The Kitmonster and I go to Spain.
Sitting in the bar at the drop zone, surrounded by Spanish voices and Ed Sheeran non-stop on the local radio station, I’m glancing hopefully out of the window at the rain. You can see for miles and I can definitely see sunshine on the horizon. Are the clear skies coming this way? A skydiver’s endless optimism and hopeless nose for guessing the weather tells me so.
I arrived on Thursday, having had a couple of hours sleep since Tuesday night. Armed with my rig (my canopy, the container it goes it, a reserve canopy and an automatic activation device) my Kitmonster is heavy. Definitely over the measley budget airline allowance I fear. Plus my friends in Spain have asked for emergency supplies of gravy, custard creams and orange squash. I dump it down on the scales doing my best to make it look light as I do so -19.1kg!
Eventually my friends find me and my kit wandering the tiny streets of the village just outside the drop zone. It’s a maze of one way lanes and everything looks vaguely familiar.
We head straight to the drop zone – an hour’s stroll along a dusty track past olive groves and rich red-brown fields. It sounds idyllic, and it is. Leather-faced old men drive past in 4x4s, loose dogs eye us with condescension.
The drop zone itself has everything required: somewhere to pack your parachute, and an office to manifest (or book yourself on a flight). There’s also a bar – essential for decent coffee and bad weather days.
Although I’ve brought my own kit, it’s a canopy I haven’t jumped since I broke my wrist in July and I decide to jump and bigger canopy, supplied by the drop zone.
I don’t jump that day – the winds are strong and I’m tired. That coupled with a new dz mean I take the decision to get a good nights sleep and jump the next morning.
The first couple of jumps are fun jumps with friends, but I’m still nervous. A drop zone I haven’t jumped at for over a year, skydive Spain has super-fast planes which get you to altitude in minutes. We all get comfortable and going from my home dz where I know everyone in the plane feels unfamiliar and not a little scary.
At home we have no seats in the plane, so we all bundle in together, a jumble of arms and legs, occasionally moving a foot or arm as we get strapped in. We then have what feels like a long time to reach altitude; time to visualise the jump, time to remember that there’s only one way you’re getting back to the ground, and that’s out the door. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone here.
We’re at a higher altitude – 15,000ft – before I know it and the green light is on. The advantage of course is more time in freefall. I really noticed the extra seconds, time to practice more and have fun with your jump buddies.
But in the back of my mind are two things. The first is that last time I came here I got my first skydiving qualification, and I’m going to get another while I’m here. Then there’s the landing. While you’re in freefall, it’s the perfect moment of concentration, of focus. If you’re after mindfulness, it’s right up there. You can’t think about anything else, not even as far ahead as being under canopy. But once you pull, and your canopy is fully open above your head, then you need to land it. Since getting injured, I’m a lot more safety-conscious (or danger-conscious) and landing at a new dz often causes me to land off (not on the designated landing area). I’m happily hanging out over the landing area and confident I can make it. But as I’m maybe 20ft from the ground I see that I’m coming in much faster than usual, despite being on the same size canopy as I’m used to. I’m sure someone can explain to me why it’s ‘faster’ here. Either way I prepare for a dodgy landing and a slide ungracefully on my backside for about 20ft.
The rest of the day is a lot easier but I still struggle with the fast ride to altitude and poor landings.
As milestones go, 100 jumps isn’t really anything to be excited about as it’s only at 200 jumps that you can really begin. But it is customary to do something memorable – jumping naked is bizarrely popular. I had planned to wear my grandfather’s flying suit which I’d had specially altered – he was a Lancaster bomber test pilot in the war – but it was so heavy I couldn’t justify bringing it out for just one jump. Sorry grandad – I’ll save it for 200 jumps.
Instead I found a couple of friends and we did a hybrid jump, my first one. It was a great success. That buzz you get when you have a jump that goes well, or you jump with good friends and spend the whole time grinning from ear to ear at the awesomeness of it all, that moment, those precious seconds of freefall; the world is at your feet.