The phone in my Swakopmund hotel room rings and I’m told to be ready, I’m going skydiving. Just an hour before, I was told that I wouldn’t be diving that day. I’m unprepared. What does one need to take skydiving? Shoes? I probably should grab my camera gear. Oh, and I guess it wouldn’t hurt to grab a spare pair of underwear.
The van door opens and I pop in to the caked eyes of a choir of the fearfully brave. They sit in their seats not saying a word. They stare out the window looking at nothing at all. One of them twiddles her fingers through the tangled ends of her light blond hair. Another taps a nervous beat on the top of her knee. One can’t stop talking, and she must say the word skydiving every third word.Me, I’m not nervous at all, and that scares the hell out of me.
The driver steers the van like he lives his life, searching for the hardest edges of every corner. He laughs at the nervousness of the passengers and pretends to be just as scared. He crashes down a dirt road leaving a storm of dust behind. At a couple of buildings out in the middle of the desert, we slide to a stop and the weary-looking lot in the back of the van sop out into the light breeze of the Kalahari.
I skip the safety meeting to grab some photos of the area, the plane, and others dropping from the sky and wander around concerned about my lack of concern. I try to scare myself, but nothing works. I try to think about how I feel at the edge of a bridge with my toes hanging over, but even all the bungee jump nerves I used to get don’t work. I’m called to the plane, and squeeze into the crawl-space only passenger area.
The light craft lifts from the dirt runway and is pulled towards the sky by the drifting desert winds. Below, I watch as Swakopmund, the waves of the desert, and the highway below all shrink away to a miniature tilt-shift world. Namibia looks so distant below, like the image of a satellite map.
The door opens and I reach my hand out to take a picture. Although I don’t want to get too close to the edge, I’m not scared. I pinch myself and bite my tongue to try to awaken the blood that generally rushes through my veins.
Suddenly, the engine slows and the pilot leans back to tell us it’s go time. Quickly, I ask for instructions as I remember I never went to the meeting, then slide across the plane so that my legs are hanging out over the world 10,000 feet below. It’s only now that I get nervous. Everything in my body tells me to lean back. However, I feel the rock of my tandem pilot behind me. 1. 2. 3. And as if I’m hypnotized, on 3 I tumble out of the plane and down towards the earth.
After a couple rolls, I’m parallel with the horizon and beyond euphoric. Though I’m dropping towards the ground, I don’t feel like I’m falling. I feel like I’m driving really fast in a car with no roof. I feel completely in control. The slightest movement of my arm or leg sends us drifting slightly. While falling at top speed towards earth, the camera man and I play it up, and we spin and interact for nearly all of the free fall.
Then suddenly, the chute opens and flips me from horizontal to a seated position in the sky. It’s not until we come to this dramatic slow that I realize I am skydiving. I look down at the world below. Everything seems so far away, but yet I feel incredibly comfortable. The bloody is still racing through my veins and I can’t help but cheer out to the world from above.
My feet hit the ground and I stand again on fresh earth. But I don’t kiss the ground and thank for my return. Instead, I immediately look to the sky and dream of the next time I’ll be able to fall from it. Skydiving in Namibia has always been on my bucket list. Now, I can see skydiving become an obsession. But maybe next time, I’ll do it on my own.