We stood outside our hotel in awkward silence. I looked around at the group and felt a mix of tension and excitement. Today was the big day: the day of our skydive with Empuria Brava. It had been the main topic of conversation for many weeks prior to the #InCostaBrava blog trip. In my great enthusiasm to try something new, I signed up for skydiving in Costa Brava without thinking twice. As I stood there, I wondered why I would risk my life by jumping out of a plane, hurtling myself down to Earth at 200 km/h, especially since I’m afraid of heights! I guess I was curious about what it would feel like to jump out of a plane. Hey, what did curiosity do to the cat? 😉
“No, don’t think about death. You will be strapped on tight to a professional instructor and the parachute WILL open!”, I quietly told myself.
I continued with more words of encouragement. “You will enjoy it! It’ll be an experience of a lifetime! Now pull yourself together and breathe!”.
And that’s exactly what I did. I concentrated on my breathing. The excitement in the group grew steadily as we approached the airfield. We sang songs to help calm our nerves. “Jump!” by Van Halen and “Danger Zone” from the Top Gun soundtrack were two songs that stuck. We tweeted feverishly as the bus approached the Skydive Empuria Brava centre alongside the airfield. One of my Twitter pals offered some words of comfort:
Gee, thanks Alastair! 😉
The bus came to a halt. I looked around and saw nervous smiles around me. As soon as I walked to the reception desk, a form was shoved under my nose, accompanied by stern instructions to read it carefully and sign it. Oh dear…. the dreaded Disclaimer. I wondered out loud if my all-encompassing, worldwide Travel Insurance covered skydives! My hands trembled slightly as I signed the form but I signed it with conviction.
We were taught the two positions required for the skydive: hands crossed over our chest with our legs curled into an ‘L’-shape, and stretching our arms out wide upon a sign from the instructor. My instructor Toni then helped me into a harness and pulled strongly on the straps. I yelped like a kid and thought, “Hey, there was nothing in the form that mentioned a vasectomy!!”. The straps weren’t loosened for my comfort. I had to bear with it.
Toni and I walked to the plane in silence. I vaguely heard some cheering and shouts of “Go Keith!” but I was slipping into another world, a serene world and though I walked steadily, I didn’t feel like I was controlling my own movements. Something else was taking over and everything felt easy and carefree. Adrenaline pumped through my veins and I entered ‘The Zone’, that mysterious place which can make anyone feel superhuman.
My skydive with Empuria Brava
I scrambled into the Twin Otter aircraft like I’d done this before and we were in the air within minutes. We were squashed up tight on a wooden bench – six professional divers from Belgium who were to jump before me and three others from the #InCostaBrava group. We stole nervous glances at each other and smiled sheepishly. The plane spiralled upwards to the required altitude. I looked out of the window several times and breathed steadily. I felt very calm until someone suddenly opened the door. The cabin was instantly filled with a blast of cold air. The Belgians gathered in a formation at the door and in a flash, they were gone! My heartbeat went into a higher gear. The door was closed and the plane continued its ascent to 4,000m or 13,000 feet. I looked at the empty space that separated me from the door. That meant only one thing – I was up next. I looked at Toni and he gave me a thumbs up. His serious expression reassured me.
A few minutes later, Toni leaned over, helped me with my goggles and unbuckled my seat-belt. He instructed me to sit in his lap and he fastened the straps. We both pulled on the cords until he was certain I was tightly bound to him. I crossed my arms over my chest and waited. The cameraman opened the door and I felt the sensation of the cold blast once again.
We stood up and I grabbed the bar above the door. Toni slapped my wrists, motioning me to let go. That was my first moment of fear and I snapped out of ‘The Zone’ in an instant. There I was standing at the doorway, wind billowing in my face and he’s asking me to let go??!! I felt my body go limp. “Lift your feet and bend your knees”, he yelled. As soon as I did that, my head swung out the door. I closed my eyes…
I opened my eyes a few moments later and caught a glimpse of the plane’s wing and the patchwork of fields far below. My brain didn’t have time to process those incredulous images. A split second later, we were out of the plane.
We fell and fell and I screamed. “Woohooooooooo!”. “Yeaaaaaahhhhhh!”.
I used to have nightmares involving an endless fall into an abyss. This was exactly what it felt like. The adrenaline rushed through my body in waves and I felt numb. Toni tapped me on the shoulder, the sign that I could stretch out my arms. I held my arms up and spotted the cameraman not too far away. He gave me the thumbs-up and signalled that I should smile for the camera. “Errrr…. I would if the wind would let me have my way!”. I did my best to smile and yelled all sorts of profanities.
The free fall was a wild experience accompanied by a jumble of emotions. I thought about those nightmares I used to have. I never thought I would ever experience it in real life! After a while, my throat dried up and I stopped screaming. I listened instead and looked at the earth below. The sound of the air blasting past was incredible and I caught glimpses of the sun reflecting off the calm surface of the Mediterranean Sea. My mind was reeling, trying desperately to keep up with the emotions and sensations I was feeling. Countless different thoughts zipped through my brain at lightning speed. At a certain point, I cupped my hands – I’m not sure if it was a futile attempt to slow my fall (what was I thinking?!). Meanwhile, we just kept falling for what seemed like an eternity. In actual fact, the free fall lasted about a minute.
Gliding down to Earth
Toni tapped me on the shoulder again, a sign that I had to return to my crossed-arms position. A few seconds later, we were tugged upwards as the parachute opened. The free fall phase of the skydive came to an abrupt end. A wave of relief washed over me but that didn’t last long. I looked down at the coast below me and realised I was afraid of heights: my second moment of fear! Panic-stricken, I thought I would faint in mid-air! I forced myself to look into the distance instead of below.
We floated silently and Toni explained how he steered the parachute. He handed me the cords and asked me to steer. “Where are we going?”, I asked. “Anywhere you want”, he replied. I tugged gently on the left cord and we turned gracefully to the left. I followed up with a turn to the right and felt very pleased with myself. Toni had other ideas. He grabbed my right arm and pulled it down violently, sending us into a steep 360-degree spin. He did it again, this time to the left. It felt like a roller-coaster ride in mid-air. I felt the contents of my stomach lurch towards my throat. “STOP! Please stop doing that! NOW!”, I yelled. I heard him snicker behind me. “Are you ok?”, he asked, with another muffled laugh. “No!”. That was that then. No more sudden 360-degree spins. Yay! 🙂
We glided down to earth and made a few turns before the final approach to the airfield. I saw my friends waving at me as we descended and I gave them the thumbs up and a huge smile. The landing was effortless and smooth. I was so happy to be back on the ground. The emotions I felt during the free fall finally caught up with me and I shed a few tears.
I walked towards my friends and we hugged tightly. A TVE camera crew paved its way through and a camera was thrust in my face. “How was it?”, the reporter asked. I was quite speechless but managed a “FANTASTIC!”. “Would you do it again?”, she asked. I thought about it for a second. “No, not any time soon”, I replied timidly. Behind the camera crew, I noticed a friend of mine pointing to his cheek and wiping it with the back of his palm. Oh no! I touched my cheek and felt a mix of goo and saliva. Gee, what a way to be on Spanish national television for the very first time! Brilliant! 🙂
I always say: you should try everything at least once. I did it! I jumped out of a plane; a priceless experience for sure. I bet I won’t be having those nightmares again because I now know what a free fall really feels like and how it ends: a soft thud on a grassy field. A big thank you to the Costa Brava Tourism Board and Tourism Spain for making this experience possible. If it weren’t for you, I would surely have missed this experience of a lifetime!