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Taking the plunge with EP Skydiving


Activate Online’s Content Editor, Nina McFall shares her first time skydiving with Grahamstown’s own EP Skydiving. Video included. By Nina McFall and David Peek

I thought I had no preconceptions of what a skydiver should look like, but I was surprised when they looked more like men who could be selling you a car than people who flung themselves out of planes as a day job. They wore wedding rings instead of stubble and tattoos.

I was lucky enough to win a35-second tandem free fall from 10 000ft (3km)with EP Skydivers in a Grahamstown Now competition earlier this year. So, I resigned myself to an inevitable death and went to cash in my prize. Falling was the easy part. Waiting was the worst.

After putting on my flying suit(for warmth, it was 3 degrees at 10 000 ft) and attachment harness, James – my enthusiastic cameraman – held the GoPro in front of my obviously-nervous face and asked me how I was feeling. Silly question.I could tell the skydivers were experienced professionals from the way they tried to psych me out by joking about faulty equipment and defective parachutes.
The instructor to be wary of is not the one dramatically checking your space suit and telling you how he has only worked there for two weeks, but rather the loud one who brags about his 10 years of experience and eight thousand jumps.
Be warned, these people are not going to reassure you that it’s going to be ok; they are skydivers, not PETA members.
Their day job is extreme, and they will taunt you for kicks and money. It’s all part of the package. I was loaded into the tiny seatless plane along with my boyfriend Dave, our tandem masters and the camera men. Only two of us could jump at a time as the plane seats a maximum of six, and we had an entourage: Dave’s brave mom waited her turn on the ground and jumped after us.
The plane trip was surprisingly lengthy:it took 20 minutes to reach our drop zone.
All The while the altitude instrument strapped to my tandem master’s arm was rising…
2 000 feet
I realise it is too late to change my mind.
4 000 ft:
I force myself to laugh at Joos, my tandem master’s broken-harness antics. I sound hysterical and smile showing too many teeth. The land below has begun to lose definition and looks like a piece of geometrically divided green paper. I have no perception of height.
5 000 ft:
We are halfway there, and in ten minutes we have travelled the same distance I will fall in 35 seconds.
8 000 ft:
I am attached to the front of Joos’harness via four connection points.
9 000 ft:
The plane door is opened.
10 000 ft – The Fall:
The cameraman climbed out before me and hung outside the plane in order to capture every second of my reluctant departure. I had to scoot towards the open door and dangle my feet outside the plane.Joos scooted forward further, so that I was suspended in thin air above a Google Earth tapestry.The wind was loud. “Are you ready?”
Joos shouted from behind, to which the squeaky reply, “No!”, came. I was given a few seconds to collect myself.
“Remember the banana position,” Joos reminded me. I had been told earlier that the banana position was the most important thing about skydiving. If you don’t banana, you “meat bomb”. Hips must be forward and legs bent back between the tandem master’s to create a backwards banana-like curve while in free fall.
“Are you ready?” Joos asked again.
“Ye-” was all I could reply before we plummeted from the plane. I saw a flash of blue then green, and only realised after watching the video that we had somersaulted out.
It didn’t feel like falling. No sick, lurching sensation like during turbulence. The gale-force wind rushing past my face was the only clue that we were actually moving.
I felt like Iwas static in a wind tunnel.The earth didn’t rush towards me, it merely seemed to expand. I spread my arms out wide and I was flying. The view was astounding.I could see snow-topped mountains and the ocean at Algoa Bay. I didn’t notice if my ears popped with the changing altitude, or the near-freezing temperature. I felt no fear. A swarm of wasps could have joined me in free-fall and I would have felt no pain.
The chute
A strong jolt swung me vertical. I looked up and saw the arching red and yellow parachute above me. Joos gave me control of the handles and demonstrated which way you turn with a left or right tug. He then pulled my left handle down all the way and we went into a spin. I felt like my head was pinned in one place while my feet swung around it. The pressure of all the blood rushing to my feet made them tingle, and I was dizzy with G-force. Once righted, the parachute allowed for a much slower descent of at least five minutes which gave me a chance to take in the view.
Only when I saw people on the ground could I could put the height into perspective. It felt as if we were slowly drifting downward, and when we were about 500ft up everything was suddenly moving quickly and the ground rush towards my feet. We plopped down and I was untangled from both harness and chute strings.Solid ground now feels dull, and I’m set on becoming an adrenaline junkie.