By Kyle Tucker
I remember when I was 8 years old and the world could still scare me. Watching the sadistic killer clown of Stephen King’s IT was traumatizing when I was in the 3rd grade. At Six Flags there were some rides I simply refused to go on ~ The Cyclone, for example. Alas, those days are gone…or so I thought. The Superman coaster is boring and Gothika merely made me check behind the shower curtain for a week or so. So when my brother came to visit and suggested that we go skydiving, I suddenly realized that there ARE still things that can make me go weak in the knees (aka scare the living daylights out of me). I kind of shrugged off his suggestion, saying that maybe I’d go if I could afford it. Well, he told me that I would be going and that he would pay if need be. Confronted with the idea of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane into thin air, I felt like that traumatized 3rd grader all over again.
Turns out that all my apprehension was for naught. Over 1100 people in the U.S. will die this year from bee stings, over 800 from bicycling accidents, and about 80 will die from getting struck by lightning. Last year, 21 people died in skydiving accidents ~ out of over 3,000,000 jumps performed. And while fewer people skydive than ride bicycles, a more apt comparison is that you literally have a greater chance of dying while driving your car to the airport than you do skydiving once you’re there. So join me in slaying the boogie monster underneath the bed and free yourself to explore life at 13,000 ft.
You’re up in the plane, high about the ground. You shuffle up to open door. You can see the plaid expanse of civilization below. Little lakes and rivers run like pencil strokes on a giant canvas. You’ve been climbing in altitude for about 20 minutes, during which time your innate yet irrational fears have had time to fester. You long for solid ground as this little plane seems so precarious. But you know the quickest way back to real life ~ and terra firma ~ is jumping out this door in front of you. The instructor is tightly strapped on to your back. He’s about to give the signal to push gracefully into the open air. Then he says, GO!” and you cross your arms as rehearsed and fall forward out of the plane, screaming like bloody death for the first few seconds.
You’re accelerating through the air when a strange and unpredictable thing happens. You realize that skydiving isn’t scary. The speed is intense but you are no longer falling so much as you’re coasting through the air on a sort of hyper cruise control. The ground below looks light years away and you feel like you have all the time in the world to enjoy the open air, the soaring vistas, and the feeling of absolute liberation. You even forget that Walt, your seasoned instructor, is strapped to your back.
After almost a minute of straight-out freefall, Walt pulls the chute. Your velocity is suddenly stunted ~ but then the ride becomes even more enjoyable. Using handles on each side of the parachute you can easily steer within 25 meters of your ground target ~ and you can also do some cool spins and flips in the air (just ask Walt, he’ll tell you all about it).
Beginner skydivers need no prior knowledge or experience. As is the norm in the skydiving industry, beginners always jump their first few times “in tandem”’ with an experienced instructor. And by tandem I don’t simply mean that you jump at the same time as your instructor; you are literally attached to and strapped onto them for the entire duration. They help nudge you out of the plane and they pull the chute. They will give you the option of steering the parachute, but they’ll also happily control things if you choose to be passive ~ or if for some reason you have second thoughts half-way down.
I booked ahead on a middleman website that claimed to offer the lowest prices. When I arrived at Fun Skydiving in Danielson, CT, they informed me that the middleman was unnecessary, so my advice is to book directly with the venue you find most convenient. You can expect to pay about $200, but make sure to check for group, student, and veteran discounts. These 5 skydiving venues are within an hour’s drive of Worcester, so take the word of someone who started out more than a bit nervous and wound up totally enthralled with the whole experience ~ strap on an instructor and JUMP!