I always surprise people when I tell them that I skydive on a regular basis.
I often talk to strangers about my son as a way of starting off conversations. I enjoy telling them about all the different countries that he’s been to, as well as the amount of long distance flights that he’s been on. Whenever the conversation eventually winds it’s way back round to me, I’m usually asked the question: ‘And do you fly much?’
This is when I smile to myself and say that, as it so happens, although I rarely leave the country, I sometimes fly as many as 8 times a year. This usually baffles people – so I’m forced to elaborate and reveal probably the single most exciting thing about myself: I’m a 65-year old Mum, full-time receptionist and a self-confessed skydiving addict.
I’ve already discussed how sky diving helped me get over my fear of flying on this blog, but I’ve not elaborated on how that first experience turned into a hobby that truly transformed the way my later life would be shaped.
When my son left home to study at University I was left in the kind of position that many parents will find familiar. I’d made the same mistake that many had made before me – Michael had occupied my thoughts for nearly two decades. His well being, his results at school, the friends he’d made, the girls he was dating, the parties he’d go to, the food he ate. These were the thoughts that would be constantly racing through my mind on a day-to-day basis – all the little variables of his life that would combine to create the man that he was destined to become. I had little or no control over any of these variables, yet I still worried about them relentlessly.
It was only when I dropped him off at his halls of residence for his first year of university that I realised that all that worrying was a fruitless endeavour. But, without the worrying, without the constant thoughts whirring through my head, I realised that I didn’t have much else to think about. Work on Monday, food shopping Sunday, walk the dog, clean the car. All these tasks felt easy to handle without a human being to be responsible for. Suddenly, my life was without challenge – something had to change.
I know it sounds sad, but I can’t be the only parent who’s fallen for this trap. My hobby for the majority of my adult life was raising my child and now that had come to an end, I needed to find a new one.
At a loss for a direction to take, I focused on one of the few worries that lingered in my mind: the fear of flying.
TL;DR My only son left home and forced me to conquer my fear of flying.
As far as hobbies go, they don’t get much more expensive than Sky Diving.
In this post-financial crash, post-Brexit world with the student debt crisis, it can feel like an impossible task to afford just one jump per month. But over the years since my graduation, I’ve managed to figure out a few ways to make this money-burning habit just about affordable whilst also struggling along on a basic salary.
Obviously common sense should be applied to these tips and I can’t claim to be a financial expert, which is what you probably should be if you’re planning on making skydiving your main past time. These are simply a few of the tricks I’ve learnt over the years that have allowed me to jump up to three times a month in the last year.
Join a club
I created the Skydiving Society at my University in order to gain access to cheaper dives and discounts on equipment. This was all well and good whilst I was still at University, but once I was out in the open job market I lost all of those privileges. Thankfully, there are loads of clubs dotted around England that offer slightly cheaper rates if you choose to sign up for a membership. This is just the first step in the process of making your new hobby that bit more affordable.
Skydiving clubs aren’t exclusive places. They’re always eager to welcome new members and there’s always work to get done. The best way to earn brownie points for your local club is to get stuck into the never ending task of packing chutes. Some clubs run a ‘Jump points’ system, so the amount of hours that you dedicated to this repetitive grunt work will directly aid you into getting back into the sky all the sooner.
Even though this kind of work is not particularly interesting, you may find that you’ll have to wait in line until a space comes up – this is the best known way of skydiving on a budget! Take a look at some forums for further details…
Work within the club
Of course, there are always other ways that you can aid your new club members. Depending on your particular set of skills, you might find that there are loads of different ways to aid your new friends.
It could be adding a fresh lick of paint to the club house, helping with aircraft maintenance or simply tending the bar for a few nights per week. Play to your strengths and make sure that you look willing, this is the best way to get people on your side and a sure fire method of grabbing more of those much coveted Jump points.
Forget other hobbies
Unfortunately, when it really comes down to it, unless you’re a high-earner with no other financial responsibilities (ie. children or a mortgage) then you’re going to find it difficult to get airborne as well as enjoy any other hobbies that you may have. The best way to find yourself diving regularly is to simply cut back on all your other expenses. That means cancelling your extravagant holiday plans, giving up on buying that new bomber jacket that you’ve had your eye on and cutting back on your food bill. It might not be cool, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Start buying your own equipment
In some ways Skydiving is very similar to other extreme sports, such as skiing or snowboarding. The cost of these activities can always be greatly reduced by slowly purchasing your own equipment.
This is where the real commitment begins. This equipment is not cheap and it also takes up space in your home.
But, as soon as you start investing you’ll find your overall costs will reduce greatly and your opportunities to dive will increase.
When I was asked to write a piece for this site last year I was still high on the rush from my first season of sky diving proper. I was in the process of an indoctrination that would effectively transform my lifestyle from a work based one, shackled by the restrictions of normative conventions, to a more free-form one where I’ve now become more socially liberated and mobile than ever before.
Whichever way you look at it, there’s a biological reason why Sky Diving is known to be a perfect antidote to a mid-life crisis. Personally, before I took my first dive, I knew that I was circling a drain of sorts. My work life had become so commonplace that I no longer gained any enjoyment from it.
The board meetings, the business trips, the presentations: these used to be a challenge, a chance for me to test my mettle. But the more you’re put into these situations, the less they pose a threat. The important men in suits, the disapproving frowns; these worrying cues soon disappear after you’ve successfully faced them a few times.
I found myself drifting into stranger and stranger habits.
Fast cars, rock climbing. These physical challenges were thrilling but they didn’t reinvigorate me the way that I would have hoped. In truth, my first sky dive, although it was a key part in me forming my new life, didn’t thrill me quite as much as what was to come after.
I’m often asked how I can afford to go skydive two to three times a month. It’s a reasonable question and the sport, quite rightfully, has the reputation for being a novelty activity by dint of it being so costly. Even though I have some financial support, in terms of what I earn in my day job, I still had to take measures to reduce the overall cost of my new hobby that promised to make a serious impression on my retirement fund otherwise.
After my first dive I knew that I needed to do this again. When I inquired with the instructors they told me that the best way was to join my local club, if I wanted to get regular dives at a cheaper rate. These clubs are willing to accept anyone but, as with any social club, there is an aspect of belonging to such a group that requires you to get along with the other members.
Sometimes entering an alien social situation can be just as refreshing as jumping out of a plane at several thousand feet.
Entering a room of happily chatting people, who you are essentially a stranger to, is bewildering. My mind immediately drifted back to my time as a Graduate Trainee, attempting to network and make friends with the strangers that would become my lifelong colleagues.
It might sound sad, but the amount of times that I’ve had the chance to meet new people in the last few years have been incredibly slim. I’ve managed to maintain a small group of friends and I mostly work with the same people, day in – day out.
Now I was presented with a new challenge that I simply had not expected. I now had the chance to prove myself to what would become my new friends that I would rely on in the most dangerous of situations.
When I joined the RAF in 1950, parachuting was what we called skydiving. At that point the notion of jumping out of a plane for fun would have seemed ridiculous.
When one jumped out of a plane it was either for a training exercise or it was because one needed to escape a burning cockpit. Air planes were expensive machines back then, something that’s never changed. So, even if black smoke did start to appear, we were trained to wait until the very last minute to abandon the machine. It was a last resort.
I was 18 when I joined up. Just a youngster during the Second World War, I’d survived many air raids in my time and held the armed forces in great regard as a result. The sacrifice of so many during that time had struck a chord with me, especially since I lost my own Father during the chaos and bloodshed: his body was never found.
They were heady days back then, and a good time to be in uniform. The country was jubilant in the initial wake of the Second World War, but it was also tired. There was more of a grim determination to enjoy life, given that so many had died to protect it. We did not feel prosperous but we were making do.
My division was stationed in Berkshire, we were mostly picking up were our forbears left off. Ready to go at a moment’s notice but mostly focused on training and learning. I’d joined up for the steady work and to honour my family, but didn’t expect to find such satisfaction in falling from the sky.
After what felt like endless weeks of training, I was taken to the skies for the first time. Although there are plenty of things that I’ve forgotten in my 84 years – I hope I’ll never forget the feeling of taking off for the first time. For a teenager barely out of boyhood, the exhilaration of being borne into the skies – where some of the great battles for our country had been fought – was almost too much.
The Percival Prentice was the first aircraft I was allowed to take control of. Even though it was only a few years old, it felt ancient. I’d never flown before, seeing the green fields of England beneath me for the first time took my breath away – I remember the flight instructor smiling at me, I think I might have been crying.
That was to be the first flight of many, but it was the parachuting that would come to define my career.
On a Veteran Celebration Day recently, I was introduced to the young men and women who are currently serving in the Armed Forces. In honour of the men who had served throughout the history of the Armed Forces, these youngsters were dressed in the uniforms of the 40s and 50s – it almost felt like stepping back in time.
Alongside a working Percival Prentice was a young chap, kitted out in full parachuting gear. He told me that he had assembled the gear himself, replacing key components with scraps of materials donated by local businesses. The parachute was what caught my eye the most.
Stitched together with a sturdy acrylic material, on closer inspection the chute was formed of safety covers for swimming pools. The material might have been a little too rigid and inflexible to pack a way into a bag, but the effect was striking. The shining blue lining of the cover, taken from a public swimming pool that no longer had any use for it, took me right back to my first dive – a clear day in ’51, I remember fearing for my life.
“You’ll be fine, laddie.”
I must have been shaking. Its one thing taking the stick of a plane for the first time but jumping from a moving aircraft felt like suicide.
Back then our equipment was relatively rudimentary, the gear had been checked and re-checked by professionals but there was still a niggling doubt in my mind.
When it came to jump, I’d just about made peace with God and accepted my fate. A small shove in the small of my back and I was hurtling through the air, struggling to control my descent. My training had not prepared me for the adrenaline rush – nor had it be prepared me for the strange feeling of serenity. The experience of weightlessness is one that I will never forget.
I pulled the cord, and decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
My crippling fear of flying stems from a traumatic event that occurred to me when I was 10 years old. Decades later I’m now a fully qualified skydiver with over 20 dives to my name, this is how I conquered my fear.
Back in 1961, flying was not as cheap or as common-place as it was today. However, by this point travelling around the world was starting to be claimed by the every-man. No longer was flight an unreachable luxury, reserved for only the richest of businessmen and musicians. Commercial airports were beginning to crop up all around the UK and young families were starting to take their first faltering steps into the world of the package holiday.
I was fortunate enough at the time to have parents that both earned a considerable amount of money. My father was a manager for a local car dealership and my mother was one of the few female car salesmen in the country. A winning team in marriage and business, they loved nothing more than lavishing us with holidays. Up until that point we’d been to Scotland, London and Cornwall – all of which felt like exotic places when compared to our industrial Sheffield.
However, when 1959’s financial year came to a close, my parents’ business had pulled in more money that ever before, and they wanted to celebrate. A package deal, one of the first of its kind, was booked to Barcelona and we were all ecstatic. Neither of my parents had ever flown before, yet they were confident in the safety of flying (despite Buddy Holly’s death in early 1959) and were glowing with pride as we pulled up to the airport with myself and my older brother.
With airport travel being such a novelty for most British people at the time, there were a lot of inexperienced flyers in the terminal that day. As a 10 year old child, unused to large crowds, I found the press of people claustrophobic. The combined stress and worry of the couple of hundred people, queuing before the security terminal, had my heart racing. When it came to passing through the security, I was shouted at by one of the officers. My parents, bless them, were little comfort as they started to become just as edgy and nervous as the other people.
When it came to boarding the plane, I was a nervous wreck. I had decided to be grown up and not cry, but the tension was building inside of me. The air hostesses could sense my fear, but there was little they could do as the other passengers, by this point, had whipped themselves into the closest thing British people could get to a frenzy.
The engines started with a choke and splutter. My parents, assuming I was now fine with the whole ordeal, put me on the window seat right above the wing. Once the engines were pushed to full throttle the sound was deafening and I felt like the very bones in my body were being shaken. By this point I had resigned myself to death, silent tears were falling down my face and I was visibly shaking – but no one noticed. So lost in their own heads, were my parents, that they took no notice. I’d never felt more lost and alone.
Four hours later, we had landed and were fine. But the 2 weeks we spent in Spain were overshadowed by the catatonic state that I had fallen into. Unwilling to communicate or look anyone in the eyes, I had retreated into my own head. I believed that I had died, and could not come to terms with the shock of being hurtled through the air at thousands of miles per hour.
That day scarred me for years.
If I saw a scene involving an air plane at the cinema, I would have to leave the auditorium in a cold sweat. Just the sound of a plane passing over head would send my heart racing. I had to carry medication around with me, in case a panic attack was unexpectedly triggered.
It took me five decades and years of therapy to see a plane in the sky and not fall back into a state of panic and fear.
Around 2010, my son went travelling around the world. On his gap year, he’d not been allowed to travel on planes up til this point due to my nervousness, I could no longer stop him from exploring the world. He took eight long distance flights in the space of a year. He called after each and everyone to tell me that he’d landed safely. When he came back home, he was breathless with adventures and excitement – I knew that I needed to conquer my fear.
I was 60, and I’d only left the country once. Both my children were about to leave home and I’d barely seen the world outside my home city of Sheffield.
It was my therapist who suggested the skydive. I’d been seeing him for years, but after I’d told him about my son’s experience he must have seen the determination in my eyes.
When it came to the first jump, my husband was holding me firmly by the hand. Ironically, it was the taking off in the plane that was the scariest part. The plane was small, and I was shaking before I’d even stepped up to the door.
Once the door was slammed shut, and the engine had been pushed to full throttle I was practising my relaxation techniques and focusing on the comforting embrace of my husband.
The jump was one of pure liberation.
Not only was I doing something that most 60-year old women would never dream of attempting, I was celebrating my conquering of a fear that had ruled my mind for decades.
Three years after my first skydive for charity, I had over twenty dives under my belt. I’d passed the first three levels of the AFF qualifications, and started the first Skydiving Society at my University. The skydive bug had dug its teeth in deep. After my first skydive for charity, all I’d wanted to do was to get back in the air and make the leap once more. My close friends thought I was crazy. I’d gone from being a girly girl, living for the weekend and going out to a studious, skynerd who saved all her pennies for her next dive.
Luckily, I’d made a heap of friends whilst starting the Society. Jumping out of a moving plane at 5000 feet tends to bond individuals, no matter how disparate your personalities seem from the start. This was ideal, as my next plan for my skydiving escapades would take me far out of the United Kingdom and into uncharted territories. Catalonia was the destination that I had in mind, I’d read in magazines about the gorgeous countryside and it sounded amazing. There were loads of Skydiving Companies out there who all had good reps online, so it was just a matter of booking the flights and getting out there.
We very nearly didn’t make the flights, if it hadn’t been for my Mum forcing me to book parking from Edinburgh airport (airportparkingmarket.co.uk has the best deals!) we would’ve missed them for sure. We were so busy thinking of insurance, currency and accommodation that we never thought of it. After waiting half an hour for Toby to drag his ridiculously oversized luggage to the car, and getting stuck in traffic for another twenty minutes; we were close to running late. Thank the Lord, my Mum forced us to book a parking space. We breezed in to the car park and just about made it through security in time. I blamed Toby, Toby blamed the traffic – we all thanked my Mum.
Sunny Catalonia was everything that the magazine pictures promised and more. The magazines didn’t feature the wonderfully friendly locals who helped us find our way to the airfield; the magazine also neglected to mention the stunning food that totally blew our minds. If you’ve taken a few sky dives and enjoyed them, I wholeheartedly recommend taking a dive overseas. The combination of exploring a new country and jumping out of a plane to get the ultimate panoramic view makes for an absolutely awesome experience!
When I first got into skydiving, I was at a crossroads in my life. In my mid-30s, I had plenty of money. My job in recruitment had put me in a stable financial position however, due to the large amount of hours that I worked, I was single and without a family. Now many people would argue that I had all the time in the world, that my money and job made me desirable – and that I was easy on the eyes. I wouldn’t feign to disagree with these people, but it wasn’t a partner and family that I was seeking in my thirties. No, after nearly 15 years of office work and board room meetings, I needed adrenaline.
Now, I had tried a lot of the typical extreme sports already. In fact, in the years before my first dive, I had experimented with surfing, rock climbing and had a brief love affair with very fast cars. Although these proved to be worthy distractions to my ennui, there was an itch that had not been fully scratched. Nothing felt visceral enough, there were either too many safety precautions in place or the danger just didn’t feel real enough.
My first sky dive was a gift to me from my sister. She’d watched haplessly as the Porsches came and went and as my garage filled up and emptied of an assortment of ropes, hooks and pulleys. I’d dismissed skydiving up to this point as a novelty, an expensive time-consuming hobby with a fleeting high. How wrong I was. The training and induction took an entire day, although I found it tedious for the first hour, every minute leading up to the jump my excitement began to mount. As individuals were led away, one by one, to the planes that were taking off and landing all day, I felt something that I was not accustomed to – fear.
I had driven cars at hundreds of miles per hour, I’d been paddle-board shark fishing in the Pacific but somehow I found myself scared at a simple jump. A jump that I had seen pensioners performing just earlier. The fear that built was an innate one and it only grew as the day wore and my time finally came to take the plunge. I had taken many flights before, but not in a plane so small. As we took off, a wild eyed kind of panic took hold of me. My eyes must have betrayed my emotions as the instructors on board asked me if I was alright. I nodded my affirmation and took the plunge, and what followed was one minute of sheer unadulterated adrenaline.
A sky dive is ‘one of those’ experiences. Something that can be described and elucidated, but never fully communicated. Even if you don’t have the same need for speed that I have, I can guarantee you that your first sky dive (even if its your last one) will be an experience that you will never forget.