How it happened:
I was working a lifeguard shift at the beach, helping Japanese people get into their two person kayaks, and trying to explain to them that the correct way to sit in a two person kayak is not facing each other, when my buddy Paul walked by me with his girlfriend Mary.
They had an hour off and were going to take one of the sailboats out (which I still can't do, as I need more experience before they let me out. eh.) I waved to them and went back to trying to help pull the Japanese couple's boat in closer to shore before they got out to try to correct their seating position (people like to try to get in and out of the kayaks in as deep water as possible, because, well, IT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL. tourists.).
A note: at least the Japanese are polite about being stupid when they're on vacation. Americans and Russians like to pretend it's everyone else that's stupid when they're on vacation.
anyways, Paul and Mary took the boat out, and were sailing out of the beach area, when the beach center's (up the beach from where I was) microphone crackled into life and I heard my buddy Eric shout into the loudspeaker.
"scrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeech! Hey. HEY! Raise your hands if you're going skydiving!"
I looked around. The Japanese woman was wriggling like a drowning otter over the side of the kayak (it's hard to get into a kayak in deepish water) and her husband was trying to help her but really just falling out of the boat too, but neither of them was raising their hand. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. As they couldn't speak English, they wouldn't have known to raise their hands even if they were indeed going skydiving. But there was no one else at the beach....my eyes finally lit on the departing sailboat. Paul and Mary both had their arms raised as the boat disappeared from sight.
They were going skydiving.
I wanted to go skydiving.
I had missed my chance in San Diego, despite the fact that I was secretly really, really relieved that mom stopped me that time, as I was terrified of going. Still, it got me thinking.
Later that day, I was walking down a hallway at my job, heading for a shift working at the tennis center, when my buddy Eric came quickly around a corner. (That's mostly Eric in the photos).
"Hey Eric," I said.
"Hey Rob," he said. "Wanna go skydiving?"
I stopped dead in the hallway. Yes, I wanted to go. Yes, I was still scared of going.
"Ummmmm," I said. "You're going?"
It turned out that Paul was taking Mary for a late Christmas present, and Eric wanted to go, too. However, they could only take pairs of people, so if Eric wanted to go, then someone else had to. They were going to jump from 14,000 feet, which is a 50 second free fall, then 6-8 minutes descending with the parachute up.
"I'll think about it," I said.
I spent all of my time at the Tennis center (minus time handing out mini-golf clubs, tennis rackets and roller blades, and spraying used tennis shoes with deodorizer) thinking about this situation.
A SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT SHOE DEODORIZER:
This is the most amazing thing that has ever been invented. Typically, in the past, when I've seen it being used, my reaction has been one of vague disgust.
"Eeew," I'd think. "Who knows how many pairs of sweaty fat feet have been stuffed into those bowling shoes."
However, you should see this stuff work. It kills 99.9 percent of bacteria. It sprays in a satisfying, clean jet of odor-slaying vengeance. And it smells really good! (Especially the 'springtime fresh' variety! now on sale!) Here I'm thinking, if I owned a bottle of this, no shoes of mine, even my running shoes, would ever smell again!
There would be no need to take my several year old red Nikes that had some sort of syndrome where they would smell like bad Jesus every time I took them off after padding around the cobble stoned streets of Bologna, to the point that I'd put them in my top cabinet of my dresser and close the door every day as to avoid looks of horror from my girlfriend if she was unhappy enough to pass within several feet of them!
I mean, I've got this friend who that happened to, and he, well, he wishes, I mean told me that he wishes, that he just had some 'springtimefresh' shoe deodorizer spray then he could have just sprayed some of that right in there just like I was spraying some into a pair of size thirteen Rollerblades a few weeks ago and wondered,
"Am I going to go skydiving?"
And I realized that the answer was definitely yes. I mean, I knew if I could just chuck myself out of that plane, I'd have the time of my life. I needed someone else to chuck me out of the plane. But I needed to go.
I had pool life guarding next (we rotate on hour shifts) and I plopped into the chair, the "look-how-high-up-I-am-you-swimming-bitches-and-I've-got-this-red-tube-and-whistle-with-me-that-I'm-not-scared-to-blow-I-am-your-lifeguard-sunglass-clad-and-whistle twirling" feeling already settling over me. I felt someone climbing the chair next to me, and looked down
(coolly, I thought. It's important to look as cool as possible when you're on a lifeguard chair, unless you need to play air guitar if the Darkness comes on the pool stereo.)
and saw Mary pop into view.
"Hey," she said. "I think you need to give some serious thought into going skydiving because it's going to be a really good time and..."
"Ok," I said.
"Eric needs someone else, and we're going to be able to see three islands from up there, and..."
"Sure, I'm down."
"And we'll grab some beers and burgers afterward, and...what?"
"Let's do it."
She laughed. That had been easy.
She climbed down and started the two week waiting period, where I did my best to not think about it, which was impossible late at night, when I'd imagine the tingle in my feet as the solid surface of the plane would disappear beneath my feet to be replaced with 50 seconds of flying. Every time I'd see Eric, his wild hair (recently cut) flying as we'd pass each other on our way to various shifts, He'd yell "SKYDIVING BUDDY!" And I'd wet myself.
...I mean, I have this friend who'd be around, and he'd wet himself. He was really glad that he was wearing diapers, that he purchased because I was so scared, I mean he was so scared, that I was going skydiving.
anyways, moving on and anyways I woke up at ten on the day we went, ate breakfast alone, and found Eric, Paul and Mary pounding up the stairs to find me.
A NOTE ON ERIC, PAUL AND MARY:
I wish that Eric's name was Peter. Then I would have gone skydiving with Peter, Paul and Mary. (We would have been 'blowin in the wind! Haw!)
Anyways, they found me and we piled into Mary's SUV and we went and ran crazily into the Skydiving store, half expecting the staff to jump up and run crazily around the store with us, being so excited that we were jumping out of a plane my god a plane! But the two Japanese girls manning the counter just smiled and had us sit and sign countless pages of forms that say:
skydiving is a dangerous sport and we won't sue and don't worry this place is insured for 250,000 in death insurance and yada yada yada PLEASE DON'T READ ME IF YOU WANT TO RETAIN THE GUMPTION TO GET INTO THAT PLANE JUST SIGN ME AND TRY NOT TO SWEAT ON THE COUNTER WE JUST HAD IT CLEANED.
So I did and I didn't (sign it and sweat) and they tried to get us to buy the DVD of us jumping for only 250,000 dollars no wait, not 250,000 dollars that was another number that was drifting ominously through my mind at the time for some reason, the DVD was 150 dollars, which was outrageous but heck this place needed to rip off tourists didn't they so we didn't get it but Eric and I did get into jumpsuits.
A NOTE ON JUMPSUITS:
Thaaaaaaaaaat's why jumpsuits are called jumpsuits! ooooooooooooh!
And I was to be strapped to a large Russian man named Sergei, and Eric was to be strapped to an Australian man named something really Australian, and they had hats to wear if you wanted to wear a hat while you were jumping and I found a Winnie the poo hat and instead of feeling silly with this choice i felt comforted and Paul took pictures of the "DANGER" signs on the parachutes and we posed and tried not to look nervous but failed and then we walked out into the hot saipan sun and were taught the correct way to hold our arms while we left the plane at 32 feet per second squared (isn't that right?).
We met the equally Australian Pilot with an equally Australian name, tucked into the back of the plane, and took off, Eric and I giving each other crazed looks as the wheels left the ground.
The ride up was oddly calm. The whole situation just felt so surreal that I couldn't get effectively scared, although I had been sure that I was going to lose my dome at this point. We reached a thousand feet and I felt like we were as high as we could possibly go. At two thousand feet everything was already like pin-sized. Somewhere around eight thousand feet we could see the whole island, deep blue water becoming clear and turquoise (this island being the reason the world turquoise was invented, I realized) as it approached the shore.
We passed up through the poofy white clouds at this point. I realized, in a detached way, that my dream of just leaping from a passenger jet as I passed over a Field of clouds and trying to walk on them would finally come to be. Around ten thousand feet the pilot let Eric (who was sitting in the front of the tiny, maybe a dozen feet long, plane) fly for a bit, and a sudden turn made my stomach start to panic for the first time, but then the piliot re-took the controls and my calm returned. The concept of me bailing from this plane was so surreal that there was no way I could deal with it, in a scared way or otherwise.
Eric wanted to go first. We were both wearing altitude watches. Our guides were filming us with cameras and cracking jokes, trying to get inside our heads in exremely beefy russian/ausrailan ways. They told us that this was only their 10th jump or so (it was their 10,000ish and 14,000ish jump, respectively). They told us there was a chance of a water landing. My guide told me that as I was the one wearing an altitude watch, that I would have to yell "HELP MEEEEE" when we hit 5,000 feet, and then, only then, would he pull the parachute cord. He then told me that we were at 14,000 feet, because we were.
They clipped themselves onto our backs. Eric shot my poo-bear hat a look and asked if it was sort of comforting to have the hat. I told him it was. He told me he was jealous. (after laughing at me the whole way up). The Ausrailian guy strapped to eric swung the door upwards and the wind howled in. Eric walked out onto the beam sticking out from the side of the plane, and looked down. The wind made his cheeks shake comically.
And he looked down, and it was his next action that made the whole wieght of what we were doing come violently crashing down on my head. He took a really deep breath. A really, really, deep one.
At this point I had gone from calm to insane. I found myself stumbling in a crawl to the open door. Saw a postcard of Saipan lying clear and blue below me. Felt my cheeks flap comically. Stood on the tiny metal beam while Sergei yelled macho stuff in my ear that I never heard due to the wild blindness that my mind was wrestling with. I leaned forward, and jumped.
The first five seconds after you leave the plane from 14,000 feet is both the best five seconds ever and also impossible to really describe. After 5 or so seconds, you hit terminal velocity (meaning you can't go any faster) and the remaining 45 seconds of free fall doesn't really feel like falling. It feels more like floating in space, with the ground below you slowly rushing up to meet you. During that last 45 seconds, I swam breaststroke, I spun a 360, I flapped my arms, and I screamed a lot.
But those first five seconds.
The solid beam of the airplane leaves your feet, and everything goes NUTS. I was falling headfirst, faster than I ever thought anything could go. I was briefly aware of the magnitude of 14,000 feet. My feet tingled, and I wish I could describe my stomach plunging up into my chest, but I really can't remember specifics like that. It was just AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEwhoa. Cool.
So if you remember, my Russian guy had told me that he wouldn't pull the parachute unless I yelled "Help Meeee" at 5,000 feet. However, as we approached that altitude, I was too busy freaking out and trying to swim through the air to notice.My friend Paul said that they caught sight of eric first. His parachute had opened, and he was floating slowly down. They looked around for me, and when they saw me, I was still in freefall and Paul said dropping at an unbelieveable speed. The Russian guy eventually gave up on his joke and just pulled it, and I spent the next 40 seconds floating down, which seemed really slow until we hit the ground at an actually pretty high speed. Eric and I slow motion ran at each other, and babbled about how scary it was leaving the plane, much to the dismay of Paul and Mary, who were jumping next.