Thursday, March 17, 2011

South Island Road Trip with Louise: Skydiving!

Like I said before, Lou and I had certain things on our list of activities to accomplish during our south island road trip. Aside from bouldering at Castle Hill and swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, one of the items on the list with the highest priority was skydiving. I wanted to dive in Abel Tasman because the outline of the land has such a neat shape and I suspected you would see all the beautiful beaches in the national park, as well as the surrounding mountains and maybe even Nelson from afar (there are also rumors that on a really clear day you can see the north island!) Lou, on the other hand, had it in her mind that she wanted to do it in Taupo, on the north island (I’m sure also a beautiful place with its huge lake and stunning mountains nearby). Somehow she was able to wait to go with me (since that was the plan that didn’t work out for my birthday back in January) and we set ourselves up to do it in Abel Tasman.

Well, the weather decided otherwise and by the time we were together in Nelson it took a turn toward dark and dreary – nothing good for jumping out of a plane! We decided it wasn’t a good idea to wait around just to see if the weather happened to improve in the next couple days, and set off on our road trip instead. We decided to head towards Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers and thought it would be a good compromise to do our skydive there. We chose Franz Joseph due to the elevation of the drop and when we realized we would be seeing Mt. Cook (one of Lou’s absolute favorite places in NZ) on the way down, excitement began to grow!

Monday (the day we woke up after a rainy night in our wee car) seemed a bit drier than the previous day, but was quite overcast throughout the day. We booked our skydive for Tuesday when the weather was meant to be “fine” and paid the security deposit (on Lou’s credit card).

When we returned the next day and checked in to see if they were flying or not, we were told our dive was postponed for later in the afternoon, hoping the clouds would disperse a bit. By this point, Louise’s nerves were demonstrating some serious anxiety and she told me several times that she just wasn’t going to go through with it. I conveniently ignored these comments and we had a lazy picnic lunch before heading back to check in for real. Once settled in and filling out the paperwork, Lou announced again that she was not going to jump. I reminded her of the deposit (half of the overpriced jump) that was on her credit card and how she wouldn’t want to waste that money. I also emphasized that we had both waited so we could do it together, mainly because I thought it would be much more fun with a friend along! Further, I reminded her of the scenic flight that takes place before the actual jump, and how she would be able to see Mt. Cook again from a new perspective… she didn’t care; she wasn’t doing it. I backed off and when Lou went to look up an emergency contact phone number, I may have mentioned to the guide that I was afraid she was going to back out…

I chose my picture package (the whole shebang with a camera on my guide’s hand, and a personal photographer to take video and pictures, because I was already spending enough money it seemed worth it) and paid for the jump while keeping an eye on the door to see if Lou came back. Eventually she did, and the guide approached her, explaining how easy it was to do the jump and how we wouldn’t have to do anything – we would be strapped to a tandem guide who takes care of all of it. Further, she mentioned how Lou could just go for the scenic flight, but that she would be better off jumping out rather than landing in the rickety feeling plane! I kept my distance, not knowing if Lou needed some peer pressure or space to think it through, and was eventually relieved to see her approach the counter to pay!

Something changed in her and I was happy because I was able to get a bit more excited about the jump rather than worrying whether or not I’d be jumping solo (well, not solo, but friendless)! We piled in a van with two guides and six jumpers and were toted off to the hanger. One of the pairs of guys in the van was separated so we could go in two runs, and they had the ladies (plus one) suit up first. We looked pretty stylin’ in our jumpsuits and our personal videographers pulled us away for a final word before we headed for the plane.

A pilot, three jumpers, three tandem guides, and three photographer/videographers all piled in to a tiny plane where only half of us had a bench to sit on. We were instructed to sit in front of our respective tandem guides (Lou was on the floor with hers) and, eventually, they strapped us together.

It was a lovely flight and though there were still some low lying clouds, you could see the mountains sticking out above them and the Tasman Sea on the other side! The guides pointed out a few geographical sights (such as Franz Joseph Glacier), but all too soon it was time to put on the oxygen masks as we were approaching 15,000 ft., our chosen jump altitude!

The tandem guides started adjusting our harnesses and tightening us together, then it was time to open the door. Now, Lou was closest to it, so her opinion of the door opening was I’m sure a bit more dramatic, but it’s an alien feeling to be in an airplane, 15,000 ft. in the air, looking down out of a wide open door! Lou’s cameraman climbed out first and hung out on the wing of the plane while her guide turned, had her assume the instructed position, and then jumped. The cameraman dropped at the same time and they quickly vanished from my view!

Next up was the guy with us, and he disappeared just as quickly as Lou. Finally it was my turn and we made our way to the door. I barely had time to watch my cameraman climb out onto the wing and take in the view before we were out the door and falling! It was such a neat feeling, being nowhere near the ground and therefore not having a real sense of movement, just a whole lot of wind. I watched my cameraman “swim” through the air a bit to get closer to us during the free fall and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride!

All too soon, my tandem guide checked his altimeter and pulled the cord to open the parachute. We settled into position and had a bit more of a relaxed ride from there. He explained that he pulled the chute at a slightly different elevation than the other two, allowing 5 seconds less of a free fall, but 30 seconds longer of a parachute ride. I enjoyed the opportunity to see the unobstructed views (it gets a little uncomfortable trying to see everything from the window of a plane) and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. My guide pointed out Franz Joseph Glacier’s current terminating face, and several points where the glacier used to reach. He showed me different land formations due to the glacier movement, explained which was Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman, and pointed in the direction of Australia.

I never realized how much control you have over a parachute (I guess I always naively pictured the toy parachutes that just fall straight down or are guided by the wind). My guide showed me how to control the chute, and handed the pull cords to me! I think the best part was being able to steer the parachute to look in different directions, or just make us spiral a bit. It was great! I looked down to see the others getting closer to the ground and tried to work out which one was Lou.

At this point I realized I was a bit disappointed. The flight, the free fall, and even the gentle glide toward the ground went by way too quickly. Thinking back, there was no stomach-dropping feeling that I expected. Just as the lady had told Lou, it was easy. Too easy! I had paid all this money and all this anticipation was built up for that? There were absolutely spectacular views, and the free fall was exhilarating, but there was no real moment where I had the anxious realization of “I’m jumping out of a plane!” No stress. No fear. Sure, Lou and I had a bit of banter about “what ifs” but I felt fairly relaxed throughout the whole process. (Yes, I realize if you watch my video that I said I wasn’t nervous while touching my hair and fidgeting, but I honestly think that was as much plain excitement and about being on camera than anything!)

My guide reviewed the position I was to resume for landing and the ground soon came up to our feet. I had a rush of excitement and accomplishment, and was happy to see Lou had enjoyed herself too! As much as I think it was a bit overpriced and perhaps hyped up a little too much, I did indeed enjoy myself!

I hadn’t told my family I was going to jump (though Kimberly and I seriously thought about going while she was here over the holidays) and simply posted one of my shots as my facebook profile picture. I didn’t get as much of a reaction as I thought I might (perhaps there was no surprise that I would eventually partake in at least one of the adrenaline activities NZ is notorious for) but I did receive a text from my dad a few days later, thanking me for not telling them about skydiving until after I lived through it! I guess I know it would be frowned upon if I ever took it up as a sport…

I saved most of the pictures for last so you could enjoy the progression!

Safe and sound, back on the ground again :)
I know pictures are worth a thousand words (and I've probably written at least that), but if you want a few more, be sure to check out the video!


  1. Definitely a rush! I kinda wish I could be as cool as you and do it on a regular basis! :)


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