On the way up to 9000 feet, or 2700m, I peer out of the windows every couple of minutes and think, this looks like a height I wouldn’t mind jumping from. Maybe we’ll stop now.
At first I can still make out the shape of trees, the roofs of houses, the colours of tiny cars plying city roads.
The small red-and-white Cessna plane climbs quickly, and soon these details that speck the landscape recede into grids – foliage in varying shades of green, grey for the web of roads that run across the city, the deep blue coastline curving and draping around Cape Town, and the whites of its surf crashing upon the shore. Maybe we’ll stop now?
There are only seven of us in the plane – three pairs of tandem jumpers, and then the pilot. We are all seated on the floor, backs pressed up against knees, hearts pounding in ribcages, throats, mouths.
We climb higher still and emerge above a thin layer of clouds, and this is when fear starts to creep in, curling and snaking slowly into my chest, like the puffy white tendrils we pass through. It crosses my mind that later, I will be plunging through them.
My instructor Blake from Skydive Cape Town, whom I will quite literally entrust my life to, taps me on the shoulder. I am to lift myself up from my cross-legged position on the floor and sit on his lap, while he secures the straps that will fasten my harness to his (and keep me from plunging like a stone to the ground).
He reiterates his instructions from the safety briefing I received on the ground. “Smile for the camera,” he said while he was strapping on my harness, “have fun, and let me do the rest.” Even the first one seems like a tall order now that the ground is so far away – the hangar where I watched videos of other ecstatic people plummeting at terminal velocity, signed the indemnity form, read notices on the wall that said, weight limit for skydiving: 105kg. The drive there was an hour from Cape Town, and the roads took us past rivers specked pink with flamingoes and ducks paddling their way serenely across. I will be soaring above all this beauty in Cape Town, and that is a pleasing thought.
Still, when Blake sticks out the Gopro fastened on his wrist for a selfie, I’m not sure if my grin looks more like a grimace. How are you feeling, he checks in with me, and when I say I am nervous, he tells me to take deep breaths. Earlier I had asked if anyone chickened out while on the plane. “Only one”, he says, “but she came back the next year to complete the jump, and she loved it.” I am determined not to be number two.
When the plane reaches the appropriate height I am second in line to jump. No stopping now. The shutter flies open, and only now does fear really kick in. I stare out at the gaping expanse of land and sea and my brain screams, are you going to fling yourself into that?! The first pair tumbles out of the plane and quickly recedes into a speck in the sky. Is that going to be me?!
Blake doesn’t give me enough time to contemplate it. We bum-shuffle awkwardly to the edge of the plane, and as we teeter there I force myself to peer over it for a split second before squeezing my eyes shut again. “Lean back into my chest and look up,” he says, which is easier, so I just stare into the sky and let him do the rest.
Then we are out, falling, falling, falling, and a couple of seconds later when I think to reopen my eyes we are upside down and it is like nothing I have ever felt – a crazy intense rush of force and motion tugging at me from every direction, and I am screaming but I can’t hear anything above the rush of roaring wind, and though Blake is tapping my shoulder telling me to put my arms out for a photo I cannot let go of my death grip on the harness because it feels like if I do I will fly away.
This is the closest I get to smiling because the wind rushing past my face is so intense that I don’t even have control over my facial muscles.
Then Blake pulls the cord for the parachute and when it billows open we are jerked upward, the noise stops, and I am laughing deliriously. It is the best damned high I have felt in a long time and in that moment everything is amazing – the view below us, the chill of the wind against my face, the silence of the air around us punctuated only by my euphoria. We are floating, suspended midway in the sky, and though I know we are held aloft by the parachute, it feels like we are magical and weightless.
On the way down Blake hands me the parachute cords and lets me steer. Pull right and we go right, left and the parachute follows. I tug gently at it, and he laughs. “I thought you would make us spin,” he says, and gleefully proceeds to do just that, while I whirl around helplessly like a beetle on its back.
As we approach the drop zone, I am to lift my knees up so that Blake will touch the ground first. The drop zone is a small sandy area just outside the hangar, and I recall an interview I did with one of the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Red Lions – the elite parachute team that performs every year during Singapore’s National Day Parade. “Looking at the drop zone from the sky is like looking at a handphone-sized landing space,” he said then.
I wonder if we will have to tumble on the ground when we land, or come to a running stop like I have seen on television. But the landing is gradual, gentle, and soon I am back on my feet with a high that will last well into the remainder of the trip. I’m already looking forward to the next time.
Tandem skydiving costs 2000 Rand (200SGD). Photos plus videos from the jump are an additional 600 Rand (60SGD), while either photos or a video is an additional 400 Rand (40SGD). Skydiving prices and information are taken from Skydive Cape Town and correct as of November 2015.