Waiving Just about Everything
After getting our names on the list, we were taken to a room and given a six-page single-spaced waiver package. The very first thing we notice is the very large, very ominous watermark.
Large font. Dark. Diagonally. Across the entire page.
Okay, then. But this isn't a roller coaster. We're jumping out of an frickin' airplane from over 13-thousand feet. Of course there’s danger. And honestly, if there wasn’t, we might stick with roller coasters. They’re cheaper.
But it got better. The lady we checked in with started this video.
If you don't want to watch the video (and I wouldn't blame you) here are the high points.
First the niceties. It's super-cool to jump, to soar, and to feel the silent beauty of flying under a open parachute. Then a man with an epic beard, the inventor of the tandem skydive system and president of “Uninsured United Parachute Technologies” (allow that to sink in…”Uninsured”), describes the myriad things that can go wrong:
The tandem harness.
He then describes in excruciating detail what the waiver contract says. I won’t repeat it all. Suffice it to say that it’s very comprehensive. Jon, my fellow jumper, wondered aloud at how much UUPT must have paid in legal fees just to have the waiver drafted. If they paid by the word, they paid a lot.
But if I were to distill it down, it essentially says that if something goes horribly wrong, nobody is responsible for anything. You agree that you won’t sue UUPT, Skydive Suffolk, the manufacturer of the plane or anybody involved in the jump, anywhere, at any time. No matter how badly they may have screwed up (legally speaking, of course). No matter what.
We signed. Of course we did.
Then we waited. It was a beautiful day. Seventy degrees. Clear as it could be. Light breeze. We had an hour or so before we got our training and took off, so we watched those who were ahead of us on the manifest. Watched them take off. Tracked the planes to the drop zone. Tried unsuccessfully to capture the moment the jumpers left the plane. Saw the bloom of the parachutes, and watched people float back to the landing zone, just a couple of hundred feet from where we sat at the picnic tables with one of the staff member’s brindle Plott Hound, Harper (who I really want to believe was named for Harper Lee).
One quick aside. Just as we arrived there, we met a man and two girls. Their fifty-two year old wife/mom was jumping for the first time. Together they watched six chutes deploy, and they started looking for their wife/mom. Debating whether she had worn blue or yellow pants that morning, and what color shirt she had on. At one point, they all agreed that she was the one with the blue canopy, only to realize that the blue canopy wasn’t a tandem jumper at all. It wasn’t wife/mom. And they kept looking.
Eventually, all six of the solo jumpers landed. The family was still looking.
Spoiler alert. Everything turned out just fine. The first six out of the plane were regulars....licensed jumpers, and had jumped at 5 thousand feet - over 8 thousand feet before the tandem jumpers went..
But it wasn’t clear that the man and his daughters understood this, and they scanned the sky for more canopies. More quietly than before. At least that’s what I recall. It’s entirely possible that I was simply projecting my own anxiety onto them, of course. But I do know they got much chattier when they saw the other chutes bloom far higher than the original six, and were able to positively confirm that the woman they loved was in one of them.
(Her pants were blue.)
Fast forward. In the plane at 13 thousand feet. The last part of the climb. Alberto, my personal life support system, had spent the better part of the flight strapping into my harness, cinching, checking, tightening, checking, loosening, checking and retightening. He repeated the instructions he give me on the ground about how to leave the plane. I was to be the second one out, and we scooted toward the open door. I sat with my feet hanging out.
And we were gone.
I don’t know that I can ever describe my feeling the moment we were free of the plane. There was cold air on my face. The air thundered by. But I was completely unafraid. I would say I felt only exhilaration, but even that’s not right. Perhaps this was the one time that I was ever fully “in the moment.” As much as I hate that phrase, I can’t think of a better one to describe what it feels like to stop projecting even one milli-second into the future. Simply to be exactly where, and exactly when you are. The closest thing I remember was experiencing a runner's high for the first (and only) time in Ewa Beach, Hawaii in 1997. I can only hope my memory of the jump remain as vivid as that one, over twenty years later.
When Alberto tapped my shoulder to let me know that was free to extend my arms, it took a moment to break the spell. I spread my arms, but immediately went back to the same timeless place I had been before he gave me that signal.
If you search on line, you’ll find a video that describes the 50-60 seconds of your first free fall as "the fastest minute of your life." That’s not how I would describe it. It wasn't fast. Nor was it slow. Time simply ceased to matter while falling from 13,700 to 5,000 feet.
The next thing to jolt me (literally this time) was the feeling of the canopy opening, and it (again) taking a second to realize that’s what had happened.
The rest of the flight was equally exhilarating, but in a completely different way. I began to notice the beautiful Suffolk country. I began searching for the landing zone. I could have done without Alberto making adjustments to the harness when we were thousands of feet in the air, but that was a pretty minor thing against the overall experience. I began waiving to attract Marcia’s, Abi’s, John’s and Ashley’s attention.
Hoping they remembered I’d worn gray pants.
And we landed
Many people have asked if I would do it again.
I would do it over and over and over and over.
Perhaps at some point I'll try to get oriented as soon as I leave the plane. Maybe I’ll keep an eye on the altitude, or even think about pulling the ripcord. Make more of an effort to find the landing zone. But this time, I was content to trust Alberto. To believe he wanted to land safely just as much as I did.
For the first jump, I wouldn’t do it any other way.
See You Next Time? See You Never?
Finally, we’re only halfway to making good on the promise we made to ourselves. This is a TWO Flounders activity. Not a ONE Flounder.
Not only is Abi determined to do this in the next few months, she seems to be actively recruiting folks to join her.