Monday, April 23, 2012

Skydiving in Lille

My heart rate quickens, my face turns pale and my hands squeeze anything they can. I try to appear relaxed but the others chuckle whenever they look at me. It is the first time I have ever been in a propeller engine aircraft let alone jumped out of one, something I already regret.  

Like my instructor Frank said they would, "All ze stupeed questions" start to enter my head. What the hell am I doing ? Why didn't I just stay on the ground instead of getting into this bucket with wings? What if the parachute doesn't open? Visions creep into my mind, like us all falling into clouds of dust like Will E. Coyote when he sprints off a cliff trying to catch Road Runner.

4000 meters above the French fields below it is now too late for any of that, jumping is the only respectable way back. "OK ze light has gone green so we are now readzee to jump" says Frank as he motions to the open door. The camera man, who is just another jumper with a camera strapped to his helmet, climbs out and hangs onto the side of the plane. 

I suppress my emotions and try to remember what Frank told me; Grip the harness at the shoulders, curl my legs back under the plane and arch my back. "Yeah great," he says and then topples us into free fall. We tumble slightly before stabilizing with bellies parallel to the ground.  

A few moments later the camera man arrives in front of us. A tap on my shoulder signals it's now OK to put my arms out and wave at him like a mad man. I happily oblige. This is one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced, all worries and doubts vaporise as we rip through the sky, I feel completely free.  

It is surreal, like we're flying and not falling at the speed of Gravity. The temperature is -15ยบ Celsius but I don't even notice. A piece of nylon shooting from Frank's backpack is the only thing that can now stop us from plummeting to death, yet we both laugh and smile. What seemed like minutes was just 10-15 seconds. 

Once the parachute opens we glide through the sky, spectacular views of Lille greet us as we drop out of the clouds, this is definitely the coolest way to get an aerial view of any city. 

Although expensive it is money well spent, the €230 will buy you an experience unlike any other. By the time we landed on the ground those anxious and nauseous feelings were distant memories and I was ready to go back up and do it again. 

A video of your dive will cost €80 and another €20 will buy about 150 photos. This is a bit too expensive in my opinion however I thought I would never do another jump and therefore coughed up the money. For what it's worth the quality of the video and photos is excellent. 

You must be 80 kg or under to do the tandem dive. You will also have to present a medical certificate (or a doctor's letter) stating that you are healthy enough to do a parachute jump, this seems to be a formality because they barely even looked at my doctor's letter however they won't let you jump without it.  

If you don't speak French make sure you request an instructor who speaks English (or your native tongue).
The pre-flight safety talk is very helpful and you need to understand it. They tell you exactly what to expect at each stage of the jump. For example, they will do a final safety check in the plane which involves pulling at the harnesses to make sure everything is tightened up, had I not had the safety talk I would have probably freaked out thinking there was something wrong.  

The Ecole Francaise de Parachutisme Lille Bondues may not seem like much when you arrive, I certainly thought so, however it is one of the most respected skydiving schools in France. 

One of the instructors said he had done over 1200 tandem jumps and, as he was still alive, I presume they all landed safely. He also added that only two people ever refused to get out of the plane. I'm thankful I didn't end up in the minority.