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Skydiving the thrill of a lifetime . . .(. . . if you survive it) HPU's Lea Ka'ai finds the courage to dare the deeps of distant skies

by Lea Ka'ai, '04

Skydiving is not for the faint hearted. In January my cousin, sister and I took the plunge from 8,000 feet. Out of a perfectly good airplane, we jumped into thin air.

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Prior to my experience, I was good at talking the big talk. I would tell people, “Yeah, I would jump.” Then the excuses would come. “I couldn’t because I didn’t have the time” was my favorite excuse. Then it happened, a gift certificate “good for one jump” as a Christmas present from my cousin to my sister. I couldn’t chicken out now. I couldn’t be the only one not to do it.

When I called a week in advance to reserve a time and date for three people to jump, my voice cracked, just a little. As the week progressed, my knees got weaker and my stomach got queasier every day. What was I getting myself into? Three days, two days, one day, then Saturday, the day of the jump.

I wake up, put on my best game face and try to carry on as if it were any other morning.
“ I can do this,” I tell myself. “People do it all the time.”

Inside I am terrified. Being scared of heights doesn’t help the situation, and the fact that I am terrified of roller coasters makes me all the more worried. I want to back out, and yet don’t want to admit defeat. “I can do this.”

The drive out to Dillingham Field goes by too quickly. We arrive at our drop zone, and I am not ready. We check-in and are told to watch a video about the risks of skydiving. All I hear is “… statistics show that only three out of every 100,000 jumps result in a fatal accident.” Did I just hear the word “fatal”?

“ Don’t worry”, says the receptionist. “We take every precaution to ensure a safe jump. If I can just have you read this waiver and initial here, here, here, here.”

Four pages of signing my life away, and the contract contains “DANGER” watermarks on every page. “What am I getting myself into?” I take a deep breath and sign, putting my life in the hands of “Skydive Hawaii.”

As we sit out on the deck waiting, I watch others gear up for the plunge. It seems innocent enough, everyone’s smiling, everyone looks like they are having fun.

I watch as the first set of jumpers glide gracefully down as if they are birds that belong in the sky. As they come in to land, one of them takes a wrong turn and the graceful glide turns into a fall in the neighboring polo field. The terror returns.

“ Is that normal?” I ask the closest instructor. He ignores me and gets into the truck to retrieve the strayed jumper. “What am I getting into?”

Our names get called. My cousin and I are going up together, and my sister has to wait for the next plane.

They gear us up and drive us out to the field where the plane pulls up, a five-passenger maximum capacity, old, twin-engine plane. Just the look of the plane scares me. It doesn’t look safe. A hook-and-eye type latch holds up the door, and my tandem jump instructor tells me to be careful because sometimes it gives and the door falls on your head. “What kind of plane is this?”

I crawl in anyway and am cramped behind the pilot. My knees are bent, because there is not enough space to straighten my legs.

I am at the point where I can no longer comprehend my emotions. Am I scared, am I terrified, am I excited? I don’t know. A whirlwind of emotions rush through me, including again, the dreaded idea that something could go seriously wrong.

I push it all aside and stare out my tiny window. The view is miraculous. I couldn’t have been a more beautiful day.

The plane circles around a few times to reach the jump height. My instructor asks me if I am ready. Is it too late to say no? As she fastens her harness to mine, she runs through some instructions: “Cross your arms and plant your foot on the bar outside the door. When I tap your shoulder, we are going to fall. Arch your back, and when I tap you again, extend your arms.”

Wait, did I get all that? How I am supposed to remember anything when I am staring out the window at the world 8,000 feet below.

My cousin goes first. He makes it look so easy, and then it’s my turn.

On bended knees we crawl up to the door. Cross arms, I remember. “Plant you foot,” she says. I stick my foot out the window and the rush of the wind blows it back into the plane.

“ Plant your foot!” Again I fail. She just leans out and falls anyway, taking me with her. I’m falling and I am falling fast. She taps me again to remind me to arch my back and extend my arms.

Within the first 10 seconds we accelerate to 130 MPH. This is a thrill of a lifetime.

We rush blind through clouds and then suddenly the world opens up a view of the ground below.

ith the rush, the speed, the wind, the scenery, it’s an unimaginable sensation. It’s scary yet exciting, a natural high, indescribable.

Then, I felt a slight tug as the chute opens. We glided as I soaked up the sights; you could see all of North Shore, the mountains and the ocean running out to the horizon. As we got closer, dots turned into surfers, picnickers, horseback riders, and my family, acting as my own personal cheering section.

The landing was easy and the ride was over. The experience, however, will stick with me for a lifetime.



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