Diving on the Skeleton Coast

Swakopmund – Namibia

June 2008

Both surprisingly and unsurprisingly I awoke relatively late in the morning. Unsurprisingly because I was super comfortable and I can sleep better than most hibernating bears yet, surprisingly because in a few hours’ time I was scheduled to jump out of a plane. I had done a skydive five years earlier when I was eighteen years old over the Nottingham countryside. Although I said I would never do one I got encouraged to do one for charity when I was part of Young Farmers and I hated every damn second of it! The way up was terrifying, the entire time during freefall was spent with a cameraman in front of me trying to get me to smile or do anything other then project a look of complete terror and, the floating to earth bit made me feel like throwing up my breakfast over half of Nottinghamshire. On a side note, when the parachute opened and my cameraman went from being in front of my face to falling at astronomical speeds below me scared the crap out of me even more. When I caught up with him on the ground he was all excited and asking what I thought of it all and I simply turned to the camera and said I was most likely going to be sick. Never again would I do a skydive.

We left the hostel at 10.30 in the morning and the whole group headed out to the airfield that was just down the road. By 11.30am Adam, Meg and I were ten thousand feet above the desert going though final checks before the inevitable happened. I was once again crapping myself and asking in my mind over and over again why I was doing this for a second time. Maybe it was because so many of the other guys were doing it for the first time and I didn’t want to be left out? Maybe it was because two skydives in a lifetime sounds better than one? I think it was a bit of both but undoubtedly the number one reason for doing a second skydive was the location. A skydive over the skeleton coast in Namibia sounds a million times cooler than a skydive over the John Deere tractor factory in Nottingham. Not normally one to be considered cool, I also figured this would be an excellent opportunity to earn some much-needed street cred. The journey up towards the heavens is always horrible, no matter where you are in the world. I have now done four skydives and on every occasion while sat in the plane I have said I would never do it again. The feeling of anticipation and fear is so overwhelming. I usually try and harness the fear of whichever mate is in the plane with me and use that to amuse myself by taking the micky out of them and trying to make myself appear more relaxed than I actually am! However, looking out of the window while flying over Namibia was absolutely breathtaking. It was a simple scene but it was the contrast that made the picture perfect. To the west was the ginormous Atlantic Ocean which looked menacing as long streaks of white rolled towards the beach. To the east was desert, rolling sand dunes that went on for as far as the eye could see. On the horizon was a clear blue sky and that was it. A clear blue sky, the Atlantic and sand. The best way to sum all of that up, raw. It was a raw environment, a hostile environment, the kind of environment I love travelling in. Before I knew it my jump master was fiddling with my harness, tightening straps and getting me hooked up to his harness. Then came the call from the pilot and immediately the shaky, plastic shutter door on the side of the plane was opened, blasting our faces with air. All of a sudden things had become very real. The plane could only hold six of us, three jump masters and their prey and so when the door is opened it immediately fills you with hear that you are going to fall out because you are so close to it no matter where you are sat in the plane. I’m not sure why that should be a concern because by then you are attached to a guy with a parachute. I’m never quite sure if it is best to jump first or not. If you go first, it’s done, no hanging around. If you go second or third there is still very little hanging around but your brain is screaming at you when it sees two people sit on the edge of a plane and simply fall out of it. It’s not normal. On this occasion Adam was the first to reluctantly fall out of the plane and shortly after I was perched in the doorway with a slither of my arse clinging to the floor of the plane while the jump master took the rest of my weight so I was all but hanging out of the plane while he was sat perfectly happy in it.

With my head tilted back looking towards the heavens, we departed the plane. I have absolutely no idea how we humans are wired up but the moment I went into freefall I entered nirvana. I have never taken drugs but I’m guessing the feeling I got when I was in freefall over Namibia is the reason why people take drugs or I hope that’s what they feel at least. I was smiling and swearing all the way down, not ‘oh hell’ swearing but, ‘hell yeah’ swearing. Please note I may have used stronger words than hell. It is difficult to describe the sensation of falling towards the earth for thirty seconds at a steady speed of 120 miles per hour. Adrenaline or fear aside, the only other noticeable thing is the blast of air in your face and the noise as it rushes past your ears. I tend to not pay any attention to what is below me as any sense of scale appears to become irrelevant. Then, before you know it, the wind stops howling past the ears, the cheeks stop flapping and everything becomes quiet and peaceful as you sit under a canopy slowly descending back to earth. Now is the time to enjoy the views and take a breath, all while feeling surprisingly safe. Because you are not fixed to a solid object there is no need to fear falling off it! Technically you are already falling, albeit rather slowly, so what’s the point of fearing it. My jump master did give me the reigns to the parachute and allowed me to drive which I thought was a bit irresponsible on his part. As I pulled down on a cord with my right hand we started to turn a little. The jump master then pulled down a lot harder until we were doing donuts in mid air, spinning around as we fell. I can safely say that removed some of the peaceful ambiance. Then came the tricky part for someone who is over six feet tall. When coming into land I had to lift my legs up ninety degrees in front of me otherwise my feet would hit the ground before the jump master’s and we would face plant the ground. When I say we, I mean me and I would likely break my legs while my face made its way to the ground. I always find it daunting but thankfully I have not messed it up yet!

Instead of a camera man, my jump master had a handicam strapped to his hand which sat in front of us during freefall and this time I was determined to do more than just look scared which, as just described wasn’t difficult to achieve in the end. Just writing about this jump gives me goose bumps. During the entire trip I had been learning to embrace fear and focus on the adrenaline rush I got after doing crazy things but I really wasn’t expecting to react the way I did during this skydive. I think it was a defining moment for me. I would forever be someone who did at least two skydives, one of which I loved every second of and no one can ever take that away from me. My reaction during my first skydive defined me as a teenager, a bit of a pansy too scared to step outside of his comfort zone and constantly worried about what people thought of him. My reaction during my second skydive over Namibia defined what I had already become in my early twenties since I commenced traveling the world only six months before in Australia. I had found my mojo or, more appropriately I had found my self confidence. Ironically, I had found my comfort zone by pushing myself out of what I thought was my comfort zone. I was taking risks, daring to try new things, daring myself to be scared, daring myself to be confident. As mentioned earlier I had found a whole heap of confidence during my time in Australia. This African tour had taken me onto the next level and this skydive encapsulated the change in me more than anything else I can think of. Skydiving brings out so many different emotions it’s crazy and thanks to having my jump over and done with I had plenty of time to expend some adrenaline by taking photos of everyone yet to jump and wind them up as I always tend to do in any uncomfortable situation. One of my favourite photos is of Jason sat on a bench out in the desert next to the landing strip. He is kitted out in red overalls and a harness waiting for his turn to go up. Behind him is his parachute which he has turned to look at while resting his head on his hand. This was a man being given too much time to think! It was all a very casual affair when you consider how a skydive is usually seen as one of the most epic things someone can do in their life. We were just sat on a dusty stretch of flat desert watching a little plane take off with the next batch of jumpers. The plane would get smaller and smaller in the big blue sky until thirty minutes later three little dots would emerge as the canopies opened up and everyone drifted back to earth. The three jump masters would unhook their chutes and passenger, grab another freshly packed parachute and terrified passenger and jump back into the plane ready to go again. While this was going on, three locals were working in a little tin shed, stuffing the used parachutes back into their packs ready for the next jump. It may be more technical than I’m making it sound, but to me it really did look like they were stuffing the parachute back in the bag and hoping for the best!

Taken from my unpublished ‘The African Trigtale’. My experience on a ten week overland tour I did in East and Southern Africa in 2008. Kindly edited by Lauren Goringe.

 

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