Making Life More Interesting, One Adventure At A Time
By James Wang, CPA, CLU, AIE
Insurance Examiner, Life Bureau
Making Life More Interesting, One Adventure at a Time
By James Wang, CPA, CLU, AIE
Insurance Examiner, Life Bureau
What does it feels like to jump off from 13,500 feet above the earth? Most people would probably think that I am out of my mind for asking such a question. Yet such "mystery" became my reality on May 31, 2011 as I performed my tandem skydive at Skydive Long Island. Skydive Long Island is located in Calverton, NY on the site of a non-functioning military manufacturer's plant. Once home to Grumman, builders of the F-14 and Lunar Modules, it is now a skydive drop zone. The airport is huge and has one of the largest landing areas in the US. It uses a 10,000-foot-long runway, and has a 5-acre landing area along the taxiway.
Lots of my relatives, including my parents, thought I had a death wish from the day I desired to participate in such activity. Yet from deep inside I knew this is something that I always wanted to accomplish. Finally, I chose May 31 as the date of my jump because it was two days before my Master Degree graduation commencement. I hoped such a journey could let me experience fear, and most importantly teach me how to conquer such fear and accomplish my ultimate goal.
I arrived at Skydive Long Island drop zone all by myself around 10 a.m. Although I did feel disappointed that I failed to convince any of my relatives or friends to come and watch my first jump, I made new friends this day with other jumpers as most of them were also skydiving for their first time. The first thing I had to do after arriving at the drop zone was to sign off on six pages of legal documents. These documents waived my rights to sue the drop zone or the parachute manufacturer if the jump results in injury or death. As I initialed each of the items on the paper, I knew my parents would probably slam my face on the wall if they knew the consequences of me signing such document.
The entire training process after the paperwork was brief. There was a ten-minute video which I had to watch. The video described a few, but important body positions that I must understand when performing my first tandem skydive. I was assigned to one of the drop zone's instructors right after the video. The name of my instructor was Dunk. He was an experienced tandem instructor with over ten thousand skydives. Other than cracking jokes to calm my mind, Dunk repeated the moves that had been outlined in the video and made sure I could perform them. Afterwards he checked his parachute one last time before we headed to the airplane with the other skydivers. As we were walking, my personal photographer also joined in and interviewed me about my feelings for my first skydive and asked if I had any last words to say before stepping on the plane.
N398A is the model of the plane which we rode on. It is large enough to carry 19 passengers including the pilot. Two solo jumpers sat right beside the exit as they wanted to jump out first. Dunk and I were seated behind these solo jumpers because we were the first ones who got on that plane. The entire plane ride, which took about 10-15 minutes, brought us from the ground to 13,500 feet above the earth. My heartbeat increased as I watched Dunk's altimeter slowly move towards our target altitude. In the meantime, Dunk bulked me from top to bottom with him. He also handed me goggles which fitted perfectly over my glasses.
"All right, it is 13,500 feet. Let's get ready to move out. Don't forget to put your hands over your shoulders and heads up when we jump out." Dunk spoke confidently, repeated the moves which he went over on the ground, and then started to push me near the exit. Before I knew it, the solo jumpers were on their way to the earth and half of my body was out of the plane. Some of my friends asked me afterwards if I had any second thoughts before dropping myself into the deep abyss. I admit that I was terrified and repeatedly asked myself if I knew what I was doing. However, I also realized that quitting was not an option at this point because I already paid too much money to let that happen. "Ready, Set, Go!!!" Dunk pushed my entire body out of the plane in no time and my free fall experience started.
I clearly remembered that I screamed hard for the first few seconds of my free fall as the rushing air passed my body. Such screaming may also be necessary to keep the pressure balance in my ears. Dunk knocked my shoulder a few seconds into the free fall to instruct me that I may open my arms. That enables the photographer, which dropped at the same time with us, to take different pictures of my free fall moves. I slowly came to my senses and started making different hand gestures to the photographers.
Although I could not hear anything because the wind blew heavily over my face, the sensation of the free fall was different than the roller coaster drop which I expected before my jump. I found myself floating in the middle of the air even though in reality I was falling 120 miles per hour towards the earth. As time passed, I actually started to enjoy the experience. I smiled at the photographer and shook my hand with him. Suddenly, I felt my body being lifted up for a few hundred feet, and the sound of rushing air stopped. Everything became extremely quiet around me. Based on the articles I read before the jump, I realized that Dunk has pulled our parachute and it successfully opened. It was unbelievable because I just fell from 13,500 feet to 5,500 feet in less than one minute.
The four-minute parachute ride was much more peaceful than the free fall. First, it was a big relief for me as I told my Dunk, "We are safe." Dunk replied, "Yes, congratulations! Welcome to my office!" Then he started pointing out different areas of Long Island from high above. At this point, my mind was still mostly blank. Therefore, I do not remember many of the Dunk’s words. Yet the beautiful scenery of the Long Island, the famous twin forks and the coastlines of the Atlantic Ocean are something which I will never forget for the rest of my life. After all, the enjoyment I experienced for being a part of the sky and flying like a bird is beyond any words I can describe.
As the parachute approached the ground, I was told to lift my feet up. At one moment I was afraid that we are going down too fast. Yet before I was able to express my concern, I found myself sitting on the grass as the photographer interviewed me while placing his video camera in front of my face. I smiled as I got myself up and told everyone around me that my first skydiving experience was amazing. Fifteen minutes later, the photographer handed me my special version of tandem skydiving pictures and video. Dunk also touched my shoulder as he delivered my certificate and congratulated me on my accomplishment.
"Will I do it again?" That is certainly a question in many people's mind. Well, although such an experience is incredible and I totally enjoyed it, I think I am ready to move on to other adventures such as ride the hot air balloon over NYC, climb to the top of Mount Whitney, finish the NYC marathon (which I had to stop a few years ago due to my back injury), etc. After all, we can only live once per our lifetime. Therefore, we should use the limited amount of time that we have to open our views, challenge our limits and work on tasks that seem formidable. That is one of the ways which will make our life more interesting, don't you agree?