Friday, July 07, 2006

A 12 step programme for skydivers

I've been thinking about freefall far too much lately, so late last night I finally came up with a 12 step programme for skydivers. I humbly share this genius with you all...
  1. Get in car
  2. Drive to dropzone
  3. Buy jump tickets
  4. Check rig
  5. Manifest
  6. Wait for call
  7. Gear up
  8. Get gear check
  9. Board plane
  10. Ride to altitude
  11. Jump out of plane
  12. Land safely and go again
What? I never said it was to help skydivers quit, just that it was to help skydivers!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Going dooowwwwnnnn!

After the nightmare I had with David Cowman of FFU, I really wanted to pack skydiving in. But I can't. Despite the negative experiences with him, I'm too addicted to this sport.

So this morning just before 6am, I got up, swore at the birds with their incessant birdsong, staggered to the car and slapped some metal in the CD player. One can of Mountain Dew later and I was just about ready to race the clock to get past Hyde Park before the London 10KM run started. I wasn't really awake in the true sense of the word, but I could find the steering wheel, the clutch and the brakes. If I really concentrated hard, I could even find the accelerator and the volume control. And so it was that I set off to Hinton to find out if all UK dropzones are as formal and un-fun as North London.

Two hours later I showed up at my new home DZ. Sure, there are two dropzones closer to my house, but Hinton just felt right.

I had to do the usual 'hurry up and wait' drill that seems to happen the first time I visit any dropzone. Apparently that will get better as time goes by, but for now, we wait. Just after 9 the senior instructor arrived and had a brief chat to me. A little later, he strapped me into a mock-up harness and had a good giggle I'm sure when he saw my face just after I pulled the cutaway handle. That was the first time I've ever been suspended in a harness, and the first time on my reserve drills that there has been any consequence to pulling the handle. Fortunately the consequences didn't require a change of shorts and we could proceed. He checked through my docs and signed me off. A visit to reception resulted in two jump tickets and the most important card in my wallet - my Hinton club membership card that means from now on I can just show up and jump.

The main reason for going to Hinton was actually to collect a lid and an altimeter, and to get fitted for a Symbiosis suit. So I went upstairs to the shop, pimped my head, paid up and put my name on the board. 15 minutes later I got my 15 minute call, so I did a final gear check and went off to fly the most awesome vehicle I own - me.

I was just incredibly impressed by the organisation of the place. The exit order was sorted out well before we got to the plane, and it was decided that I would be the last one out of the bus. Random people even spoke to me and appeared to be human, which was slightly unexpected but very encouraging. All the way to altitude I compared my new alti to my Suunto watch just to make sure it was right. I wasn't mad keen on finding out that it wasn't right on the way down, mainly because smashing it to pieces on the ground may void the warranty. Then it was time to get out and find my way back to the DZ.

Exit was crap. I tried for a floating exit, but I just couldn't move out on the step so in the end I just let go and flopped. I was stable by 12000, and had a great dive once I'd found where the dropzone was. 12000 feet later I was on the ground and walking back with a big dumb grin on my face.

We had to leave by 1 to return the tv and get a smaller one (long story) so I figured I was done for the day. But no, not quite. There was a slot free on load 5, so I ran back, grabbed a second rig, told Cheryl I'd be right back and went off to jump out of a plane again. The things we do for fun!

I found someone to give me a gear check (even though we've agreed that I'm bright enough to know which way is down, we figure it's still a good idea for someone else to check that I can dress myself) and milled about. Then I got another indication of how cool this DZ is. The jumpmaster (Zoe I think?) was sorting out the exit order. It was almost democratic when she asked if everyone was happy, but I'm not sure how much scope for discussion there really was. But then she turned to some other lady and asked what she was planning. She explained that she was doing a solo. Nope, not quite... The lady in question was on level 6 of her FS1, so Zoe said, nah, jumping alone is dull, and offered to do a two-way with her. Neat!

Another ride up, this time we stopped to let some people out early (around 3500ft). It's surprising the number of skydivers who are scared of heights... I mean, they must be, right? Why else get out so early ? ;)

Another ride to altitude, another open plane door, and another trip to freefall. I don't think this smile is going to go away until at least 9am tomorrow! It was an awesome jump, and I even spent some time on my back looking at the sky just for kicks. Landing was much better with a cool butt-slide, and the walk back was too far as always.

The last bit to do was to just sort out colours for my suit, and thank gods Cheryl was there. They couldn't do the grips in the colour I wanted, so if she hadn't been there, I probably would have ended up ordering a lime green suit with neon yellow grips :D But all's well that ends well, so I got my logbook signed and ran for Bluewater.

Hinton rocks. The owners are both very cool and everyone about the place seems quite down to earth and good fun. I'm going back for sure, but next time on a Saturday so I have the Sunday to recover, and next time I'll spend the whole day.