarding faster than I should. When I bungy-jumped in New Zealand, I hardly blinked before diving off that bridge. I once dated a guy who skydived (skydove?) often, and when he told me about it, it sounded amazing, not scary. I felt sure that, when the day came for me to try it, I would fall head over heels. (Bah-dum-bum.)

On Saturday, Graham and I drove down to Santa Cruz for an 11:30am skydive appointment. Graham elected not to dive, having done it before and not feeling the need to go again. The first thing you do when you arrive is sign and initial about 15 pages of liability releases. You cannot sue the operators under any circumstances, no matter how negligent they are, etc. They make you hand-write a sentence in which you acknowledge that skydiving can lead to serious injury or death. Simultaneously, they show you a video in which a crazy looking man with a wiry, foot-long beard reiterates that THEY ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING. IF YOU DIE IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT. YOU WON’T SEE A DIME.¹ I get it: Graham can’t sue. But we agree that, if I die, he will sue anyway. He will also be hard-pressed to raise the kids by himself, but he’ll remarry after a suitable period of mourning.

My tandem partner will be Eric. Eric inspires confidence: he has over 8,000 jumps to his name and still seems to be cogent and able-limbed. Better still, he doesn’t strike me as the least bit loony, unlike crazybeard in the video. I suit up, let Eric choose a backpack (figuring the more I put in his hands, the less I am to blame if something goes wrong) and follow him to our plane. In our small talk, he tells me I’m one of the most confident people, pre-jump, that he’s ever met. It’s true: I’m not scared at all. For whatever reason, there is nothing about what we’re about to do that makes me nervous.

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Pre-jump confidence

Our plane climbs up over the Pacific Ocean, then heads slightly inland so we’re jumping over land. When we get to 10,000 feet, Eric opens the door. I cross my arms over my chest, swing my legs out the side of the plane, and lean forward. And…. we’re freefalling!

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And I’m free… Freefalling

BUT… it’s not fun. I’m in pain. My ears are blocked — there is tremendous pressure. It feels sort of like if you dive in a deep pool too quickly, only magnifying that pressure by about 10x. I look around, trying to enjoy my view, but I’m too distracted by the pain. Nobody told me about this! It feels like a cruel trick. I grin and bear it, knowing that I have a GoPro on me the whole time, and also that I only have about 30 seconds of freefall before the parachute will open. At that point, we’ll be at 5,000 feet and surely my ears won’t hurt any more.

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Smiling for the camera (faking it). And see that vein (or artery?) in my neck? Not normal.

I get the 3…2…1… signal from Eric, and then the parachute releases and the harness yanks me up and my feet fall toward the ground. Now we’re vertical, falling gently at about 1,000 feet per minute toward our landing field. My neck and my ears are no longer in pain. It’s pleasant enough, but I certainly don’t feel an adrenaline rush. I’m observing the fields, the cows, trying to steer the parachute a bit. Eric points out a red-tailed hawk. And then, we’re fast approaching a field, and I see Graham beside a van, pointing his phone toward me. We land, and it’s over.

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Parachuting over fields. Jill’s turn to steer.

Eric: “So, did you love it?” Me, laughing: “No, not really.”

Honestly, I feel — and felt– a little cheated. I was hoping and expecting to love my skydiving experience. When we were driving back to our starting point, the other first-timer said, “My heart has only now started to slow down.” Strangely, I don’t think my heartrate was ever elevated during the jump. I certainly didn’t get the adrenaline rush that Graham and others had described. Perhaps Meditation March was too effective, and I’ve become too zen.

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Laughing at the idea that I’d want to do that again.

In any case, skydiving is something that I can now say: Been there, done that; no need ever to do it again. In some ways, that’s the perfect bucket list item- something you can check off, for good. And hey, I made it out alive, with a few decent pictures to boot, and no need to sue Crazybeard. That’s good enough for me.

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¹I was more scared of the man in the video than I would ever be of skydiving. He was terrifying, looking and sounding vaguely like that recent Planned Parenthood shooter. Who in their right mind decided he was the right spokesman for the skydiving video?