Category: extreme sports

Overcoming Fear on the Flight: My First Skydive

Overcoming Fear on the Flight: My First Skydive

I wanted to go skydiving ever since I discovered it at 17 years old.  But I went back and forth several times throughout the years.

“This is going to be the most fun EVER!!”

“Hmm, maybe it will hurt my back when the parachute opens.”

“Why would I want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”

“What if the parachute doesn’t open?”

For many years, I let other people’s fears get in my way. I dismissed it and decided I probably wouldn’t do it. Then one day after seeing many friends post skydiving pictures, I decided I was ready to try it.  Unfortunately, my friends were not.  After several attempts at getting someone to go with me, I decided to do it, friends or no friends!

The last thing my best friend Devon told me before he died:  “Go skydiving immediately.  Don’t wait.  Don’t worry about having friends.  Go alone and you will meet new friends who won’t chicken out.”

I made it an “unofficial meetup” for the World Domination Summit, which is an awesome gathering of entrepreneurs, world travelers, adventurers, and changemakers.

I made an “open reservation” at Skydive Oregon.  They sent me a link to share with my friends.  Anyone interested in joining me could follow the link and join my group by paying the deposit.  I was fully prepared to go alone if nobody clicked my link.  I created an event and shared the link with fellow WDS attendees.  As long as everyone in the group met the physical requirements and the clouds were above Mt. Hood, we were good to go!

When the day finally came, two other attendees had signed up.  I was so excited!  As I was on my way to pick up my new friends, I looked east and could not see Mt. Hood.  I started to panic.  The clouds are too low.  What if we don’t get to skydive today?

I immediately called the drop zone and let them know I couldn’t see Mt. Hood, and asked if that would be a problem.  They said to call back in an hour.  That gave us time to go out for breakfast.  After breakfast, I called back and they said they had blue skies, and they were ready for us to come over!

It seemed so surreal.  It took me three years to find someone willing to go with me.  I was a little nervous.  I got nauseous from motion sickness while hang gliding.  Would the parachute ride make me sick?  What about the plane ride?  I don’t do well on small planes.  And lately, I’ve been feeling motion sick on large commercial planes.  The skydiving airplane is barely bigger than a helicopter!  What about being harnessed to a man?  I don’t like men getting that close to me.  Maybe I can make an exception if he’s the one with the parachute?

We took our training class, geared up, and walked towards the plane.  Any minute now, it’s going to hit me and I’m probably going to be terrified.  Hopefully I don’t freeze up. If I do, hopefully the instructor pushes me out before I realize what’s going on.

As I approached the plane, the smell of diesel exhaust made me slightly nauseous.  I climbed the ladder and got in the seat.  When we took off, the plane swayed back and forth.  But it was a smooth ride. It felt like riding the monorail at Disney.  I can do this.

I sat in the plane, now harnessed to my tandem instructor, waiting for reality to hit me.  I’m in a plane on my way up to 13,000 ft. How will I react when the fear hits me?

Then I remembered something.  Every single time I’ve been scared before an extreme sport, I was anticipating how it was going to be.  For example-

  • Ziplining:  When I’m standing on the platform about to push off, how far will I freefall before i start moving forward? (none)
  • Whitewater rafting:  What if I get seasick?  What if I can’t paddle fast enough, in the right direction?  (I didn’t, and that’s not how it works.)
  • Hang Gliding:  What if I’m going too fast and I end up 100 miles away from where I’m supposed to land?  (The glider goes pretty slow.  And they make sure there are no strong winds before you take off.)
  • also Hang Gliding:  I’m terrible at running.  Do I have to run off the side of a cliff with my instructor?  What if I trip over my feet?  (You can’t do a running launch as a tandem.  And you have to have lots of experience.)
  • Waterfall Rappelling:  What if my feet can’t grip the rocks because they are wet?  What if the waterfall pushes me down?  (It doesn’t work like that.)

Sure, each of these activities requires some training and safety. But in general, the thing I was most afraid of DIDN’T HAPPEN! Could skydiving also be on that list? Possibly. Whatever I am waiting to be scared of probably isn’t going to happen either. We’ll see!

I decided not to anticipate how it might feel. Instead, I’ll just be present in the moment and OBSERVE how it feels.

When it was my turn, we got up and walked towards the door. I was surprised that I didn’t feel like I was going to get sucked out of the plane with the door open. My tandem instructor approached the doorway until my feet dangled off the edge. I had seen this a hundred times in other people’s skydiving videos. Despite being 13,000 ft in the air with my feet dangling into the sky, I did not feel like I was about to fall off the edge.  I felt secure.

When he jumped, I felt the drop.  I was freefalling towards the earth! The sensation quickly disappeared; once we reached terminal velocity, it didn’t feel like I was dropping.  I felt the wind and the cool air.  It felt like going outside in the winter with no scarf during a strong wind.

Once he pulled the parachute, I felt the acceleration once again. Even though we were slowing down, it initially felt like we were going faster. The parachute ride felt similar to parasailing or hang gliding. It was a nice, relaxing ride with gorgeous views of the landscape. Except that I got nauseous as soon as we started to steer.

We made a perfect landing. Feeling sick, I was happy to have my feet back on the ground again.

It was definitely a fun experience, despite feeling sick. However, I was disappointed that I didn’t feel an adrenaline rush. I might do it again if I were able to find something to take away the motion sickness. Perhaps I could try sea bands or Transderm Scop.

How did you overcome your fears before an extreme sport?

SCUBA + Halloween = Underwater Pumpkin Carving!!

SCUBA + Halloween = Underwater Pumpkin Carving!!

What’s the best way to celebrate Halloween with your SCUBA diving buddies?  Underwater Pumpkin Carving Competition, of course!

My first Underwater Pumpkin Carving Competition was with Gator Scuba Club in 2010.  At first, I was unsure about it. How can I possibly carve a pumpkin underwater?  Isn’t carving on land difficult enough?  I’m terrible with knives.  Am I more likely to cut my fingers off??

When we arrived at Blue Grotto in Williston, Florida, we gathered around the picnic tables.  We paired up with a dive buddy, and each group was issued a pumpkin.  We were ready to begin.  But first we needed to prepare the pumpkin for carving (above ground).

My buddy and I removing guts from our pumpkin.  Photo credit: Gator Scuba Club

Each team cut a hole in the top of their pumpkin and scooped out the seeds and guts.  When it was all cleaned out, we then drew our design on the pumpkin with markers. My buddy and I decided to free-hand draw my design, just like my dad did when I was a kid.

Scooping the guts out of our pumpkin.  We drew a shark with a little fish.

Others teams brought stencils and traced them onto their pumpkins.

Drawing designs on our pumpkins.  Some teams drew free-handed, some used stencils.  Photo credit: Gator Scuba Club

After we finished marking up our pumpkins, we put on our SCUBA gear, grabbed our tools, and got in the water.

Diver carves pumpkin and collects pieces in mesh bag. Photo credit: Gator Scuba Club

There are several key elements that made our underwater pumpkin carving possible. We needed to have space to carve without damaging any underwater vegetation.  Blue Grotto has a concrete platform at 15 feet, which made it the perfect place for underwater pumpkin carving.

The pumpkins are buoyant.  In order to keep them grounded on the platform, each team put a weight inside their pumpkin.  As pieces of pumpkin are carved off, they float to the surface.  In order to keep Blue Grotto clean for the next divers, we grabbed a mesh bag and put a weight inside.  As we carved pieces of pumpkin off, we were careful to grab them and place them inside the mesh bag.

We descended to the platform with our pumpkins, mesh bags, and carving tools and started carving.  I found it difficult to cut small, narrow pieces.

My buddy and I checking our progress on the carving.

Divers who were more skilled knife users than I am didn’t have a problem.

The teams on the platform carving their pumpkins.  Photo credit: Gator Scuba Club

Here’s how the pumpkins turned out:


The finished pumpkins, underwater and on land! Photo Credits: Gator Scuba Club

I had such a great time that I did it again after graduation.  I found a local dive club in Atlanta, and we went to Dive Land Park in Alabama.  Learning from my first attempt, I decided to carve a simpler design into my pumpkin – a shark with less detail, without the tiny fish.

Carving a shark into my pumpkin at Dive Land Park in Alabama.

Do you have any unique Halloween traditions?