Saturday, October 13, 2007

Missing the Ground! - My First Sky Dive

Days before even reaching Canada, I knew I had this opportunity of experiencing a sky dive and was very excited about it. Myself and few other friends booked for our dive day. We rented a couple of cars to drive down to Gananoque, Ontario, the place where Skydivegan was. For some reason, to my own surprise, I started to develop cold feet as soon as we started driving that day morning. It was a bit cold that day and I could not stop myself secretly praying the day to grow colder and hoping for the dive to be canceled. :) The drive of around 150 kilometers, mostly on the 401 took us around one and half hour.

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The drive did calm me a bit, but I managed to throw off most of my fear when I reached the hangar of Skydivegan. It was not very crowded that day. The hangar was a small structure, right at the middle of vast green fields. We met Tom McCarthy, the owner of Skydivegan. An old man, he has jumped more than 11000 times! As he chatted with us, he mentioned how he started this with old army equipments and about his and his staff's passion for this sport.

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We had to wait for some time as there were a group of jumpers doing a group jump before us. I was assigned to my tandem instructor Frank (Francois Hamel) and "Fuzzy" Dave who was to jump along with us and take our video. Dave showed us his equipment: a helmet mounted camera and mouth operated switches. Both Frank and Fuzzy, particularly Fuzzy was very funny and entertaining and kept us in high spirits. While waiting we watched other divers landing in front of the hanger on the small patch of sand, trying hard to notice the details and their styles, as if we would master the sport just by watching it. It reminded me of Abhimanyu learning war games while in the womb. :)

When our turn came closer we were led to the dressing room to wear the suit. The suit is a tight fitting single piece stuff designed to keep you a bit warm and prevent loose clothes from flapping around and stuff from your pockets flying around when you jump. We also saw the instructors stretching out and then packing their parachutes carefully in the room.

Our suits were checked by our instructors. We were explained how the whole thing will happen and what to do when. Fuzzy Dave's philosophy appealed a lot - forget everything, just smile and enjoy! The plane was a small one and could hold 5 people apart from the pilot. We were supposed to jump from 10000 ft. There were further joking and tricks while we climbed up, and finally the moment came. Frank and me were tied up and he edged me closer to the door.

Boy! It is some experience! Standing at the open door of an aircraft flying at 10000 ft! While one part of the brain was panicking, the other part was trying to tell itself that everything's fine and enjoy! Pushing myself out, leaving the safety of the plane is so difficult! Once I was out, the first few seconds were utter confusion. As things flew before my eyes, I didn't know which was the sky and which the earth, which was up and which is down. Wind rushed past me, rushing inside my nose and mouth, making it difficult to breathe. The experience was strange, difficult to put into words.

Once the small pilot chute opened, we stopped tumbling around and a bit of semblance returned. Now we were horizontal and could see the earth below and Fuzzy Dave filming us. I waved at him. The feeling was strange, different, wonderful. Fuzzy and Frank moved closer so that we could touch hands. In just few seconds we had dropped to 7000 ft and the main parachute had to be opened. Frank tapped on my shoulder and pulled the cord while I took my hands closer to my body and held on to the straps.

We pulled back suddenly and floated around in the sky. I could see and think more clearly now. The view was beautiful. I could see the tiny form of the hangar below. Frank taught me a few maneuvers with the parachute and let me do them on my own - moving towards the left and right. It was time to land...

As Frank manipulated us towards the circular patch of sand, he explained me what to do as we land so that we land well and don't fall down. We approached the land at still very high speed and suddenly slowed down as our legs touched the sand and we stopped standing up. It was a perfect landing!

It was good, but utterly disappointing. I felt that the time just flew, I didn't have enough time to experience it to my fill. To anyone who is trying this, I would recommend at least two dives. The first one is just the preliminary experience. Use it to just know what is going to happen when. It is the second attempt when you can actually enjoy. I would have done it if I had stayed a bit longer in Canada.

I cannot help including this here. I kept on thinking about this during the whole experience as well. Here's what Douglas Adams says about flying in 'The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy'.

There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.
The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
Pick a nice day, it suggests, and try it.

The first part is easy.
All it requires is simply the ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and willingness not to mind that it's going to hurt. That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard. Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties. One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

It is notoriously difficult to prise your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people's failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.

If, however, you are lucky enough to have your attention momentarily distracted at the crucial moment by, say, a gorgeous pair of legs (tentacles, pseudopodia, according to phyllum and/or personal inclination) or a bomb going off in your vicinity, or by suddenly spotting an extremely rare species of beetle crawling along a nearby twig, then in your astonishment you will miss the ground completely and remain bobbing just a few inches above it in what might seem to be a slightly foolish manner.

This is a moment for superb and delicate concentration.
Bob and float, float and bob. Ignore all considerations of your own weight and simply let yourself waft higher. Do not listen to what anybody says to you at this point because they are unlikely to say anything helpful. They are most likely to say something along the lines of, 'Good God, you can't possibly be flying!' It is vitally important not to believe them or they will suddenly be right.

Waft higher and higher. Try a few swoops, gentle ones at first, then drift above the treetops breathing regularly.


When you have done this a few times you will find the moment of distraction rapidly becomes easier and easier to achieve. You will then learn all sorts of things about how to control your flight, your speed, your manoeuvrability, and the trick usually lies in not thinking too hard about whatever you want to do, but just allowing it to happen as if it was going to anyway.
You will also learn about how to land properly, which is something you will almost certainly cock up, and cock up badly, on your first attempt.

There are private flying clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moments. Few genuine hitch-hikers will be able to afford to join these clubs, but some may be able to get temporary employment at them.

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