Sometimes when writing a blog, it’s hard to know which parts to include and which to leave out, especially when you’re trying to capture the events of more than one day. So, after ten days skydiving in California, and a few days back home to contemplate everything that went on, I’m still not sure which of the events I should write about. There’s almost too much to write; what Southern California is like (not glamorous in the way you might think, but certainly fascinating), what it’s like to go all the way to the West coast of America and only visit drop zones, or what the skydiving was like. But I think I should focus on the jumping, as that was the main purpose of the trip.
The kitmonster was ready with my rig (my canopy, reserve and container), which takes up 10kg of weight, and there was room for enough clothes for ten days too. When I arrived at the airport to check it in, I tried to make it look light……
Before I left, I’d been warned that skydiving in the States was ‘lawless’, and that no safety checks are carried out, that people jump without guidance, and that you’re totally responsible for your own safety. Add to this a long flight, and a new drop zone, and it’s fair to say I wasn’t really looking forward to it! I was pleasantly surprised to find that, although there are fewer restrictions, people looked after each other, and the number one rule was ‘don’t fly like an ***hole’, which covered most aspects!
Having arrived and done our paperwork to jump at a new drop zone, I watched a few plane loads of skydivers jump and land before I got in the plane myself. The landing area at Elsinore is long and narrow, and looking at the aerial photograph, I seriously doubted my ability to land anywhere near it. At one end were the drop zone buildings, at the other a lake
The ride to altitude was stunning, and I was looking out of the window to check I could still spot the landing area from the air. On one side were mountain, on the other the ocean, and below us neat rows of houses, baseball and football stadiums, and the freeway. I was relieved to find that I could orientate myself using these landmarks better than I can at my own dropzone (which is mainly fields), and was amazed to find I could land where I was supposed to too. I landed pretty far away on my first jump there, just to be 100% safe, as landing closer meant travelling closer to the buildings under canopy. I landed in a field of flowers and they smelled wonderful as I strolled back.
The beauty of jumping in California is the continually sunny weather; making jumping something you can do all day, every day if the mood takes you. In the heat of the day, dust devils can swirl up; mini tornados which can be dangerous for jumpers – we saw a few but were lucky not to be caught in any under canopy.
We also visited Perris, a famous dropzone which has more planes, more people and even a swimming pool when you’re tired of jumping, and San Diego, a beautiful dropzone in a nature reserve.
Then I had a malfunction. It can take a number of forms, and is where your main canopy doesn’t open properly, or you’re unable to land it because of line twists. Your safety procedures are drilled into you from day one, and you’ll often see experienced jumpers practising their emergency drills in the plane. I almost expect a malfunction every time I jump, so when it happened, it was just as I’d been taught. I had serious line twists. Often, you can kick these out like you would do when you’re a kid on a swing, but these were still twisting, and I was spiralling to earth with no canopy above my head. I knew I needed to ‘chop’ my main, and reached for my cutaway handle. It was so quick, I didn’t even have time to pull my reserve handle before the various safety devices opened it for me and I had a perfect canopy above my head.
It wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be, as it was exactly as I’d been taught. Skydivers are a close-knit group – I had lots of morale support both at the DZ and from friends back home when I landed. The main piece of advice is to get immediately back in the plane and get on with your next jump.
A wise skydiving friend spoke to me about what had happened, he said; “It was fear that brought you here in the first place.” That was a smart thing to say, and helpful. It is true. I was scared when I did a tandem, a solo jump, a freefly jump. There’s always something new to learn, and this was just another of those lessons. I knew now that I could make the decision to cutaway in a split second, that my reserve drills worked.
I got back in the plane the next morning, at Perris, where a skyvan awaited. A taller plane, it opens with a ramp at the back, instead of the usual roll-up door on the side. I put the malfunction out of my mind and away we went. We were doing a formation jump, which required my to do a headstand out of the door. Of course I was afraid. But it was fear that brought me here.
My journey home was nightmarish – stuck in a strange, time-zoneless purgatory of various airports, delayed flights, missed connections and travelling away from my destination. I was convinced I’d never see the Kitmonster or my rig again. I was tired, and ready to head to missing baggage when the monster arrived on the carousel. I have never been so relieved or surprised to see it!
Check out the Snugpak kitmonster in all its forms here http://www.snugpak.com/outdoor/rucksacks/kitmonster-120