A Day in My Life Could Change Yours.
What it is to be a professional skydiver.
I love everything about skydiving. To do it for a job is the biggest privilege I can imagine. When I do it on my own it still takes my breath away. I don’t feel the fear when I look out of the door, I see the ground, I see the landing area, I am looking for things other than fear. I can still remember my first tandem jump though. I was beyond terrified; I was hardly functioning. I felt like my body wasn’t mine to control. I still did things when I was instructed to, but I didn’t have the will or drive to come up with things I should do myself. I became an automaton, a puppet doing the whim of the person pulling my strings. I make it sound awful, but it was incredible because it took me to a place my body and mind didn’t know they could go on their own. They had to be shown the way.
That’s my job and how could I have a better one? I am responsible for opening the minds of many hundreds of people. I am not a tandem instructor. They’re vessels, no, that’s not the right word, they are the meat haulers, the tuk-tuk drivers, the gondoliers. I am the guide.
From the moment my customers step into my space I am their navigator. While the tandem instructor is pulling them about, tightening this and that I am engaging with them. I am filming them, making a record while they tell me all their fears, while they say their last words to their loved ones at home. Don’t forget that there is a chance they don’t come back. It’s a small chance but it does happen, and that is what we work with every day. We minimise the risk as much as is humanly possible but there are always flaws to being human, it is our very nature.
Come with me. Let me show you what I do. Let me show you my world.
We high five and walk side by side to the plane. It is already running, the turbine engines roaring, pumping out the familiar and comforting smell of AVGAS. Familiar and comforting as that scent is to me, to you it is alien and nauseating. You feel particles of it greasing up the skin of your face, the bitter tang of it on your tongue. You climb the steps and enter the transport that will take you to the edge of your fear and beyond.
The tandem master is ready behind you, but you have forgotten about him. You don’t remember his name, you remember mine. I kneel in front of you in the cramped companionship of the aircraft and I tell you to breathe, we are going to have the time of our lives. I tell you to look for me. Don’t look down, look for me. I will be outside the plane before you, beckoning you to your destiny, I will be in front of you as you plummet towards the ground so smile at me, take my hand, trust me. No don’t look down, look right here.
The light above the door turns from red to green and suddenly there is an open space. It’s cold as the wind rushes into the metal tube. It pulls at your clothes and whips your hair into a frenzy. It claws at you, tempting you to come and play.
We’re getting out of the plane. Here I am right beside the door, hanging in the breeze. You look for me and see me. Smile for the camera, head back, and with a nod from your tandem master that you don’t see, we are out. The wind has gathered us into its bitter embrace and is cushioning us. Look for me. There I am right in front of you, waving with a big, goofy grin. We are alive and this is the best feeling you will ever have in your life. You are looking death in the face, taking the bull by the horns, all the clichés and none, because this is your experience alone. Doesn’t it feel unbelievable? Better than sex? I’m not sure on that one, I guess that would depend on your personal experiences but it’s pretty damn good.
You’re falling, falling, but not falling, flying for a whole minute of your life that seems like a second and eternity at the same time. You are travelling faster than you ever have without a protective shell around you. Your skin tingles with the rush of air and the moisture is whipped from your lips as you scream in delighted bliss. I see it all. I capture it on my camera, making moments in film that you will show your grand kids one day. They will be your Facebook profile pictures and the story of your Instagram for weeks to come, but more they will be the memento that you look at in the dark when you aren’t feeling so brave, when you need something to remind you that you are exceptional. Proof that you have stared death in face and come out of it with a smile for days. You did that, you. We have changed you, me and the tandem master behind you.
I wave goodbye and you wave vigorously back. You can’t know it was goodbye but suddenly I am falling away from you, becoming a speck below you as your parachute opens and you glide gracefully towards the ground.
I am already there, running to you as you touch down. “How was it?” I ask. You jump up and down. You twirl around. You dive on me for a hug, making sure you are still alive, and I am real. You collapse back onto the ground. Lying on you back you scream at the sky, “THAT WAS AMAZING!”
That’s them moment I know my job is the best there is, anywhere. I don’t save lives. I am not advancing the human race. I am providing the opportunity for people to feel alive, for them to face down their fears and win. I am changing people for the better and every time I do it changes me too. It gives me faith in people because I see them at their most stripped back, at their most naked and vulnerable, and they are, without exception, beautiful.