READER REPORT:

The incredible lightness of flying

JOLLY JACOB
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012
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TAKING FLIGHT: Jolly on her tandum skydive.

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Ever since I was a child, I've been given to daydreaming. Back then, instead of solving weighty problems of gravity, I would happily, in bold defiance to gravity, take off in to realms of the imagination where the laws of physics were a joke and flying was free and highly recommended. My mother, catching that far-away look in my eyes, would be prompt in her admonition to stop 'wool-gathering' and focus on the homework. 

Flights of fancy remained a highly enjoyable and regularly indulged in pastime through the years. It may have been during the teenage years that I decided that flights of imagination in to the ether was all very cool, but it would be cooler still to actually fly through the aforementioned ether, to be almost weightless, to glide like a bird, to defy gravity, to feel the wind on my face, to be suspended in thin air high above the earth and so unknown to my mother, I added parachuting to my bucket list.

Where it stayed and stayed and stayed.

Back in the day, a young girl was expected to get married and raise a family, not jump out of airplanes. But every once in a while, I would take the list out and daydream. May I add that I never doubted it would come true and three years ago, I found myself at Taupo one partly cloudy day in December signing up for the tandem skydive.

You might be inclined to nitpick and say that skydiving is not the same as parachuting. I would agree and go on to say that it is even better, much, much better. Because there is the added benefit of free-fall, 60 seconds of giving yourself over completely to gravity, seeing the earth (or in this case water) rushing towards you like a long lost lover, at great, great speed.

The skydive company's bus comes and picks me up and drops us all at the airport. There we are fitted with overalls and strapped up and given instructions. Then a tall bald guy comes and introduces himself "I'm Freddy" he says, "I'm going to be your best friend for the next hour or so." We walk to the aircraft which looks not much bigger than a model plane really and looks almost as flimsy but I'm not put off by such minor details. We all get aboard this model plane which has no seats but has just a twin row of benches. Each instructor in our batch of six gets behind each 'adventurous' person and the fellows who are going to video shoot us get into the front of the plane. The plane takes off and climbs steadily.

Freddy turns out to be quite a character. He tells me he's been doing this for 27 years, has done 17000 jumps, 15000 with other people. So he's an old pro. I ask him why the life jacket is inside a pouch all zipped up, and how are we going to retrieve it in an emergency? He says not to worry, we're not going to need it.

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The landscape from up there is mind-blowing, to say the least. A little river, shining blue in the green landscape, snakes its way to the lake. Fields look like checkered patterns and the highway is just a gleaming metal ribbon with tiny little antsy cars. It must be said that there's something about being high up in the air that puts everything into perspective. Your troubles are all on the ground and therefore temporarily forsaken. You are seemingly close to heaven and already feeling divine. And the airplane can fold up any moment, so you are quite possibly close to death as well. What else could more powerfully make you live in the moment?

At 12,000 feet, the first couple of people jump off. Then suddenly, it's my turn. Freddy inches me closer to the door. Strangely enough, I feel no fear, only excitement that I am really going to experience what I've dreamed about for so long and feel a great curiosity to find out what it's like. He had told me to kneel at the door and not jump but that he would slowly ease me out. So I kneel at the door and look down. In awe... and perfect calmness ...

The videographer jumps first, then Freddy eases me out and we are out of the door and in thin air. We get turned upside down at first but a little chute opens and we are face down again. Freddy signals me to spread my arms and I am flying like a bird.

What follows thereafter cannot be described. It is a surreal, dreamlike experience. It doesn't feel like falling, just a glide at great velocity, the wind whipping against my face and clothes. The lake is spread out below in all its splendour, like a giant, blue jewel, gleaming in the sunlight. We pass clouds like one would pass trees on the road and Freddy says poetically, "now you know why birds sing..." I have to say, I agree. It is such an other-worldly experience that I don't even have memories maybe because my mind had shut down and was not recording anything.

Finally, Freddie gives his parachute a tug and we go from vertical to horizontal with a big tug. The fall is arrested somewhat and we are now gliding serenely above Lake Taupo. I wonder if this is the view that God gets. Freddy does some swings with his parachute, so we veer to the left and right in graceful arches like two huge birds. Finally, it's time to get down to earth and we land on the grassy landing area.

To fly like a bird, that dream of mine has finally come true ........


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