- Student Life
By Yngve Olaussen. November 11, 2015 - 2:07 pm
It was a beautiful, sunny day at the Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore. The forest-covered mountains of Oahu were swallowed in thick, semi-dark clouds, but the sky above the airfield was clearer. It was windy, but still, nothing about the weather seemed to be in the way of skydiving.
I had travelled across the island with the intention of jumping out of an airplane. I had decided to let some random guy with a backpack strap me onto him in a weirdly intimate way. Then, I would fly with him and a bunch of other likeminded people to a height of 12,000 feet in a scrawny plane, and then let him push us out.
“Oh, he hasn’t done this before. He doesn’t know how absurd that is,” you might say, but you would be wrong. Because this was my second time.
I almost felt experienced amongst the nervous first-timers, having jumped in Norway three years earlier. I’m not going to succumb to the same nerves as these guys, I arrogantly thought. I knew the drill. I knew that the worst part is the wait, not the dive.
In Norway, they had me waiting in gut-wrenching agony for five hours, only to cancel the last jump of the day due to heavy rainfall. I had to come back a few days later and be tormented for another four hours. Nine hours of psychological torture.
However, today was not going to be one of those days. I was going to lean back and watch as my buddies tried to keep their cool with mixed results. One of them never seemed to break a sweat. I kept asking him about his nerves, hoping for a hint of weakness, but he gave nothing away. Others, however, were more blunt.
“I’m scared shitless, man!” This openhearted guy’s name is Lasse Adrian Jahren, a fellow Norwegian whom I had talked into jumping with me just a couple days before. Encouragingly spontaneous then, nervous with wandering eyes on jump day. It felt familiar.
The group before us had now been waiting for nearly an hour, fully dressed, and the instructors kept looking at the sky with troubled looks. Why? There were no dark, threatening clouds promising rain.
What I didn’t know was that the rules are stricter in Hawaii.
“Even the thinnest layer of clouds can prevent us from jumping,” one of the instructors said to us, not easing our minds. Was history going to repeat itself on me? We decided to utilize the waiting time on the sunny grass behind Skydive Hawaii’s building, hoping for a clearer sky.
“Has anyone here jumped before?” It was my instructor Alex “Potter” Frey, an average-built guy with a thick, hipster beard. He was calm and relaxed, as one would expect after 10 years of skydiving. Just another day of jumping out of airplanes. The clouds had dispersed, and we were given the green light. I raised my hand.
“Great. You’ll jump last.”
From there on out, everything went rather smoothly. Our instructors strapped on our security gear and gave us a quick but thorough guide on the jump. Before we knew it, we were sitting inside the plane, ready for take-off. No time for second thoughts.
“I wouldn’t have flown across the Atlantic in this one,” one of the Norwegians said wittily, without evoking more than a subtle chuckle.
No arguments here. Not that the plane looked like it was falling apart, but a single propeller-driven plane stuffed with 15 people provides close to zero comfort. However, we were going to jump out of it anyway, and for that purpose, it was perfect.
As the plane gained altitude, the majestic scenery gradually revealed itself. The vast, blue Pacific on one side, insignificant Oahu on the other. The airstrip felt endless when we taxied to the end of the runway before take-off, but on the cusp of Oahu, it looked tiny in comparison to the immense Pacific.
“You see down there?” he said while pointing at a tip of the island with small gravel roads leading up to it.
“That’s Kaena Point, the westernmost point of Oahu,” he said. You could tell that he was an experienced tandem instructor. He knew how to distract nervous jumpers.
After spiraling upward for 15 minutes, it was go-time. The instructors up front opened the hatch as I strapped on my goggles. Then, somewhere in my head, a switch flipped. I started thinking about how absurd the situation was. A feeling I thought I was prepared for.
We discussed this moment in the van, and we discussed it whilst waiting anxiously for our turn. Yet, the absurdity of the moment doesn’t fully dawn on you until you’re standing/sitting on the edge of the abyss, ready to immerse yourself in the sky.
I can’t remember if I was sitting or standing. All I can remember is thinking, oh, shit. Potter tapped me on the shoulder, and then we dropped.
The first seconds are probably the most exhilarating and memorable seconds a person will ever experience. The tingling feeling in your stomach as you surrender to gravity. The sensation of limbo as you spin around, unaware of which way you are facing. You’re screaming, you’re completely quiet – who knows? All you’ll remember afterwards is that you were free-falling.
Potter signaled to me that I could let my arms out, and suddenly I wasn’t falling anymore; I was flying. For 35 seconds, I was soaring like a bird, feeling the wind tear my face apart in a fantastically comfortable way. You lose the sensation of falling, simply because you have zero reference points telling you that you are. Instead, you are flying.
We spun around a few times, or the world did. Either way, it was an absolutely spectacular feeling. For centuries, humans have looked to the sky, trying to take control of it somehow. This is how you do it.
As the parachute started fighting gravity, the straps tightened painfully around my thighs. A small letdown in an otherwise perfect jump. I thanked myself for having placed certain valuables outside the squeezing zone prior to the jump, raised my knees to a slightly more comfortable position, and enjoyed the view.
To me, this experience is what life is. The adrenaline. The excitement. The restless feeling of anxiety before the jump. The inability to put an experience into words when someone asks you. On my deathbed, I don’t want to think, “Well, at least I played it safe and took no risks.”
Would I put my life in the hands of a stranger for a third time, only to relive those 40 seconds of free-fall adrenaline?
Photos courtesy of Skydive Hawaii.