Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia • July 2010 • Length of Read: 4 Minutes
Before we start - YES that was my haircut five years ago, and NO I did not truly understand how bad it actually was until I began flicking back through my archive of photos from that summer spent on Australia's East Coast. I hesitated momentarily whether to even include it in this post at all, but hey - that's how I used to roll and I'm going to embrace the mop-head to its fullest.
Situated 150km south of Cairns, Mission Beach is a quiet, picturesque little town that emits a chilled-out and relaxed vibe… until your hostel receptionist drops into conversation that it also offers thrill-seekers the chance to skydive over the corals of The Great Barrier Reef before coming to land on its golden coastal sands.
"Tell me more" I pleaded; heart already beating faster than a military bandsman's snare drum just from the thought.
"Well there are three packages available. The first is a 9,000ft dive with 25 seconds of free-fall, and the second an 11,000ft dive with a 40 seconds free-fall."
"What about the third?"
"The third is a 14,000ft dive with a minute-long free-fall."
"We're doing that one!" I belted at my bewildered companions, a group of predominantly English backpackers Fry and I had met further down the coast. Priced at AUS$299 it was going to blow the budget, but these opportunities don't come around very often. We paid-up on the spot, having managed to wrangle a free t-shirt out of it each by making a group booking. I retired to bed that night a very very nervous little boy.
Turning up at the aptly named Australia Skydive Company the following morning we were first asked to fill-out a liability form that contained the not-so encouraging clause: “In the event of my death I do not hold the company responsible”. Signing the dotted line, with a now wavering confidence, gave us each a 2 month Student Parachutist Licence and a very unlikely chance of getting any travel insurance payout if things were to go tits-up... or down as the case would be.
We then had to a participate in a weigh-in that was not to dissimilar to those at professional boxing matches. The maximum weight limit allowed was 100kg and coming in at a featherweight 70kg I was cleared to jump. The poor fast food diet we had been shoe-stringing on over the past month however must have caught up Fry, who tipped the scales at a mighty 102kg. Never worry however, he had a bulletproof solution.
Emptying his pockets of loose change, keys, wallet, and phone, he then proceeded to remove his socks and shoes to stand proudly on the scales at a mere 98.2kg. Perhaps it wasn't the most accurate device ever used but we didn't care. With a sigh of relief he to was now ready to meet the professional skydivers whom we were putting our lives in the hands of.
Imagine if you can the type of person that would stereotypically be doing this job as a living and you’ll probably not be far off from the bunch of eight happy-go-lucky guys that bounced into our lives. Spready, my instructor, nattered away in whirlwind fashion as he tightened and twisted my harness straps into place. By the time we were briefed on the safety regulations I felt like I had heard his life story twice, however this gave me the comfort of knowing I wasn't strapped to the chest of a complete stranger.
"How many jumps have you done?" I asked.
"This is my second day at work", he responded with a wry smile.
Not the time for jokes Spready. Not a good time.
After the above group photo was snapped we marched to the plane that would be taking us up to the magic 14000ft, and never in my life have I been more glad to be wearing a harness. On the tarmac in front of us sat the most haggard looking piece of machinery I had ever seen. Even the Wright brothers would have considered sending this aviation to the scrapyard. We boarded in the blazing heat and watched as the pilot, who couldn't have been long out of kindergarten, went through the pre-flight checks. Everything was given the OK and within minutes the tin-box was miraculously climbing over some of the most beautiful scenery on planet earth.
The door was flung open once we reached peak altitude and a gust of wind shot into the plane, sucking us all towards the exit. I was third in line to jump, and as my feet dangled over the edge Spready uttering some final words of encouragement that were hopelessly blown away by the bursting noise of the propellers.
And then we were falling….. falling at a speed of 200km/hr through rain clouds that cut my t-shirt with an icy vapour; the next sixty seconds a blur of fear, exhilaration, and struggled breaths.
Breaking through the clouds Spready released the parachute and as the multi-coloured canopy bloomed out above we gradually began to slow. He told me that I could now remove my goggles and enjoy the view… and what a view it was. The myriad blues and greens of the Great Barrier Reef glimmered from the surface below and as we circled around I got a panoramic of the densely vegetated islands that stippled the landscape. It was a shame that the moment had to be interrupted by a harness ripping through the groin and bursting the testes.
We spiralled for another couple of minutes and the ant sized figures of my comrades landing safely on the beach below came slowly into vision. Before long my arse was then planting itself on terra firma and joining them. In the words of my brilliant instructor: I had “successfully jumped out of a perfectly good plane”. A plane certainly, but the ‘perfectly good’ part is up for debate.