Free Fall
Riaz Naqvi
Friday, June 01, 2012

wknd. decided to take a bird’s-eye perspective of things — and drop like a stone from the sky

The American novelist Chuck Palahniuk once said, “Maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.” This was, perhaps, not the ideal quote to reflect upon when preparing to leap off a plane at 13,000 feet. It’s difficult not to think about a lot of things when your legs are dangling off of a small aircraft in mid-flight. In your sanity’s best interests, avoid thinking the words ‘splat’, ‘crushed’, ‘scrambled’ or (most of all) heights. In an effort to stave off this grimmest of mental lexicon, I try to retrace my steps and remember why I’m about to do this…

It started with one word: ‘Alive’. Someone at Jaguar, the British automobile maker, clearly thinks in line with the aforementioned Palahniuk and decided there’s no better way to feel alive than skydiving. Despite a fear of heights, I too recalled this author’s words from Fight Club, and was compelled to accept the invite. When arriving at SkyDive Dubai in JBR at 2pm, there was a fair bit of cognitive dissonance occurring: it still hadn’t really sunk in, what I had come here to do. Everyone around the bustling SkyDive HQ seemed so different. Blond dreads, scuba diver-esque bodysuits and sinewy muscle. Think Patrick Swayze from Point Break. Everyone seems so bloody extreme. Before I can draw parallels to more 1991 cinema, a thick finger taps my shoulder. A massive bear of a figure introduces himself as my instructor. He grunts that I will be jumping with him, no need to worry about the parachute and begins delivering instructions for what to do when exiting the aircraft, and landing.

Initially, this freedom from responsibility came as a relief, but then other thoughts began entering my mind. This guy was huge: 6’2” with a heavyset frame reminiscent of a bouncer, he was big. Naturally, I pondered the scenario of him landing on top of me when we hit the ground. Crunch.

As I am shaking away the silly paranoia, a camera suddenly confronts me. There’s a grinning guy behind the lens that makes me feel like this is a surfing documentary. “How do you feel, man? You’re not going to chicken out, are you?” challenges Mr Camera Guy as Bear-like Instructor maintains a professional seriousness, adjusting the millions of straps on the harness I am wearing. Enough of this time-wasting — I’m ready, I lie.

It’s nearly time. I pull aside my instructor and whisper to him that, come what may, I have to go first. Watching someone else jump off the aircraft before me would surely induce rigor mortis. Good luck dragging my corpse off your jet.

He places a beefy hand on my shoulder as we await the plane door’s opening. It’s a reassuring feeling, but there’s a hidden message: don’t think about running away. We enter the plane last, as I’ll be the first out and therefore the one seated closest to the door. Camera guy is perched across the door from me.

As we begin the ascent, Mr Ever-Grinning Camera Guy straps the device to a helmet, and begins taunting me about all manner of things. My own face has long since lost all vestiges of colour, but I nod away his questioning of my fortitude; few things awaken the ego better than a camera.

After 20 minutes, we’ve reached our altitude: 13,000 feet. I am strapped to my instructor, and he begins shifting us toward the door.

Camera dude assumes a radical pose, casually but precariously leaning out of the place with one leg nonchalantly hanging out as he surveys the skies and only one hand gripping the door frame. I catch a glimpse of my own reflection in his Oakleys; not exactly my finest moment.

The instructor drags us to the door, and suddenly my legs are hanging off the plane. Everything slows down. I could be Keanu Reeves right now. The Palm Jumeirah below us has never seemed quite so threatening. Camera guy jumps off the plane, and a split-second later, we follow.

The first moment is sheer panic. You are tumbling through thin air. A tap on my shoulder from the instructor alerts me to relax my body and suddenly, I am a bird. A grinning raven in Oakleys is circling us with his helmet camera and I give him a thumbs up.

Cost per person: Dh1,750

Time needed: Three hours

Rating: 9/10


I can swim in the air, turning myself wherever I please. There’s no parachute open, and that’s really what makes free fall so special. You’re moving downward fast, an astonishing 166 feet per second. The tragedy is, this unique sensation only lasts a minute. There’s a bit of pain as the straps of the harness snap tight against your chest when the parachute is opened at 3,000 feet. But soon after, everything is a lot quieter, and we’re just drifting over the Palm, two feathers in the wind.

Expertly directed towards JBR, landing is surprisingly easy, as I buckle my knees onto the soft grass just outside SkyDive Dubai HQ. Camera guy awaits, and I let rip — to his delight — all the emotions on what was, truly, a day that can make anyone feel truly alive. As for heights… ppft!

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