My skydiving journey started in September 2022. For my 40th birthday, I booked an experience at Skydive Hibaldstow, an experienced parachute centre in North East Lincolnshire. I would jump out of a plane at 15,000ft (4500m), which would give me about a minute of free fall, before parachuting safely back to the ground.

Because I had broken a bone (or three) before, the waiver for the skydive required I get a medical exemption from a doctor. My local GP told me this would take months and cost quite a lot of money. Luckily, a doctor's surgery near the airport dealt with these kinds of matters and was happy to see me on the morning of the jump. I arrived early and all the staff were really good; I chatted with the doctor, they took some vitals and I had a signed form ready to go.

On the morning of the jump, the fields were covered in a thick mist, which, as I headed towards the airport at Hibaldstow, I hoped would burn off by late morning. There was a lot of waiting in the main building, with lots of experienced skydivers walking around. After an hour, the tandem jumpers were taken to a briefing. We went through how to safely exit the plane with our instructor and the landing procedure.

Throughout the morning, all eyes were focused on the sky. The mist had cleared slightly, but there was still a lot of cloud cover. After a few hours, a break in the clouds appeared and the people on the first plane suited up. The aircraft took off along the grass and banked directly over our heads, climbing to the desired altitude and out of view from the eyes on the ground.

As the canopies were approaching the ground, a second set of people put on their jumping overalls and prepared to go up. However, this was quickly aborted. There was a rumble of thunder in the distance. Large ominous thunderstorm clouds were lining up from the direction of the Humber and making their way directly to the jump site.

The heavens opened, drenching the site. There was thunder and lightning and it was forecast for most of the day. At this point, I called it quits and resigned I would have to reschedule my skydiving adventure for another time.

2nd Attempt

With the weather warming up, I rescheduled my jump for the 9th of June. This time I brought Monty with me. There were some low-lying clouds which were stubbornly not being burnt off by the English summer sun. Keeping him entertained certainly made the waiting time pass quicker.

While I was playing with Monty, I noticed the tandem jumpers leaving the briefing room. ARGH. They hadn't called for attendees and I had missed the safety information. Thankfully the instructor gave me a run-through and I recalled the information from my training in September.

I was booked into the second plane of the day and the first group was soon getting ready. I wasn't nervous or anxious. I clambered into my overalls – which were certainly snug – and was introduced to the lead instructor. He mentioned that the second drop of the day was the best, as they'd learnt about the conditions from the first.

We jumped on an old minibus and bounced down the runway. They were using a different plane from when I came in September. My instructor climbed in and we sat directly behind the pilot. Sat on a bench facing towards the back of the plane, we would be the last ones to jump on that run.

I looked through the window, admiring the scenery as we climbed higher. I chatted to the instructor and he talked about his altimeter and pointed out local landmarks. He explained he would open the parachute at 5000ft – which would be “30 seconds to impact” and that when he jumped at airshows he would open at 1500ft, leaving him 8 only seconds! Once we reached 15,000ft, the shutter at the rear of the plane was opened and people began exiting.

Sensory Overload

We shuffled along the bench. As we approached the door, I was perfectly calm. I was anticipating sitting on the edge of the plane, with my legs dangling down to the ground miles below, taking in that experience and then falling.

However, I can't remember the first couple of seconds. It didn't seem like there was any time between edging towards the door and falling. I kept thinking about what I needed to do for a safe exit; hands on the strap, head back, and legs behind the instructors.

The next thing I felt was a tap on my shoulder. This was the signal to spread my arms and legs to form the free-falling position I was familiar with from videos. This came easily; it must be the fact we were travelling at over 150mph and my body had no other option.

At this point, I realised I was not enjoying the experience. I fumbled with my goggles as they didn't feel planted on my face. They were scratched and gave a blurry view of the world. I closed my eyes – thinking I just wanted the free fall to be over – but I forced myself to open them and focus on the experience.

After 60 seconds, the instructor opened the parachute. There was a jolt as we reduced our speed considerably. But I can't actually remember what it felt like. I heard the instructor talking, but I was confused, thinking he was talking on his walkie-talkie. Then I realised he was talking to me and pointing out various landmarks.

The instructor manoeuvred us around. He positioned us above a cloud with the sun behind us; casting our shadow circled by a rainbow on a cloud below us. He then pulled one of the cords hard causing the canopy to drop and we banked sharply. Again, I immediately thought I did not like it. He then told me to take hold of the cords which control the parachute. I could barely lift my arms, my body was devoid of any energy – it was an unexpected unconscious feeling.

I was feeling nauseous and my ears were really painful. I could barely concentrate on the experience as the ground dangled below my feet. After a shorter period than I expected, we made our approach to the landing zone. The procedure of what I needed to do went through my mind. The instructor pulled up at the last second, making a steady stand-up landing.

Back on terra firma, the nauseous feeling subsided. My ears still hurt. I was annoyed I didn't enjoy the free fall and that I was unable to fully appreciate the whole experience.

The next day I stumbled across a blog post titled my first skydiving course by Darek Kay. He mentioned the "sensory overload" phenomenon and how he wanted to learn how to do a solo free-fall jump. His follow-up article is also an interesting read, but I think I'll look at other experiences now.

Me waving to the camera after landing from my skydive, next to my instructor who is carrying the parachute.
Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire

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