Sunday, April 2, 2023

My skydiving weekend adventure

When people ask me what my biggest achievement to date is, the answer is never what they expect: I went skydiving. As one who suffers from intense flight phobia, otherwise known as aviophobia, jumping off a plane at 11000 feet was the last thing people who knew me expected. However the decision to skydive was inspired by a noble effort to try and conquer my fear of flying, especially after friends of mine told me about their incredible encounters with jumping off aircrafts.

In all honesty, the decision to travel to Pretoria was a hasty one. One of those ideas that pop into your head out of nowhere but suddenly they look like the answer you have been searching for your whole life. I knew it was a crazy idea when it first sprang to my mind but I also knew I was going to go through with it because it would be a memorable way to celebrate my 24th birthday. For normal people, a trip usually takes time and careful planning but at that point in time I knew I had to do it before life got in the way and I had to deal with other challenges.

Five days later, I boarded a bus to Pretoria, mind you I had never set foot in Pretoria and I did not know anyone who stays there. The bus was delayed by a police search just before Rustenburg. They were reportedly on the look-out for drug smugglers and had to go through everybody’s bags.

After that, the trip was pleasant, save for an accident we witnessed where teachers were burnt to death in a combi after they collided head on with 4*4.The site of the accident scene only strengthened my resolve to skydive, I didn’t want to suffer a similar fate before I had done all I wanted to do in life.

I had booked for a two nights stay at a pleasant backpackers lodge owned by a very hospitable family. After a few beers (It’s not advisable to drink a day before the jump) at the small outside bar where backpackers from different ends of the world converse, I learnt that it was rare for black people, especially ladies to travel on their own and use backpackers for that matter, never mind skydive.

The airstrip was a long drive out of town so I was able to see a bit of Pretoria. The Pretoria skydiving club has a welcoming family atmosphere, the people were friendly and patient enough to answer my crazy questions.

At the door, I met a guy whose friends had dragged him to the skydiving club as a present for his bachelor party. They had also dressed him in a pink bunny costume. He assured me that it was also his first time, he had always wanted to do it but never had the guts to actually go through with it but he was glad his friends pushed him to do it.

My diving partner Rob was actually a good communicator, he assured me that all would be fine and he even introduced me to his year-old baby to prove to me that he had a lot to live for.

The most difficult stage of my dive was boarding the tiny aircraft with four other professional divers, including the cameraman. The turbulence almost made me sick from anxiety, it seemed like the aircraft was taking hours to ascend to 11 000 feet but Rob’s patience helped calm my nerves.

When we reached 11000 feet, the other jumpers just opened the door and jumped off effortlessly. At this stage I was terrified beyond comprehension. I wanted to change my mind but Rob assured me that he wasn’t going to let me give up. The rush of cold air attacked me as I positioned my feet outside the aircraft in preparation for the jump. My heart felt like it would jump out of my chest and the noise from the aircraft was deafening as my throat went dry. Rob said he would count to three and then we would jump. I didn’t hear him count to two before I felt the cold wind blowing us away like we were tiny particles. I couldn’t breathe; I thought my lungs would collapse during the freefall.

We slowed down as the parachute came up and the cameraman loomed above us. I gave him my best fake smile because I didn’t want the video to haunt me for life. At this stage I forgot that I had Rob with me, as I looked down at Pretoria I was speechless to say the least. It was the most beautiful experience, a once in a lifetime moment and I had never felt more alive. I must have said “wow” a thousand times. I felt powerful and in control. I wanted the feeling to last as we landed on the ground perfectly. I immediately wanted to go back up.


Read this week's paper