Talking was impossible over the scream of the plane’s engines, though it was the last thing on my mind. A jump with Skydive Cairns had seemed a great idea when I caught a glimpse of one on a flatscreen TV at the travelagent’s. Now, palms sweating, heart pounding, and shaking uncontrollably, I wanted to be anywhere else.
My friend Michael sat to my right grinning confidently as always, his instructor munching on a sandwich behind him. My instructor, “Smokey”, a tall hipster dude with smoker’s teeth, cracked unhelpul parachute jokes (There was a huge hole in this one yesterday, I think it’s been repaired)
From this cramped flying shoebox, thousands of feet above the Great Barrier Reef on a magnificent summer afternoon, the view from my window proved little respite from the onsetting panic. “OK!” yelled the pilot when we had reached our target height of 14,000 feet. The stress on our eardrums eased when he slowed the engines to a murmur.
By now my heart was thumping out of my chest. My instructor and I, seated at the door, followed the procedure as though he had done it a hundred times (he had) securing my harness to his before helping me put on my goggles. I felt like a helpless child, putting full trust in my parent’s instincts. He grasped the door handle with both hands and hauled it open, revealing the horror of what awaited me. The wind, the noise, the realization that it was a long way down.. now I really started to panic. We shuffled around until my legs dangled outside, nothing below but a couple of seagulls, the blue ocean and the arid landscape. I attempted one last sympathy glance at Michael but he too was busy getting ready.
“One..two..three!” Smokey yelled, before using his legs to launch us both into space. The terror I had felt during our ascent vanished. I roared like a crazed soccer fan. After a few seconds our speed hit 200mph.. it was all happening too quickly to make sense of it. The shift from outright dread to sheer adrenaline in an instant was unlike anything I had experienced before.
From the moment we arrived at the airstrip my instructor had been pointing a camcorder at me. Now it was strapped to his wrist, his arms outstretched, capturing every detail of my befuddled, petrified expression as we plummeted to earth. After one minute, which felt like ten seconds, he released the parachute and the jolt as it opened awakened me from my adrenaline-induced trance.
We descended to earth at a leisurely pace. The scene from the sky was dazzling, serene, warm and sedate and for a moment I wanted to play in the warm air of a garden somewhere back in time with friends laughing.
Photos courtesy of Skydive Cairns.
Copyright © 2016 Ciarán Logue