I had my first (tandem) skydive on the weekend. It was awesome. Also, it gave me a chance to learn more about the sport and correct a few of my misconceptions. Here they go.
Photo by April Ngern
1. Skydiving is a daredevil hobby.
I've always thought that skydiving is something very dangerous, and only few people take the risk to do it regularly. It turns out that—at least in Europe—it's quite safe. You jump with a main parachute and a backup parachute, and these days every rig carries a Cypres failsafe device that can activate your parachute even if you make a serious mistake (or you're unconscious). That makes it a lot safer than I thought, although we should look at data to be sure.
2. I will be afraid all the way up.
I expected to be terrified. While I'm not technically scared of heights, I do respect them. Especially with my first time skydiving and not knowing what to expect, I should have been afraid. In fact, my motivation to do this was to battle fear. However, I felt no fear at all. I can't explain why, it's just the way it was. Sure, my body tensed up a little when they opened the door at over 3km height, but I didn't have that characteristic heavy feeling in my stomach. I've certainly been more afraid of a handful of conversations recently than of this jump. It all just felt… right.
3. I will have a moment of panic when I actually jump out of the plane.
First, you don't jump. Your tandem partner controls when you exit the plane, so you are jumped. Second, you tilt your head backwards and look at the sky. It might be just a safety measure, but it prevents you from looking down when you leave the plane. There's no panic—there's only in the plane and outside of the plane. The adrenaline kicks in, for sure, but it feels great rather than horrible.
4. Free falling will feel like jumping off a tower in the swimming pool.
It doesn't. That odd feeling in your stomach when you accelerate—it's just not there when skydiving. I guess there's two reasons for that. One, that feeling comes from your stomach being pushed up. When you're skydiving, you're either level to the ground or you dive head first, so your stomach isn't pushed up. Second, when you jump out of an airplane, you already have quite a bit of initial speed (around 180 km/h). You don't feel acceleration as you might expect, although you end up at around 250 km/h in a tandem. It feels more like floating, but with strong wind in your face. It feels awesome.
5. It will feel like you're falling forever.
That's what the brochures say. For me, that didn't hold true. You fall for about 50 seconds, and that's pretty much what it felt like. Sure, they were awesome 50 seconds and time does change somehow, but it does feel like it's over too soon. The 5 minutes or so of gliding make up for that fact, though.
6. There will be a strong jolt when the parachute opens.
There was a jolt, but it wasn't as strong as I had expected it to be by far. I think it's because the chute doesn't open immediately, but takes a few seconds to unfold completely, slowing you down a little more gradually. Then you hang there, just air around you and you watch the landscape below your feet. You're actually flying! I got to steer for a while, which is surprisingly easy, but will result in G forces that make your head spin.
7. The landing might be rough.
The info sheet/waiver you sign warns you that you might break a leg or at least get a little hurt when you land (right next to where it says you might die). For me, it was completely smooth with my (experienced) partner doing all the work. You lift your legs up in front of you, and when your partner says run, you run. I got about three steps in, and then we were standing again. I watched a few solo jumpers afterwards, and some managed to land incredibly softly on their feet without additional steps.
8. You will be on an adrenaline high.
That was no misconception—I was high as a kite for a few minutes. It feels great, I was high-spirited and felt lighter, less substantial somehow. Even some time after, I could still feel it in my bones. It's an experience I would recommend to anyone.