During the three-hour drive from Tampa to Deland, my friends and I must have screamed the words to Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” about ten times. We knew that once we left the car, we’d know the literal meaning of the song’s lyrics. Our road trip destination was Skydive Deland to jump out of a plane for the first time.
Parachutes imbued with greens, yellows, oranges and pinks littered the perfect blue sky that greeted us in Deland. We watched the experienced jumpers trying to land on a small, inflatable target. We also witnessed one diver spinning toward the ground in what we knew had to be a training exercise – or at least we hoped so.
Upon check-in, I had to sign a two-page contract that stated my family could not sue if something were to happen. Once I finished signing my life away, I had to watch a video that reiterated the points of the contract. Around this time, I was getting a little anxious, but once it showed clips of people jumping, I knew I was making the right choice.
After the contract signing and video, we were led to a room with a couch, jumpsuits and harnesses. Instructors came in to give us the rules. My tandem partner, Scott, was very brief.
“You’re going to be strapped to me at the hips and shoulders,” Scott said. “Keep your back arched as far as you can and your feet towards your butt.”
Once we were on the plane, I knew it was go time. The plane climbed to 14,000 feet, and the world looked incredible – and incredibly small. At about 9,000 feet up, we climbed through smoke that had been blowing in from the fires in Georgia. At 11,000 feet, Scott got the harness ready. At 14,000 feet, the plane doors opened, and only one thought crossed my mind: “Man, it’s cold up here.”
Scott wasted no time as we waddled up to the edge of the plane with our cameraman, Marat. We rocked once forth, then back, and in an instant I was on the ride of my life.
We began the experience with a back flip, not that I could tell, because I had more adrenaline flowing through my body than Hulk Hogan before defeating an opponent. The fall was amazing – it was both incredibly dangerous and the most fun I’ve ever had. Scott stabilized us, and as soon as that happened, I was able to play to the camera. I was giving thumbs up, waving, smiling and trying to look like a hero. I was so entranced by making a good movie that we could’ve fallen straight to the ground and I wouldn’t have noticed. Thankfully, we didn’t.
The fall was not a stomach-turning drop. In fact, I’ve felt my stomach drop worse on roller coasters like Montu or Kumba at Busch Gardens. It was, however, very loud. I tried to scream “woo” for the camera, but air rushing into my mouth made it nearly impossible. I could not even hear the “this is awesome” screams over the air rushing past Scott and I at over 125 mph.
After what seemed like no time at all, our
free-fall stopped and there was a relaxing calm. The parachute opened safely, and I was enjoying a birds-eye view of Deland. I was trying to scream my excitement to Scott, but we could barely hear each other.”We just fell about 10,000 feet,” Scott said.
It took all of 58 seconds to free-fall 10,000 feet, and that minute was the most intense, adrenaline-filled minute of my life. Once we were safely on the ground, I was unhinged from Scott and rejoined my friends. We waited in a little restaurant next to Skydive Deland, and no more than 10 minutes later, Marat put my video on the restaurant’s television.
That was the first of about 30 times I’ve relived the intense experience since last week.