Falling with style

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done? Did you move to a new country? Go on a blind date? Quit your job? Jump out of a plane? As of last month, I can say I’ve done all of the above, thanks to my experience skydiving over the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown. 

I’ve always considered myself a relatively adventurous person. My living-in-four-countries-in-four-years (soon to be five-in-five) lifestyle bears that out, and I’ve never hesitated to try new things. Skydiving is something I’ve always wanted to try, and after hearing from so many people that Queenstown jumps have some of the best views in the world, it was firmly in my mind that when I went to Queenstown, I would skydive. 

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Steve and me on the way up

What I didn’t expect was that I wouldn’t be skydiving alone. I’m not referring to the tandem master, the skydiving pro who actually does most of the work—obviously I wouldn’t be jumping by myself—and I was pretty sure that I could convince Steve to give it a go. No, I was surprised that skydiving in Queenstown became a family event.

When I was planning my family’s visit to New Zealand, Queenstown was one of the first places I put on the itinerary. It’s surrounded by beautiful lakes and mountains, it’s a great hub for visiting other gorgeous parts of New Zealand, and it’s the adventure capital of the world. I mentioned this in an early phone call with my mom about our plans.

“So I’m going to skydive when we’re down there,” I said, “if you or anyone else wants to join.”

“Haha, yeah,” my mom said, sarcastically. I figured that was the end of that until another call a few weeks later.

“So, I’ve been thinking about the skydive,” she said. It turns out the rest of the family was as well, and so when we arrived in Queenstown we booked in all six of us (my parents, my sister, her boyfriend, Steve, and me) for the following day.

We booked with NZONE because of their history and their experienced staff. For reference, it cost 558 NZD per person for a 12,000 foot skydive with GoPro footage and photos—definitely pricey enough, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience… and you don’t really want to cheap out when it comes to jumping out of a plane, right? 

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Getting briefed before the jump

The weather was gorgeous, not a bit of wind and barely a cloud in the sky. We took a bus about 20 minutes outside of Queenstown to the drop zone. As we approached, we could see earlier jumpers floating gently down in their colourful parachutes. I had been afraid that seeing the skydivers would make me nervous for my own jump, but it actually looked so fun and simple that any lingering fear I had was immediately gone. 

When it was our turn, we were given our safety briefing, assigned our tandem masters, and strapped into our harnesses. My instructor, Andy, was a cheerful Aussie who made me feel at ease while grabbing shots of myself and my family with the GoPro attached to his wrist. It was up into the plane and making our way to our jump height of 12,000 feet. 

I had always imagined that the scariest part of the skydive would be the moment you sat on the edge of the plane’s open door and looked out before the jump. In movies, it seems like everyone hangs around, half-in and half-out, and looks over and says something obvious like, “It’s a long way down.” 

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On the way out!

The reality is that everything happens so fast you barely have time to think. You get to the door, get yourself in the “banana” position (head back, legs curled under the bottom of the plane), and a second later you’re off! The first split second is HOLY SHIT TERRIFYING, but then you’re looking down at the mountains and the lake and adrenaline is rushing through you and suddenly everything is HOLY SHIT AMAZING instead. 

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On the way down

A 12,000 foot jump meant that we had about 45 seconds of freefall before the parachute opened. It simultaneously felt like it was instant and like forever. Plummeting down, down, down was exhilarating. When the parachute opened, I was suddenly pulled back upward for a moment before we started descending again, slower and more gracefully this time. After a few minutes of catching my breath and looking around at the scenery (my tandem instructor pointed out Wanaka, where my family was heading later that day, and other points of interest), we gently landed. 

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Parachute up

For the rest of the trip, every time my family talked about our favourite parts of our holiday so far, we’d always qualify it with “aside from skydiving, of course.” Even aside from it being amazing, it was such a different experience to anything any of us had ever done, it was just too hard to rank it or compare it to the myriad of hikes and sights we also saw.  

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Steve and I somehow missed the family photo afterward, oops

I’d always thought of skydiving of something I would probably do once and never again, but now I’m keen for another go. Steve and I are talking about maybe doing it in Australia, but wherever it happens, I’m sure this will not be my last time falling out of the sky, the wind rushing on all sides, adrenaline coursing through me, like a rock and a bird all at the same time. 

 

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