So, you want to jump out of a plane but you have no idea what to expect. You know a few friends who have gone skydiving before but all they can say is that it’s awesome. “It’s so awesome you just have to try it,” they say. “It’s exhilarating, exciting, a huge adrenaline rush,” they say. Yet, you continue to think to yourself, “to hell with jumping out of a perfectly good plane!”
At least that’s what I thought. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the adrenaline rush but skydiving has always been one of those things that seemed awesome but yet, I wasn’t really willing to pay money just to risk my life and get a rush.
So when Distraction asked me to cover a story on extreme sports, I knew skydiving would be on the list and of course, I wasn’t going to say no. Here, I thought, was my opportunity to do something extraordinary yet I could still convince myself that I was doing this for work. “There’s no room for fear; It’s my job to go out, experience the thrill and write the story.” So I did.
On March 16, I drove out to SkyDive Miami at 28730 SW 217 Ave. in Homestead, Fla. Out in the boondocks there’s nothing but farms, fields and open land- perfect for skydiving. As I pulled up to the small white building, I could feel my stomach start to turn. I stepped out of the car and went inside.
I was greeted by the friendliest of staff who welcomed me and sat me down to watch a five minute safety video. There’s nothing like being reminded of the danger and risks involved right before you’re about to participate. I felt the knots in my stomach tighten and once again, I reminded myself that this was my job.
After the video it was time to sign my life away. They handed me about an eight page document in which I had to read fully and carefully. I had to understand that if anything were to happen, I would not nor could not sue anyone or any business involved in this activity. Hesitating, I closed my eyes, initialed and signed.
Once my life was in their hands it was time to suit up. Because I wanted the full experience, I chose to wear a jumpsuit which made me feel professional although most people choose to wear their own clothes. While I was being suited up, I noticed an old man taking off his gear and that’s when things got interesting.
Here was this 74-year-old man, named John Keith, who has cancer and Parkinson’s disease and yet he had just jumped out of a plane. Apparently, Keith goes all the time to SkyDive Miami and it’s one of his favorite things to do. Shocked yet inspired, “this guy really puts us young people to shame,” I thought. Hell, if he can do it then so can I!
After being suited up and inspired by Keith, then came the waiting period. I waited for about twenty minutes on the group before me to return and then I’d be on my way. I began my deep breathing and positive thinking techniques and tried to relax as I waited.
During the wait, I spoke with the staff and some other people who all told me I had nothing to fear and that I was going to love it. Sure, jumping out of a plane is dangerous but the majority of the people I was surrounded by have jumped hundreds, if not thousands of times! I was reminded that my instructor was trained, qualified and experienced. I was even told that one of the instructors had just taken his 20,000 jump! I figured, “if all of these people can jump out of a plane multiple times a day then I should be just fine doing it once.”
When the 20 minutes were up and the SkyDive Miami van came back, I noticed everyone was smiling, laughing and saying how amazing it was! I watched the instructors drop off their old parachutes, grab new ones and right back out to the plane they went. I mean, these guys literally jump all the time, sometimes up to 12 times a day depending on how busy it is. My instructor introduced himself as Brett Scaglione, asked if I was ready to go and led me to the plane.
Now before I go any further, there’s something you need to know. First off, my grandparents died in a plane crash when I was 6 years old. My entire life, I’ve grown up not just scared, but petrified of planes. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I was actually able to get on a plane without having a fit. So the idea of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane just for the thrill was kind of like yeah….not so much.
So as I walked towards this small and the only non-commercial flight I’ve ever been on, I pretty much watched my life flash before my eyes. Pushing my fear aside, I took a giant deep breath, told myself I was about to live rather than die, and I stepped onto the plane.
There were about 15 of us on this tiny aircraft, all jam packed and sitting with our feet out and backs pushed up against the person behind us. If you’re claustrophobic this will probably be the most uncomfortable part for you. For me, I was just happy to be surrounded by other people. Once everyone was settled in, it was time for takeoff.
There were no fasten your seat belt signs or pretzel snacks, nor was there a bathroom on the plane. Just a bunch of people, packed together, ready to jump out! I closed my eyes as the plane took off and noticed that it felt much smoother than a commercial plane. During the ten minute plane ride my instructor fed directions into my ear. I focused on breathing slowly and deeply as we peaked up to 13,500 feet. I remember feeling very calm and relaxed and ready to go until all of a sudden the door opened!
As the door opened, my eyes widened and all of a sudden, without proper warning, the first guy jumped out! It was as though the air had just sucked him right out of the plane; it happened so fast! Then, the next guy jumped, then the next, until it was my turn. I hesitated as my instructor inched me forward, closer and closer to the door. So much for deep breathing and relaxation techniques because as soon as I saw the first person jump, reality set in and I began freaking out! As I watched them jump out of the plane before me, I thought, “what the hell am I doing right now, I don’t want to do this, oh my god!” But as I was thinking that, there was this split second where I just said, “no, you’re already up here, there’s no way down but to jump, to hell with it.” We inched to the side of the plane, I crossed my arms over my chest, closed my eyes and then…
Upside down, spinning in circles, free falling at 125 mph for an entire 60 seconds! Let me just say, that was the longest/shortest 60 seconds of my life. Long because, oh my god, you’re dropping at 125 mph from 13,500 feet. Short because it’s only a minute. Honestly, I think I went into shock because as I was falling I forgot how to breathe. I took a giant breath before jumping out and basically forgot to exhale on my way down. I didn’t freak out, because I knew as soon as the parachute released, I’d be fine but the experience took my breath away—literally.
I was told later that the proper way to breathe when free falling is to breathe more with your nose rather then your mouth. I did the opposite. In fact, I had a hard time keeping my mouth closed because when you’re dropping that fast it’s like having a lawn blower blow directly in your face.
As soon as I felt like the parachute wasn’t going to open and we were going to plummet to our deaths, I felt a yank on my harness and a decrease in speed. Luckily, the parachute opened, I was able to catch my breath and that’s when I noticed the view of Miami all around. You can see Miami Beach, the southern most tip of Florida, the Everglades, and an exquisite view of the vast Miami landscape. It really was an extraordinary view and experience. We fell for about five or six minutes at 16 feet per second. Scaglione steered the parachute as we circled down and prepared for landing.
Once we had a clear view of the landing zone I was instructed to lift my knees up towards my chest with my toes pointed up and out in front of me. As we neared the landing I felt relieved yet sad as my experience was about to be over. When landing, the instructor lands feet first and then you follow. But because of the wind, we wound up landing on our butts. It was smooth and exhilarating and as Scaglione detached my harness from his, I kissed the ground happily!
In fact, according to SkyDive Miami, the landing is the most dangerous part in regards to injury. Since opening in 1998, SkyDive Miami has only had three accidents, all ankle injuries related to landing improperly. No one has ever died, no one’s parachute has ever failed and nobody has ever had a heart attack during free fall (although I came pretty close); the worst that can happen is a sprained or broken ankle.
Once we landed and I was detached, I looked up at the sky disbelieving that I had just fallen out of it. The whole experience happens so fast but it also seems to happen in slow motion. This was definitely, by far, the craziest thing I have ever done but I’m so happy that I did it! I really conquered a life-long fear by doing what I did and I couldn’t be more proud of myself for doing so. All too often do we miss out on opportunities simply because we’re afraid of what might happen. I refuse to let fear control my life and even though I was beyond terrified of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, I did it and I’d be more than willing to do it again.
The great thing about SkyDive Miami is that after your first flight, you can buy your second flight for $129.00. You can buy the second jump on the same day which will be valid for three months. If you don’t purchase your second jump on the same day then you can still get a deal of $50 off for up to 30 days. They also have a weekday special coupon that includes either a free t-shirt or $20 off your extreme tandem purchase. Keep in mind though, they are closed on Tuesdays.
SkyDive Miami has three tandem jumps you can choose from based on how high you want to go. The basic tandem includes 20 seconds of freefall from 8,000 ft. at $199.00. The deluxe tandem includes 40 seconds of freefall from 10,500 ft. at $229.00. And the extreme tandem includes a full minute of freefall from 13,500 ft. at $249.00.
The best thing to do is to get a group of friends together in order to receive the group discount. If you bring 5-9 people, each person receives $10 off and the organizer of the group jumps for $129. If you bring more than 10 people, each person will receive $20 off and the organizer jumps for just $99! And of course you can always buy a basic DVD, 24 digital pictures and/or a web video to show everyone your experience.
Even more awesome is that SkyDive Miami is a teaching school. They love for students to come out and learn how to skydive on their own. If you’re interested in becoming a certified and licensed skydiver, they have a nine level training program designed to give students personalized training and provide them with a safety backup. You can either pay as you go or buy one of their “gravity packages.” After nine instructor assisted freefalls, you’re able to jump by yourself and are half way to receiving your United States Parachute Association (USPA) license.
Trust me, despite your fear, you will survive and you’ll be more than ecstatic that you did it! Who knows, maybe you’ll even become SkyDive Miami’s next certified jumper! But you’ll never know until you try it!
Check out the video of my sky diving experience! Don’t let the terrified expression on my face fool you. I had an extraordinary time!
SkyDive Miami is open six days a week. On week days, with the exception of Tuesday (closed), they’re open from 8 a.m. to sunset and on weekends, from 10 a.m.- sunset. Be sure to check out their website, www.skydivemiami.com for more information and call 1-800-skydive to make your reservation today!
words_ melissa mallin. photos_courtesy of skydive miami gopro. video_keith portela.