I went skydiving!

My husband Aquinas did, too. There are no photos and no video, though, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine us skydiving. You can have a look at Nzone’s Instagram photos or their promo video; that should help. After all, one person in goggles and coveralls falling from the sky and grinning from ear to ear is much like another.

See below for my notes on why we went skydiving, what it was like, and why I’m glad I didn’t record the experience.

But… why?!

If you want me to be afraid of skydiving, you’ll have to show me statistical proof of odds worse than those of succumbing to economy-class thromboembolism. Life is full of danger… lots of things are dangerous and also not scary. That’s one of the reasons humans are bad at estimating risk. Supposedly, more people die every year from getting hit on the head with coconuts than from shark attacks, but people aren’t scared of coconut trees.

Skydiving scares people because it seems crazy. Lots of other things are just as crazy, though: the fact that commercial jet planes can transport us all over the globe through the sky in a matter of hours is a perpetual miracle, yet people are more likely to be bored than bothered by undeniably inhhospitable altitudes when they are sealed up in a comfortably pressurized metal tube eating airline food and watching, say, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Why is it hard to believe a licensed skydiving expert can land a parachute safely when we manifestly believe a licensed commercial pilot can land a jet safely? I think it’s that we’re blasé about commercial jets, which is too bad, in a way. Although I’ve always marveled at the scenery visible out the windows, now that I have exited a plane while it was still flying, I have an even keener appreciation for the fundamental strangeness of commercial aviation. Just because you’re in a chair doesn’t mean you’re not also way up in the sky.

Anyway, the point is that when people have done something expertly for a while, we start to take their mastery for granted. If we can do that with air travel, surely we can do the same for skydiving as a means of amusement. (Because rationalization!)

In a way it was a spontaneous decision to amuse ourselves by going skydiving, but the truth is that I’ve wanted to do a skydive for a while. Watching the Point Break remake—and, subsequently, the original Point Break—kicked the inclination up a couple of notches, but when anyone has asked me what superpower I’d choose, my answer has always been “flight”. I’ve always loved movies that had airborne joyrides in them, from Rescuers Down Under to Big Hero 6. I also really like roller-coasters, plus things like the Freefall ride that Six Flags Over Georgia used to have. I figured skydiving would be like a roller-coaster, only about a million times better. I was not wrong.

New Zealand is gorgeous, and going skydiving in New Zealand seemed like a better idea than skydiving in Malaysia for a variety of reasons, starting and ending with already being in New Zealand. Still, I wasn’t seriously considering it until Aquinas started collecting skydiving brochures on my behalf. I figured we would have needed to book way in advance, and I was worried about the cost. Booking at the last minute turned out to be possible, and in the end I’d say the money was well spent.

We got really lucky. The the day we booked to go skydiving, the 19th, the weather was no good (too rainy at first, then sunny but too windy). They rescheduled us for the following day, which was our last day in Queenstown, and the weather was perfect.

Skydiving with Nzone

Skydiving is a big tourist (i.e., moneymaking) activity in Queenstown, New Zealand (the adventure capital of the world, apparently). Nzone was very professional.

You don’t have to learn anything to skydive safely: they strap you to an expert who does everything for you. They call this a tandem skydive. The expert I dived with (a friendly guy named Peter, from Israel) said that even if I tried NOT to follow the few basic instructions he gave, I would still be safe.

Aquinas and I chose the highest altitude they offered, which was 15,000 feet. We figured that as long as we were paying to skydive, we might as well pay to freefall for as long as possible, and it wasn’t as if 9,000 feet would have been appreciably less daunting.

We went up with a group of nine pairs of undaunted people in a small, unpressurized jet prop plane that took off from the company’s hanger. It had teeth painted on the nose. We wore coveralls and caps and goggles—I was glad they had goggles that fit over our glasses. We held oxygen tubes near our noses like flowers after we got up high, though I doubt extra oxygen was strictly necessary; last year I took a train to the top of Pike’s Peak, which is 14,000 feet. Strange thought.

We all faced backwards in the plane in two tight rows, sitting on these foam benches on the floor near a clear roller door in the side. Peter adjusted straps on our harness while I looked out the window: the scenery was gorgeous. I couldn’t wait.

Peter and I were fourth to go out, and Team Aquinas was fifth. The beginning of the fall was chaos: I think we spun around so the sky seemed to be below me… I might have closed my eyes, but not for long!

A little mini parachute came out and the chaos ended. Peter tapped me to indicate that I could let go of the harness and wave my arms around or whatever. Then we just fell.

It wasn’t very cold, just cool and refreshing and amazingly quiet, compared to the plane: there was no sound of machinery. It was great.

About a minute later, at 5,000 or 6,000 feet (the height of the nearby mountains) Peter opened the parachute and we glided down. We pulled on the sides of the parachute to make some big sideways swings on the way to the landing field. Then Peter had me hold my legs up so he could land gently on his own feet on the grass. That was it! I laughed a lot.

And you didn’t record all this?!

The photo at the top of this post is one I took with my camera on the ground before we put our things in lockers at the hangar.

I didn’t pay for a photo package, because the jump was already not cheap, and I didn’t like the idea of being upsold. I wanted to pay for the jump, and only the jump.

After I’d turned down all the photo packages, stashed my loose belongings, and gotten into all the gear, Peter offered me one last chance: it wouldn’t cost me anything for him to strap the camera to his arm and switch it on, and I could decide after viewing the footage whether I wanted to buy a copy of it. Still, I said no.

I wanted to have the experience. That’s all.

When I saw the jumpers who’d opted for cameras, it was clear that with a camera, the dive would have become less about the experience itself, and more a kind of performance. I was really glad not to have a camera aimed at me.

After the dive, when I saw others watching their videos, I felt the same, only more so. I really didn’t want to try to relive the dive experience through a recording. For one thing, I wouldn’t have liked seeing a video of myself any more than I like hearing recordings of my voice. My voice only sounds right to me from inside my own head; surely my memories would only look right to me from behind my own eyes.

Even though, as I’ve said, in some sense one skydive is much like another, it’s also true that a skydive is a unique experience. No video can capture it: a screen, no matter how wide, is not the sky.