Category Archives: Sport & Fun

Wet & Windy

I think I may have overdosed on adrenaline! A recent trip away from the heat and humidity of Dubai, and the Emirates, saw me head back to Europe, principally to attend the wedding of some good friends. The destination was Switzerland, or more specifically the small but fairy-tale looking lakeside town of Nyon, a short drive outside of Geneva. After the wedding itself I packed up and drove my nippy little hire car out of Switzerland and into France, directly towards the hypnotizing and impressively majestic Mont Blanc, which my now married friends have an unrivaled view of from their townhouse, across Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman, to give it it’s local name).

wakeboarding, Nyon, Lake Geneva
Perfect conditions for wakeboarding on Lake Geneva

The adrenaline rush started, however, in Switzerland, after I had stopped in at a small skate shop in Nyon whilst out for a morning run to enquire as to whether there were any options to wakeboard locally, something I was keen to repeat having indulged in the activity on the lake several years before with my friends, and also off the back of the fact that I had been practicing here in the Middle East at the lakes in Abu Dhabi. Fortunately the owner of the job had a friend with his own boat in the town and so gave me his number to see if he might be heading out during the weekend. As such, the following morning, after the fun, games and excesses of the wedding, I roused myself with an early morning breakfast Swiss style, grabbed my board shorts and Go Pro and met Stefan, his girlfriend, Charlotte, and their mutual friend and fellow watersport enthusiast, David, down at their boat before casting off on to the crystalline and tranquil waters of the lake.

Wake board, Lake Geneva
Refreshing & exhilirating!

There is no better way to blow away the cobwebs and be left feeling amazingly refreshed than to jump into the cool waters of an amazing lake, with blue skies, the sun shining, and a majestic panorama of snow-capped peaks in the distance, and to then rip it up on a wakeboard. It was awesome, and although I didn’t quite grab any major air, the very sensation of being out there was fantastic. The best part of the experience, however, was then getting to try my hand, or rather feet, at wake surfing, a totally new concept for me but the main reason for why Stefan and Charlotte had purchased their fancy wakeboard boat in the first place.

Wake surfing, Lake Geneva
Wake surfing

Wake surfing basically sees you start in the water, much as you do with traditional wake boarding, being pulled up onto your board, which in this case is a small, mini surfboard. The aim is to then find the sweet spot in the large wake created immediately behind the boat and to then literally surf it, meaning that you discard the help of the rope pulling you initially and rely on the fact that you essentially surf down the wake/ wave towards the boat. It really was surreal to be that close to the boat and yet moving without the pull of a rope. Although I wouldn’t say I was an instant natural, or even stayed standing on the board for very long at a time, it was an amazing experience and something that I can actually see the appeal of over wake boarding, which is pretty much what Stefan and co had moved away from. Those people who are well practiced, such as my fellow lake playmates that day, can start to pull off some funky trickery on the board, which was great fun to watch.

The fun very much continued as I headed off into France to continue my activity fueled vacation. The first stop was a small airstrip in Annemasse just over the Swiss-French border, and home to the local skydiving fraternity. With a runway that points directly towards Mont Blanc, the views of the highest peak in Europe are unrivaled and it was clear that jumping there was something that I had to make happen. Unfortunately by the time I arrived en-route to Chamonix it had become too windy or me to safely skydive. Not one to be deterred though I simply made the decision to return early the following morning, hoping that the winds would prove to be lighter – which they did – and spent an entire day jumping over one of the most incredible landscapes I have had the pleasure to freefall towards so far.

Skydive, in plane, Annemasse, Chris & instructorOne of the aspects of skydiving, or indeed most adrenaline sports, is the friendliness and general feeling of comararderie that you get with other participants. I jumped initially with one of the instructors, who took along his Go Pro to record the jump, and had a blast as we pretended to swim through the air and generally lark about as we took in the amazing views that are abundant from 12,000 feet in the air, especially when there isn’t a single cloud in the sky. A leisurely lunch at a traditional French cafe in town was the perfect intermission before donning the flight suit and chute again, this time jumping with Lucile, the attractive girl who I had first had the pleasure to speak with when I arrived the previous day. That jump saw me leave the plane first, with Lucile diving out afterwards before we ran through a fun ‘routine’ before breaking away and making our own way under canopy. High fives all round on the ground after successful jump number 2!

At that point I had made up my mind that the day’s freefall fun was over as I had every intention to head back to Chamonix, but the lure of a sunset jump with Mont Blanc glowing in an ethereal light, was just too much to resist. “Besides,” I thought, “I’m on holiday!” It was worth hanging around for, as I joined three other skydivers for the jump, which again was caught on film and awaits my editing attention. A top day and adrenaline sport number two of the trip already ticked off. On to the rest of the week then…

Scaling New Heights

climbing equipment, shoes, harness, chalkSitting in the Times Square Mall in Dubai, diners on the second floor have a view out over the Adventure HQ climbing wall and high wire course, a really fun attraction to have in a mall in my opinion. Watching a group of kids all scale the climbing tower just drove home to me in a sort of epiphany moment just how incredibly rewarding climbing is and how it’s such an incredible activity for both a healthy body and mind.

It is that perfect combination of an activity that not only exercises the body – and it is a full body workout – but also engages the mind in such a complete manner, with no room for distraction or dwelling on the day’s trials and tribulations. It requires laser focus to do it well and, most importantly, safely, and as such offers the mind a much needed break which I am convinced allows your sub conscious to then do its thing and make sense of those issues or questions you may have been puzzling over. It is, in essence, a form of vertical, active meditation.

As an activity for kids it is perfect, offering the ideal combination of exercise, fun, mental challenge and providing valuable returns in terms of feelings of achievement when a move goes well and the chance to think, appraise and reform ideas in the event that a move does not work out as initially planned. These are all essential skills for children to acquire, and definitely ones that adults alike should continue to cultivate and improve on.

Of course, the other wonderful aspect of climbing is the social nature of it. Both a solo sport and yet one that actively promotes close cooperation and interaction with others. What closer social experience is there than carefully looking out for someone’s welfare whilst they tackle a wall by acting as their belay partner? A solo activity that can then be discussed, critiqued, reviewed and enjoyed by friends. Perfect combination in my opinion.

Pampering is Compulsory

What do you tend to do to mark your birthdays? I made a vow to myself back when I turned sixteen that I would spend each birthday either “doing something different or be somewhere different,” and I am pleased to say that to date I have managed to stick to this informal plan. To date the experiences have included enjoying chips and champagne with investment bankers at a rooftop bar in the Square Mile, London; diving in Turkey; exploring Florence and Pisa in Italy; and getting my skydiving license.

This year as I turn 21 again (amazing how one can do that, isn’t it?!) I find myself kicking back and relaxing with a very agreeable view over the Yas Marina and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit, as I sit writing in my room at the rather fancy Yas Viceroy hotel. When deciding what to do to mark my ‘annual addition of 1’ I figured why not just take advantage of the fact I live close to some of the very best hotels in the world, and the Yas Viceroy certainly fits that category.

The hotel is actually the only one to be built pretty much on top of the F1 racetrack, and the room that I am staying in is located in the Marina Building, connected to the main part of the hotel by a really funky skybridge, which literally takes you over the track – a great viewpoint I am sure come race day.

The first thing you notice about the hotel is the crazy web-style shell that it has covering the entire hotel, which makes it look as though it is encased within a pure white exoskeleton – a great way to smooth out and curve what would otherwise be a typically straight edged building. It has the effect of making the place look quite space-age, which I daresay was the intention, especially when you see inside the rooms, all of which are very modern, clean and, well, I guess I would say minimalist.

birthday cake at Yas ViceroyFirst thing was first upon arriving…. order food! There is something very indulgent about ordering room service, even when it is just soup that you request, although the hotel went and did a fantastic job of adding some “WOW factor” to this simple transaction, by including a lovely handwritten note and a birthday cake – yes, a birthday cake – with my order. Nice move Viceroy! Nice move indeed πŸ™‚ Thoughts of cake thus spurred me on to seek out the hotel gym, which I indulgently had all to my self and so could pretend that I did indeed live here in my own, big, expensive millionaire pad!

Before too long the place has seen my bags metaphorically explode and in spite of having only been here for about 12 hours, the room looks like I moved in days ago and have no intention to leave πŸ™‚

yas viceroy, pool
Not a bad way to kick start a birthday stay

Last night saw me suit it and boot it before enjoying the delicious culinary wonders of the hotel’s Indian restaurant, Angars, with so much food that I simply couldn’t force it all down. It certainly meant that I slept like a log and had the pleasure of waking without the assistance of an alarm, to remotely open the curtains (silly, simple but a giddy joy) on a stunning Abu Dhabi morning. What does any self-respecting hotel guest do of a morning? Check out the pool is what. No day is a bad day when it starts with a swim and when the pool is as calm, quiet and, well, awesome as the one here then who can fail to feel rejuvenated and ready to take the day by the horns?!

So I have a couple more hours to enjoy the hotel before checking out and heading off for some wakeboarding at Al Forsan resort. I may just have to make this a bit of a birthday tradition….. Oh, and I guess I had better munch my way through the cake πŸ™‚

cake eating at Yas Viceroy

 

Paddle to the Beach

Paddle for the Planet, Kite Beach, DubaiOne of the very best things about living here in the Middle East is the fact that we get virtually uninterrupted awesome weather all year round. Yes, it gets horrifically hot and humid in the summer months, something that I am yet to actually experience first-hand, but the fact remains that it is excellent weather for being outdoors. On top of that we have some incredible beaches virtually on our doorsteps and easy to access.

I have already discovered a few of the stretches of beach along the Dubai coastline, from Nesnass beach where the kitesurfing crowd hang out, to JBR beach, with the Palm to the right and the towering skyscrapers and apartments of the marina as a backdrop, and where I regularly play Ultimate with other like-minded sports enthusiasts.

Friday saw me check out one of the main beaches here in Dubai, Kite Beach, as I signed up to attend a charity event called ‘Paddle for the Planet’, during which loads of people got together for an early morning paddle out into the ocean in aid of ocean based projects globally. I had just seen the event posted on good old Facebook and figured “why not?” I was due to be off work on Saturday and there was no wind forecast, so no kitesurfing to be done. It just sounded like it might be a laugh, and it was.

Kite Beach, Dubai
Kite Beach, Dubai

Kite Beach is one of those classic stretches of golden sand that you see in holiday brochures, complete with permanent wooden and palm sun shaders, volleyball courts and a range of civilised beach amenities, such as showers. There is even a cool little gym called The Shack, which has the feel of a mini Venice Beach vibe going on. I am actually going to try and attend a session one morning as I can’t think of a better place to pump some iron than right on the beach.

The turnout was impressive, with a whole host of paddlers, from surf-skiers to stand-up paddle-boarders, to kayakers, to Dragon Boats, surfboards and more. There was a big group photo on the beach at about half past 8 before we were all given the go ahead to launch ourselves into the water and paddle. I headed out as far as most people would dare and decided to turn back once I realised that I was, in fact, on my own and didn’t really fancy the idea of drifting off to Saudi. The view on the way back to shore was breathtaking, with the Burj al Arab off to the right, the towering, futuristic spectacle of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, to the left and the low rises of Jumeirah, with the beautiful minarets of the many mosques punctuating the view. I hadn’t really fully appreciated previously just how azure the sea is in Dubai, with this being one of the key things evident on the paddle back to solid ground.

Slack lining
Harder than it is made to look!

After the hard (yeah, right!) work of paddling was done, there were loads of other fun activities to keep people entertained on the beach, from the mobile climbing wall, to a pretty awesome double decker bouncy castle, to a slackline, which I had to have a go at. Actually, several, as it was certainly a lot harder than people make it look. I think I managed about one to two steps each time before wobbling and promptly falling off. Still, it was a laugh and there were plenty of freebies in the form of energy drinks and snacks on offer to keep energy levels topped up.

As far as a cracking start to a day off goes, even if that day off started at 5am, I couldn’t think of a better one πŸ™‚

An Ode to a Snappy Pair

DWS, climbing in OmanAlas, I am in mourning. Not one to usually subscribe to fashion trends or fork out for ‘designer labels’ I must confess that I joined the crowd last year when I purchased a beautiful pair of ‘designer’ sunglasses whilst skydiving in the US. Adorning my head at any opportunity when the sun is present, which means most of the time now that I live out in the UAE, we sadly parted company yesterday but in a pretty awesome way πŸ™‚

A group of fellow adrenaline junkies and I here in Dubai all headed over to Oman yesterday for a day of Deep Water Soloing, or climbing up sea cliffs with only water to break our falls. I must confess that I have tombstoned before – an experience that I engaged in as a foolish youth (well, as a newly qualified vet anyway) and which resulted in my friend and I jumping from a cliff that was, in hindsight, stupidly high – but had never climbed in this fashion before. The experience was amazing and I am convinced that there is no better way to spend a hot, sunny day than with a group of like-minded friends bobbing round a stunning coastline looking for daredevil acts to engage in, whether it be climbing or diving.

So, what happened to cause the loss of your beloved then? Well, good question. I am glad you asked. The second cliff we climbed up led to the jump being significantly higher than our first stop and in hindsight choosing to wear my Gatorz sunglasses, a cap and hang on to my GoPro Hero3 was folly. Anyway, I jumped, landed and very quickly realised that the only items I still had on me were my board shorts and climbing shoes – who’d have thunk it but landing in water from a height actually involves a fair amount of force so it should have been no surprise that my oh-so-cool headwear and I were separated.

Gatorz, magnumCaps float so that was ok, the least expensive and most easily replaced item being easily retrieved from the ocean. Metal sunglasses – expensive ones at that – and considerably more expensive GoPro cameras, however, do not float. Which sucked! Thankfully, with the swift deployment of my snorkel and mask, which I was so glad I took along even just for the fact that there was some amazing sealife to observe during the day, I spied the GoPro (phew!) and was able to dive down to retrieve it. If it were another metre down, however, then I think I may have had issues as it was just about on my free-diving limit. Still, camera and footage saved it was then time to hunt for the illusive Gatorz. In hindsight, gunmetal blue may not have been the best colour to take along as everything looks sort of blue at depth and it soon became apparent that I was not going to find my sunnies. Boo! So, a gift to the ocean they were to remain and who knows, maybe some diver will come across them and be the new owner of what are an awesome pair of quality sunglasses. As for me, I had best get ordering a new pair – maybe red would be a good idea for next time, although the lesson I took away from the experience was NOT to wear sunglasses when climbing and then jumping down – they rarely stay with you!

What can you learn from a Fall to Earth?

Space jump – what lessons for vet students?

Jump from the edge of Space
A lot can be learn’t from Felix’s jump into the unknown

As Felix Baumgartner shifted towards the edge of his balloon capsule I was, like a good seven million others, already on the edge of my seat, waiting for a monumental feat of daring, planning and, some might say, down right stupidity to finally play out after five years of planning. As a skydiver myself I was hopelessly hooked on the idea of free falling from space, knowing first hand the sheer exhilaration of falling – although it feels more like flying, hence the appeal – at terminal velocity toward the Earth, surveying our wonderful planet from a vista from which it was intended to be seen. However, what Felix was attempting, and subsequently achieved, was of a whole other magnitude. Seeing the Earth from the capsule and watching Felix “go over” and then plummet toward the ground at speeds faster than a speeding bullet was the ultimate adrenaline junky buzz, and I could hear skydivers the world over jumping up and down and high-fiving one another. Although I very nearly missed the big event on account of a dog who chose that specific period of the day to start seizuring, despite not showing even the hint of a twitch all day, it was a big moment for daredevils, science and sheer real-life entertainment.

But what lessons, if any, can you take from a man who voluntarily leaps into the great unknown, with the risk of a pretty gruesome death a very real risk, that can apply to vet school and the task of applying? Surprisingly, quite a few!

Felix Jumps into…. Vet School:

1. Have a vision & believe in it – Felix had a big vision and in spite of many, I am sure, telling him he was insane and that what he was wanting to do was impossible, he ignored the naysayers, applied himself and stayed focused on his ultimate aim. How many of you are surrounded by people telling you that vet school is beyond your reach and that it would be better for you to focus on a career choice that is “more attainable?” Unless you have the focus and determination of Felix, then most of us might be swayed by such negativity and change track, possibly looking back years later to ask “what if?” Don’t be that person. If you believe that veterinary is for you and are prepared to research, apply yourself and strive for your ultimate goal, then go for it and like Felix, work hard toward making the leap.

2. Plan like you’re going to jump from space – Felix and his team left absolutely no stone unturned and planned for every eventuality in the five years leading up to the big jump itself. Although there were a couple of hold-your-breath moments during the ascent and jump, the thorough planning of the team and Felix’s skill and preparation saw to it that they were minor hiccups rather than catastrophes. You know you want to be a vet and you know when you need to submit your application. As such, sit down and do some serious planning. Make the most of excellent resources, like this newsletter and the new website, to ensure that you leave no stone unturned and make the big jump into vet school as smooth as a space-freefall.

3. Pick your team wisely – You’re probably thinking “team? what team? I’m the only one applying to vet school.” Thats correct but then Felix was the only one to jump from the capsule. What got him there, in large part however, was the support and guidance of some fantastically motivated and skilled people who shared the same vision. You should find such people to surround you in your preparations to apply to vet school. From enthusiastic and supportive teachers at school, to generous professionals willing to conduct mock interviews, to work-experience placement providers, and positive friends and family, your support network is potentially huge and with the right help and guidance from them, you will find the journey towards vet school applications a lot less lonely and so much more rewarding.

4. Prepare for the extreme – During his free fall, Felix started spinning rapidly with a very real risk that he would pass out from the effects, which would have been disastrous. He was, however, able to correct his situation and bring things back under control, ultimately leading to success. What enabled him to do that was a combination of focused preparation and practice, including ‘mock’ jumps so that he could get used to some elements of what he could expect during the real thing. Parallels with mock interviews are clear – by preparing and practicing under conditions that are as close to the real thing as possible, then you’ll find that when the unexpected does happen, you’ll avoid entering a spin of your own.

5. Celebrate monumental successes – One thing we can all be sure of is that once back on terra firma, Felix would have had one hell of a party. And so he should have! It is really important to celebrate and recognise achievements, especially those that we have to strive for. Make sure you celebrate your achievements on your route towards vet school.

So there you have it. You can learn something from a man who throws himself from space!

Triathlon Trials & Tribulations

tired Chris 'Nerdy Vet' at finish of the London TriathlonThere is something about us humans, and especially those of us who are vets and wish to become vets, that is just that little bit crazy. That little core of determination and refusal to bow to pressure that means we can dig in and see something through to its conclusion even when the odds seem stacked against us and more ‘sane’ members of the species would accept defeat and opt for an easier way. How many of you that are currently contemplating applying to vet school or who are in the process of doing so have had people tell you that its “too hard” or that you should consider “something else” because the likelihood of success seems so remote? I daresay a few of you.

I was reminded of what it was like to have to grit my teeth and really dig in for the long, hard slog the other weekend during the London Triathlon. I have been competing as a triathlete now for about three years, with my first taste of competing at an Olympic distance being last year in Paris, France. This year I was fortunate enough to secure a place in the London event and was very much looking forward to lining up at the start line, in spite of perhaps not being at the pinnacle of my tri-race fitness. The event was amazing: huge in scale and buzzing from the moment the first competitors splashed into the dock on Saturday. I was in the penultimate wave of the entire event, on Sunday afternoon, and looked on with the sense of glum inevitability that comes with watching the British weather do its usual of promising so much and then delivering so much of the wrong thing. By the time we were limbering up and awaiting the start of our wave, the weather had well and truly closed in and a pleasantly warm, bright Autumn day had turned into a bleak Winter’s one. Still, the race must go on!

The first clue to what was in store came when it was announced that our wave’s swim was to be reduced from 1.5km to the sprint distance of 750m, due to the presence of “white horses” on the water. Any initial sense of macho indignation at being “demoted” to a shorter race distance was quickly replaced with a sense of huge gratitude and thoughts of “thank God!” as the waves that had developed in the dock (waves in a sheltered dock in London!!) turned my swim into a simulated drowning exercise. Now, I consider myself to be a relatively strong swimmer but I hated the swim that day as I not only ended up swallowing half of the rather grim looking water in the dock, nearly chucking up on more than one occasion, but resembled more of a doggy-paddling poodle than an athletic merman of a triathlete as I struggled through the water. Not a good look!

Next up was the bike stage: 40km, or two laps, past Canary Wharf and Docklands and into the heart of the City, with a turn at London Bridge. If I were to tell you that the wind was so strong that competitors were literally being blown off their bikes you would think I was joking. Well I am not. I saw several dejected souls pushing bikes back towards the ExCel centre as the rain and wind continued to batter us left, right and centre. By the time I made it towards lap two I had pretty much lost most of the feeling in my hands and was thrilled to be told by one of the stewards that they had heard the bike leg had been reduced to one lap. Alas, any hope of such fortune was short-lived as a second marshal confirmed that I did indeed have another lap to complete, and so back out into the unrelenting elements I headed.

As I powered my bike up the final ramp into the centre, thoughts turned to the fact that there was still the run to complete: 10km of it to be precise. The London Triathlon run comprises four laps of a circuit that takes you out of the Excel centre and down along the dock before looping back. The rain had been so heavy during the day that one section of the otherwise normally dry and level course had been turned into a water feature, more akin to something athletes would face in the steeplechase. By the third or fourth time though it became almost funny, with efforts made to come up with the most novel way of pretending to swim, or canoe over it providing some light relief. It has to be said that in spite of the lousy conditions, the level of support from the mental few supporters who remained outside to shout the competitors on was incredible. I think they may metaphorically have dragged several of the runners up that last hill and into the home stretch, so big up to them. The run is normally my strongest event but my legs felt pretty darn heavy by the third lap. Still, thoughts of the finish spurred me on and the sight of the line was beyond sweet. A monster race completed and a big two finger salute to the elements delivered. Would I do it again? If you asked me at the time I would likely have told you to get lost but as always happens with these things, I would gladly sign up again now.

The lesson that I guess I took away from the day was that in spite of being as prepared as I could be, in terms of having all of my equipment organised and being in the right places at the right times, occasionally circumstances beyond your control pitch up and change things, not always for the better. The choice at such times then is to either throw your hands up and accept defeat or to stick to the plan and just pull a performance out of the bag, relying both on your preparation and that little spark of something that seems to make itself available at such challenging moments. So, if you feel that the path to Vet School is proving impossibly tough in spite of your best efforts, remember to keep your eye on the prize at the end, dig in, grit your teeth and keep giving it all you have. You might still not make it but at least you can hold your head up at the end and say you gave it everything you had in spite of it all.

Good luck with everything.

How fast is Terminal Velocity?

Freefall, skydiveThere are several ways to answer this question. One is to look it up on Wikipedia, which is probably the most sensible method; the other is to do what I did in July and fling yourself repeatedly out of a perfectly good aeroplane and fall, yes fall, towards Earth eventually reaching, you guessed it, Terminal Velocity (120mph).

Skydiving is awesome! That is my overall assessment and it is a sport that I would encourage everyone – assuming you are fit, healthy and meet the minimum weight requirements – to have at least one experience of. For most, their introduction to this gravity defying – or rather, obeying – past-time is to sign up for a tandem skydive, whereby you are strapped to the front of a very well qualified and experienced instructor who is then responsible for controlling your freefall, parachute deployment and safe landing, leaving you to scream/ hold your breath/ grin/ laugh ecstatically and generally have an amazing time as you experience the ultimate rush followed by an incredible view as you literally float back down to terra firma. Many do just the one jump, satisfied that they have tried it, hopefully enjoyed it but ultimately have no desire to repeat it, whereas some, such as myself, become well and truly bitten by the bug and vow to return to the skies.

My experience of skydiving started when I was 18 and traveling in New Zealand. It was there that I did a tandem and bungee jump (body painted with the Union Jack incidentally) in the same week and vowed immediately to learn to jump solo by the time I was 30. Fast forward several years, during which time I tried out indoor skydiving – a great option for those who don’t like the idea of falling towards the ground for real – and my approaching thirtieth birthday. There was only ever one thing I was going to do and that was train for my solo skydive license.

The first decision was where to go? I was vaguely aware, through some basic research, that Spain, especially the skies around Madrid, were great places to learn, and that the US was also a popular destination for both rookies and experienced jumpers alike. It makes perfect sense actually if you think about it: to jump you need clear skies, and both are examples of places that offer plenty of these. Of course you can train in the UK, and that was an option, but as well as wanting to get my license I also wanted a real adventure, and that was only ever going to come about by leaving my home shores. As it turned out, a good friend of mine is now living in the beautiful city of San Diego, California and rather handily it turned out that they do quite a fair bit of skydiving in California. In fact, a little bit of internet research and emailing later and I had myself booked in for my first lesson with Skydive San Diego, south of the city and toward the Mexican border. Flights booked, insurance purchased and with a spot of surfing in between, I arrived all fresh-faced, eager and full of anticipation for my very first day at ‘Freefall School.’ The education had begun!

You may be asking yourself some of the following questions…

1. What exactly is skydiving?

Well, at its most basic it is essentially jumping out of an aeroplane, freefalling towards the earth for a variable period of time, depending on, among other factors, your initial altitude, and then significantly slowing your descent by deploying a parachute, thus enabling you to steer yourself safely down to a predetermined landing area on the ground. And then to do it again and again and again.

2. Is it the same as jumping off bridges, buildings, cliffs etc?

Err, no. You’re thinking of BASE jumping, which is essentially when you jump from something, in effect, fixed to the earth, ie you don’t need a plane, helicopter or balloon to get to your jump point. You don’t “start out” BASE jumping – not unless you wish to have a very very short parachuting career and life – and it is most definately a branch of skydiving that people “graduate onto,” should they wish to really take their adrenaline addiction to another level. The amount of time in freefall is usually significantly less than normal skydiving, as you’re so much lower, and BASE-jumpers will often deploy their chutes as they jump. Having said that, there are some places you can jump, such as some massively high cliffs in Northern Europe, or styles of jumping, such as wingsuit flying, that will enable you to ‘freefall’ for longer and maximise the buzz. Check out the videos online – they make for epic viewing!

3. Why do people skydive? Are they mental?!

That’s one theory, yes. Everyone who skydives will do so for their own unique reasons and you’ll have to ask them. For me, it is a multitude of factors that attracted me initially to the sport and has well and truly gotten me hooked. The nervous anticipation of what it is you’re about to do as you climb into the plane and ascend towards jump altitude is surreal and strangely meditative. You simply cannot afford to let your mind be preoccupied with anything other than your skydive and so its a great way of clearing your head of all of life’s deluge of, ultimately, unimportant details and concerns. Climbing is a little like that as well. In fact, any activity that relies on your complete and utter focus is a great way to relieve stress and free your mind from its usual baggage. Once you step to the door, your heart starts pumping and you have a choice to make in that moment: jump or don’t jump. Simple. This is then followed by sheer unadulterated ecstasy as adrenaline literally courses through your veins, permeating every inch of your being. The strange thing is that although you know that you are in fact hurtling towards the ground at terminal velocity, the fact that the ground isn’t rushing up to meet you as it does with a bungee jump, results in you feeling as though you are, genuinely flying. This is a phenomenon that is amplified when jumping with other skydivers, as you just get to do the kind of crazy moves, such as flips, that you would never be able to do normally. Then there’s the oh-my-god-hold-your-breath moment as you deploy your parachute and wait for it to fully open, thus ending your freefall and taking you into the final phase of your jump, which is the canopy descent back to your life on the ground. The feeling of achievement and satisfaction that comes with touching down safely is hard to rival through any other activity. So, for me, skydiving is the ultimate way to simultaneously relax and get that awesome adrenaline buzz all in one. Some might call it ‘Healthy Heroin.’

 

DISCLAIMER: Anything written here is based on my own, personal experiences of skydiving and do not constitute in any way professional instruction or advice to go and jump out of a plane. If you happen to feel inspired to do so then do the sensible thing and consult a skydive centre with proper, real, qualified instructors.