It Was During My First Free Fall That I Fell In Love With Skydiving

Skydiving teaches you to use fear as an enabler.

People measure life in years, each day, more or less a clone of the previous one – comfortable, secure, parched. In adventure sports like skydiving, we measure life in seconds. Each second is an experience. I’m an adventurer. People don’t seem to get what I do, and more importantly why. They are curious about what makes people like me tick. We simply battle our years of comfort conditioning, go out and experience the unknown. Here’s what I have learnt about being a skydiver.

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Seconds before leaping

You don’t have to be fearless
Yes, we have evolved from the ‘paper tiger paranoia’. We learn to see things and situations as they are, not as we imagine them to be. Extreme adventurers are purposeful. Danger is real. Fear isn’t. Fear is the real chimera that has led to so much of the negativity in the world that we see. Like Mahatma Gandhi said `the enemy is fear, we think it’s hate, but it’s fear”.

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Take the plunge. Image credit: Rameshwar Jangra

It was during my early days of flying, the ride in the Cessna was a bit more chilly than usual – winter was approaching. I took a deep breath and jumped into the cold, dense air. My instructor and I executed our sequence of mid-air maneuvers and then each slid away as we neared the Earth. At about 4000 ft, smiling at my instructor and waving off, I reached back to my rig to pull out the hackey of my pilot chute. I realized my fingers were numb. I couldn’t feel a thing. My fingers turned to stone thanks to my second-rate gloves! One try, two tries, three… no sensation at all. My instructor saw me fumbling but he was too far to help. 3000 ft to go. I had about 15 seconds to decide what I must do. My brains splattered on the grass below wouldn’t go well with the scenery. Since my main canopy was never out, I quickly decided to pull my reserve chute and that’s how I ended up owing the expert parachute rigger a bottle of rum.

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Letting go. Image credit: Chris Geiler

Awareness is key: the weather, the clouds, the wind, the air density – in freefall, under the canopy, on the landing zone – and of course how the rig and other equipment works. Skydiving  teaches you to be aware of the systems around you. It’s just not enough to know how to work your rig, but also essential to know how each piece of equipment works and comes together for a safe experience. It has to be intuitive and that’s what training and experience does. It builds an intuitive base to minimize the danger.
Assuming risk doesn’t mean I don’t read the safety manual.

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Together on land and sky

Each man to his own
Quite a few jumpers in air…how does one avoid collision? Each man to his own canopy but teamwork is still essential when you’re together in the air in the same space. The usual right of way applies here too. So a lower man has a right of way. However depending on the canopy, anything is possible. Hence each diver must learn to be alert and work together to avoid a collision and draw in success. You learn to transcend stereotypes. There are no racial, gender, economic barriers here. Each diver is part of the same tribe. You also need to respect nature as you’re trying to work with it. No matter what size your man-made canopy is, you’re still just one element in the spectrum of natural elements.

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Not recommended for vertigo patients. Photo credit: Chris Geiler

Gracefulness, strength, courage, craziness and the like are the words that come to mind when you see Skydivers in a YouTube video. What one doesn’t realize is how frustrating it can get as you are in a constant self-evaluation mode, confronting your fears, know-how and trust, all at the same time. With that sort constant pressure-cooker whistle blowing, you value what you do. You value people. You value nature. You have to approach every jump with humility. You learn to kick the ego.

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The world at 30,000 ft. Photo credit: Rameshwar Jangra

Don’t do it for the photo finish
Office presentations usually include a mass of stock adventure photos – a shot of someone in the middle of nowhere, climbing, flying, slack lining and the like, all depicting achievement, values, potential. Pictures of an unknown individual seeking his best.

Yet, when I speak about my adventure aspirations to my colleagues, family and friends, some of them treat me like an anomaly. “You don’t value your life,” they say. But I do. It’s why I’m out there, jumping out of planes. To embrace the feeling of being alive. Nature is not just viewed in beautiful coffee table books or stunning desktop covers. It’s not just beautiful, nature is overwhelming and real.

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Bird’s eye view

Will there be pictures? Of course. But the pictures are never the reason. We skydive for a new, top-down perspective of the world. We don’t do it so the world can see us. (Despite the pictures included here.)

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Upside down

Skydiving is more than just a lifestyle
The adventure sports I pursue provide me a unique way to express myself. It’s when I feel most alive. I’m not trying to advocate adventure as the only fulfilling way to live. Following your passion is. But most people pursue their passions limitedly, as long as they’re still in their comfort zone. Work, family, commitments need to be attended to. But making time for your passions regularly is essential. For some it is a change in the way they live, for others, it’s about making time.
The essential things that I make time for everyday are 1-2 hours of physical training, 7-8 hours of sleep, and 3 nutritious meals.

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Gliding back home. Image credit: Rameshwar Jangra

I have always been uncomfortable answering the dreaded, “Where do you see yourself X years from now?” I have so many aspirations that I’ve stopped limiting myself with just one plan. The trails of my flights can do the talking.

Take the plunge.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.

By Deepa Bhat and Sajid Chougle
Photographs by Sajid Chougle