WRITTEN BY Alejandra Saragoza
Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…See full bio
The plane door opens and the blast of frigid air hits me, almost taking my breath away. I look down—a big mistake—and see the patchwork of brown farmland, verdant rolling hills, red-tiled roofs, and brilliant-blue ocean stretching below me. In any other situation, it would have looked picturesque, but I’m about to jump out of a plane from 13,000 feet in the air, so the scenery only inspires terror. My stomach drops, my palms begin to sweat, and my heart starts to palpitate so hard I think it’s going to burst out of my chest. I think to myself, Holy shit. I can’t do this. I’m NOT going to do this.
As if on cue, my tandem skydive instructor asks, “Are you ready?” with a huge grin that I want to slap off his face. I’m definitely not ready, but before I can even respond, he starts to scoot us closer and closer to the open door, and within a few seconds, he’s telling me to swing my legs over the ledge. And then, it really hits me—I’m on the precipice of jumping out of a plane. Jumping. Out. Of. A. Plane. My panic only intensifies as I think, Oh my God. This is it. This is how I’m going to die. Everything in my body is screaming, Don’t do it! But here I am, like a complete moron, about to skydive even though convinced I’m about to plummet to my death.
So, how did I end up here?
Well, my best friend and I had been wanting to go skydiving together since college, so it’d been on our bucket lists for several years, and when we saw a LivingSocial deal for a nearby skydiving place, we decided to take the leap—literally. She was living in the coastal city of Pacifica at the time, so I drove to her place on a Friday night and we went out for dinner and drinks, giddy and excited to finally go skydiving the next morning. How naive we were.
We woke up early and drove to Watsonville, winding our way through the Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz before cruising on the Pacific Coast Highway and enjoying the gorgeous views. Our 1.5-hour road trip came to a close as we pulled up to the skydiving facility and walked inside, where the friendly staff checked us in and made us feel at ease—even as we signed away our rights and lives on the liability forms. Then, we got into our super-fashionable, sexy blue jumpsuits (we actually looked like Smurfs; all we were missing were the white caps and beards) and met our instructors and tandem partners, who walked us through what would happen and explained how we should position our bodies during freefall and landing. Through it all, I was completely calm, and I joked around and chatted with my instructor as he put on my harness and adjusted the straps until it fit securely. Even my best friend was relaxed and smiling from ear-to ear.
Everything was all fun and games until we walked outside and saw the plane—that’s when the nerves started to creep in as I thought, All four of us are going to fly in that tiny thing? Jesus Christ. As we drew closer, the instructors started to mess with our heads, saying it was only their second time doing a tandem skydive and it was the pilot’s first day flying the plane. I knew it was all in jest, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit unsettled as we got ready to jump on board. The pilot said hello and reiterated the joke that it was his first day on the job, and my friend and I nervously laughed as we hopped inside with the instructors. Thanks, guys. All four of us barely fit into the back (I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a small plane!), and a slight feeling of claustrophobia began to take hold.
As the plane prepared for take-off, my heart started to race in tandem with the accelerating speed. I could even feel the engine rumbling below me, and I thought, Will this thing even make it off the ground? I was legit concerned, but then I remembered I was attached to a parachute, so at least I had a chance of living if the plane fell from the sky. I didn’t know whether or not to close my eyes as the plane lifted off the runway, but I ultimately decided my chances of survival were better if I left them open to see what was happening. I watched as we ascended into the clear blue sky, praying to all that was holy that we would make it. After what felt like an eternity, the plane finally reached cruising altitude, and I let out a huge sigh of relief.
Now that we’d made it this far, I tried to relax a bit and enjoy the bird’s-eye view of California’s Central Coast. The Santa Cruz Mountains loomed over the urban sprawl, agricultural fields, and grassy hillsides as the cerulean waves crashed along the shores of the Pacific. The vistas were awe-inspiring and reminded me of how small we are in the universe. But my bliss was short lived—before I knew it, the pilot was giving us the warning: It was almost time to jump. Though my nerves had subsided over the last few minutes, they immediately came rushing back upon hearing those words. My friend and I immediately exchanged glances; she looked like she was about to shit her pants, and I likely mirrored her expression. We were both regretting our decision to go through with this, simultaneously mouthing bad words and inwardly panicking.
So, that was the state I found myself in when the plane door opened: terrified and convinced I was about to die. And of course, I was sitting closest to the door, so I had to go first. My pulse quickened as my instructor and I scooted toward the open doorway, and I tried taking deep breaths to calm myself down, but it was to no avail, because I was about to reach an entirely new level of fear. Once we reached the precipice and swung our legs out of the plane, I looked down and saw how high up I was and realized what I was about to do—fling myself out of a plane and freefall through the air with a complete stranger—and I thought I might faint. But my instructor’s squeal of joy jolted me out of my thoughts and prompted me to look at him like he was a madman. I mean, he kind of was, wasn’t he? He does this crazy thing for a living.
I knew we were about to jump, and everything in my mind and body was screaming, Don’t do it! But at that point, you don’t really have a choice, especially when you’re attached to someone and you’re jumping with them whether you like it or not. As I resigned to my fate, the instructor said—too excitedly for my taste—“Here we go!” And I closed my eyes and started screaming bloody murder as I felt my body catapult into the open air and then plunge downward.
I don’t really remember the seconds right after jumping because I blacked out a bit from the shock. (Ladies: This also happens when you get proposed to, by the way.) When I snapped back to what was actually happening, I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, falling from the sky at the speed of light (or so it seemed) like Superman when he swoops down to save someone from getting hit by a bus. It was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. I was flying toward the earth, and it was a bit hard to breathe because of the altitude, but whether it was from the adrenaline high or the lack of oxygen going to my brain, I felt strangely at peace. I remember thinking: Well, if the parachute doesn’t open, at least my final moments were pretty cool and I had an amazing view of the world before leaving it.
Luckily, the parachute did open, jerking us up in the air and stopping our freefall before bringing us to a slow, relaxing cruise. This was when the skydiving experience started to truly amaze me and show me why people choose to do it over and over again. The insane adrenaline rush is followed by a feeling of calm that is indescribable—and likely one I’ll never experience again. Between the incredible relief of being alive, the spectacular views of the coastal landscape below me, and the invigorating air blowing through my hair, I felt a type of high someone can only get after jumping from a plane 13,000 feet in the air. I didn’t want the blissful moment to end.
But alas, nothing lasts forever, and as we drew closer to the ground, the instructor started reminding me how to land. Panic set in again as I thought: Oh my God, what if I survive the freefall only to die during the landing because I messed it up?! I started imagining all the worst-case scenarios—breaking my legs, shattering my kneecaps, becoming paralyzed—so when it came time to land, I just did exactly what the instructor told me, said a little prayer, took a deep breath, and then, Boom. My feet hit the grass, and we started half-running half-stumbling until the momentum gave out and we came to a halt. I quickly looked down: all my limbs were still intact and could move normally, phew. I survived!
Sensing my relief and joy, the instructor said, “Congratulations, you survived!” and gave me a high-five. We took a celebratory picture together and watched my friend and her partner come in, waving excitedly as they approached and hooting and hollering after they landed safely. My friend seemed a bit happier than I was to be back on land—as evidenced by her getting down on her hands and knees and worshipping the ground—but she was just as high as I was from the adrenaline, and on the ride back to the skydiving facility, we gushed to each other about our thrilling experiences. Then we waited for our photos, which are hilarious, by the way.
The instructors captured every moment with their GoPros—from the nervous laughs in the plane; to the terrified, we’re-scared-shitless faces before jumping; to the uninhibited smiles after we freefalled—and half of the time, I didn’t even realize they were taking photos. We compared pictures and laughed at our funny expressions, and I’m so glad I decided to buy the images, because I still look back on them fondly and I can treasure the memories forever. I feel like my BFF and I bonded in an entirely new way after the near-death experience, and I’m glad my first skydiving trip was with her.
But, would I do it again? To be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure. For a few months after, I was all gung-ho about doing it again (much to my parents’ dismay) and was trying to convince a few of my other friends to do it with me. But now that I’m a little older and soon-to-be married, the possibility of something going wrong—or of me dying—scares me more than it did before, so I probably wouldn’t skydive again. However, I highly recommend that you try it once, especially if you’re an adventurous soul who appreciates thrills. I don’t think you’ll regret it. Not afterward, at least.
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