My father is a pilot. As a result, I have very fond early memories of airplanes. My first major journey was not in a car; it was in a bush plane. I grew up in cockpits and, until September 11th changed all of the rules of airline security, regularly accompanied my pilot-hero Dad to work. I was raised a seasoned air traveler and, as a child, I remember giggling at adults who gripped their armrests with white knuckles when the plane would hit air pockets of turbulence. I felt so much braver than any of them and would mischievously lift my hands and peek over at them to show off how courageous I was.
One of my most poignant early memories of air travel was when I was around seven years old travelling from Blanc Sablan, Labrador to Deer Lake, Newfoundland. I was sitting in the emergency exit seat and I remember looking at the handle and suddenly realizing that I could pull it, theoretically opening my seat to the rush of air outside. I wondered what would happen if I dared to open it. Would it be possible to simply tug on the handle and jump out? My curiosity piqued, I peered out the window at the choppy grey ocean far below. Then we hit some major turbulence…and I clung tightly to my armrest for the rest of the flight.
I’ve grown up a lot and taken on far lengthier airplane challenges than the short hop from Labrador to Newfoundland, but the desire to jump out of an airplane stuck with me. I’ve finally let my curiosity get the better of me - I went skydiving last weekend!
My interest was initially sparked by one of my twelfth-grade students who is training to become certified to jump independently. Before he mentioned his parachute-course and showed me some of his videos, I hadn’t even realized that the sport existed here in Asunción. The conservative, tranquilo-pa’ attitude of locals didn’t really seem conducive to diving headlong out of a moving airplane at 15,000 feet! After talking to my student and a few Google searches, I learned that a skydiving school in sleepy Paraguay does exist and, along with a few other ASA teachers, I made concrete plans to test my childhood inquisitiveness.
The day I was originally scheduled to go was cloudy and windy at first, the control tower didn’t authorize any flights until late in the morning. As Briana, Becky and myself pulled into the army airport and stumbled through the Spanish pronunciation of paracaidismo, I was jittery and nervous. It had been a while since my stomach had performed gymnastics so elaborately! We arrived, signed waivers, sat and waited. And waited some more. And waited some more. Eventually, after around five hours of decreasing jitteriness, Briana suited up, crawled into the plane and headed into the sky. Together on the ground, Becky and I watched the plane circle around and we saw some tiny specks tumble out. We watched the spots fall and colourful parachutes flower against the pale evening sky. As the chute opened, we could hear enthusiastic screams of excitement as Briana’s chute spiraled and swooped to the ground. It was out turn next! My stomach did a few somersaults. Briana landed in a frenzy of smiles…and then we learned that the control tower had shut down the next flight because sunset was coming too soon. Talk about an anti-climactic! We were all a bit disappointed but we traveled home with promises to return and finish the job.
Fast-forward four or five weeks.
Last Sunday, after another few hours of sitting in plastic lawn chairs in a scruffy hanger waiting for our turn, Becky and I finally crammed into our plane with four other skydivers. The aircraft was so small that we all had to shift our weight towards the wheel just to get off the ground! As I sat in a grown man’s lap, strapped tightly into an wedgie-inducing harness, I stared out the window at the shrinking runway below. It was finally happening! I could barely hear myself talk over the roar of the engine, the howling wind and thumping reggae that blasted on fuzzy speakers. Conspicuously lacking was the fear and stomach-gymnastics I had experienced the time I showed up at the airport a month before but hadn’t jumped. I was cool calm and (mostly) collected. As we gained height by corkscrewing into the clouds around Asunción, I had two series of dominant thoughts that I remember. I’ve included the basic transcript of what flew through my head in the moments before the jump below:
And then I tumbled out of the airplane.
It was over quickly but had a blast. I still swear that, although it was a rush, I didn’t even feel a hint of fear. This surprised me and as I fell, I thought, “in some ways, a roller-coaster is scarier than this!” Then I experienced true terror. It finally arrived when the parachute opened and my huevos (Spanish term for nuts, balls, bullocks, etc.) were abruptly crushed by my harness. I suddenly found myself fearing for my future offspring, or possible lack thereof.
I landed with a wild head of hair and pumped full of adrenaline energized and wanting to jump a second time. I took a long afternoon nap instead.
A week later, I am super-stoked that I finally satisfied my childhood curiosity of what it feels like to jump out of a plane. It was worth every penny and every second of time I spent sprawled in the Paraguayan Army hanger waiting for a plane to show up. I can now state with authority that skydiving is awesome; it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
I’m already dreaming up another jump in the back of my mind.
Dad. My father-pilot-hero, I publicly challenge you, with your close friends and family members who are reading this as witnesses, to come visit Paraguay. You have been flying planes for your whole life…I think you’ve even almost crashed a few! Your time has come to jump out of one.
With that glove openly hurled at my father’s feet, chao chao!