robin goldsworthy from the desk of the publisher

That First Step is a Doozy

When I was 15 years old I had a class called Get Together. It was a touchy-feely class where we explored our feelings and considered what impact we wanted to make in the world when we “grew up.”

One of the exercises was to create what would nowadays be called a bucket list – a list of things we wanted to accomplish before we died. I can’t remember much about that list except for one item: skydiving. I wanted to feel what it was like to be akin to a bird, floating – well, falling – through the air. But at 21 I already had our first son and I didn’t think it was responsible to be jumping out of an airplane.

It wasn’t until this year that two of my sons – 22 and 18 years old – decided to make this dream a reality and the three of us parachuted in Lompoc.

On a Saturday morning, Danny, Matthew, Steve and I headed north for a scheduled 1 p.m. appointment – Steve making clear he was only an observer.

Arriving at Skydive Santa Barbara, we were ushered into a small trailer to watch a video explaining the perils of what we were about to do and sign waivers releasing the company from being sued. Matthew, who works for a lawyer, and I looked at each other contemplating all the forms, but then shrugged and figured, “What the heck?”

Clouds rolled in and out of the area postponing our jump time. About the time that Mary O’Keefe, her daughters and a friend pulled up (she came to witness us voluntarily jumping out of an airplane) we were suiting up.

I opted to wear a jumpsuit because of the cold – we were going up 13,000 feet. However, my boys decided to just wear their blue jeans and T-shirts.

There were seven of us in total jumping with an instructor strapped to each of us. This is called tandem jumping – the instructor wears a parachute, while the student wears a harness connected to the instructor.

While it was exciting to be doing something that I had only thought about for 35 years, it was also unnerving. It didn’t help that the pilot looked about 12 years old and was also wearing a parachute.

Matthew, Danny and I were the last three to board the plane, which meant we were the first three out. At 13,000 feet Matthew and his instructor – an energetic little French man – opened the door of the airplane, which was like a garage roll up. Once it started rolling up, all chatter in the plane stopped. It was like all the students suddenly realized what was about to happen.

Matthew and his instructor crab-crawled over to the opening and with little fanfare left the airplane.

A couple of things I have to share with you:

1. Jumping is a misnomer. With another human being strapped onto your backside, you don’t jump out of the plane – you sort of tumble out.

2. As a parent, it is very disturbing to see your kid sucked out of a plane. It’s not like when they leave the house or get out of a car. There’s no pause – all of a sudden they are gone.

Then it was Danny’s turn – bye-bye.

Then it was my turn. I crab-crawled to the opening, leaned against my instructor and suddenly we were tumbling into the sky at 120 MPH. Holy cow!

I closed my eyes for the first 10 seconds, then a little chute opened which stabilized us. The wind sucked my face in every direction and it was cold. Glad I grabbed the jumpsuit.

I was pulled upward when the main chute deployed and then we were drifting through the sky. The ocean was brilliant off in the distance, farmland leading up to it. My instructor pointed below as first Matthew then Daniel landed. Then it was us rapidly approaching the landing pad and – with too much oomph for my comfort – we were down.

Though my bottom is still sore, I think I’d go again. It was an amazing experience. The boys loved it. But I would want to be on a different plane than them – it was way too freaky seeing them sucked away.