Without any doubt, this has to be the best thing that I have ever done. The view of the palm and the city of Dubai from up there was breath-taking. Not just the jump, but the entire experience leading to it was just incredible. The staff was very professional and they knew exactly what they were suppose to do. I thank the entire team at Skydive Dubai; especially my instructor JP and videographer Brittany for this amazing experience and for making me feel super safe. It was a birthday well spent and needless to say that I wish to return and experience it all over again.
It is such a good feeling to take time and look back to reflect on all the beautiful things that you experience in life. It motivates me to continue pursuing my dreams. I hope you all enjoy reading the post just like how I enjoyed recollecting all the memories while writing it.
Here is my story ...
It started many months prior to the jump date. Hundreds of videos viewed and viewed all over again. Many reviews and blogs read and read all over again. It had become a routine. I was all over the internet, grabbing as much information as possible about the sport. I was trying to convince myself that it must be real fun to fly. But, my fear of heights was not letting me believe in the fun part, which the videos and blogs were trying to portray. Every single person seemed to have liked the experience; some went on to become regulars & some became professional divers and some said that it was an amazing experience and they would never do it again. I wanted to try this in order to overcome my fear of heights and I promised myself that I will never do it again if I survived the ordeal and did not like it. It must be really crazy to jump out of a perfectly alright plane. Indeed it is!
Having made up my mind to jump, the next step was to choose a location. This was another important decision that I had to make. As soon as you jump out of the plane you expect yourself to be treated to a wonderful view. You try to see everything that's around you and as far as your eyes can. It must be a sight worth seeing. Apart from the view, the safety standards and reputation of the drop zone are of equal importance. After a little bit of homework, the decision was instant and a relatively easier one. It had to be Dubai. The pictures of the location further intensified my excitement - the bird's eye view of the man made islands - The Palm Jumeirah, The World Islands, pristine blue waters of the Persian Gulf, Dubai's skyline and its iconic landmarks - Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa, The Atlantis and Dubai Marina, you get to see them all and from a different angle altogether. Skydive Dubai is relatively new to the world of skydiving. But, it is already high on the popularity charts and is one of the world's most premium skydiving institutes. The equipment used is of the best possible quality and the instructors are highly trained professionals with a minimum of 5,000 jumps each under their belts. The safety standards are supreme and it also boasts of hosting one of the biggest annual international skydive championships. Safety should not be much of a concern here because when you are in Dubai, everything has to be the best.
Booking my slot:
Skydive Dubai is very popular among the thrill seeking community. All the slots are usually full throughout their working calendar. The bookings must be made at least 2 months prior to the jump date in order to guarantee a reservation on the plane. Hence my travel to Dubai was completely dependent on the reservation date. The plan was to jump on my birthday (20- Feb-2016). It was October 2015. The bookings for February were not open and I had absolutely no idea about when they would be made available. I was eagerly waiting and the wait was endless. October went by and so did November and December. The wait continued as the calendar for February was still blocked. I became a very frequent visitor to their website, visiting multiple times in a day to check their calendar status. And finally, in the 1st week of January, the bookings for February and March were unblocked. 20th February 2016 - Reporting Time 10 am, said the confirmation message after making the initial payment. I was ecstatic. Having confirmed my jump date, the other formalities of booking my flight tickets, visa and accommodation followed. My thoughts of skydiving were now actually turning into a reality. There was no looking back from now on.
On the day of my jump (20-Feb-2016):
Good Morning Dubai! Early morning Dubai sunshine - such bliss! The much awaited day was here - the day that I was waiting for many months. I was excited, very excited! Super excited! After having finished my morning prayers, I quickly got ready for the big day. I had to travel around 30 kms to reach the drop zone. A quick 10 minute walk from my hotel to the Union Square from where I boarded a metro train towards Dubai Marina for a 60 minute journey through some of the city's iconic landmarks - The Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall and The Burj Al Arab. The metro rail is adjacent to the high speed, 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road. The Ferraris, the Lamborghinis, the Buggattis, the Camaros, the Hummers - I spotted them all; they were all there gliding over the butter smooth road. It's a car lovers paradise! For a moment, I wished I had my humble Honda City with me on that road.
The only thing that I was skeptical about was the weather. In a matter of 30-45 minutes, the weather turned from being sunny to misty and foggy. The visibility was getting poorer as I reached the drop zone. Skydiving is a weather-dependent sport. Keeping my fingers crossed, I gave assurance to myself that it was still 8 am and the weather will definitely clear up. I reached the venue at 8:30 am, 1.5 hours before my reporting time. The place was very beautiful, quite and peaceful. It was hard to spot even a single person. Looked like I was the first one to reach the venue. With 1.5 hours to go, I had ample amount of time to explore the place. Here are some pictures and a video grab of the location.
It was 10 am. The weather had cleared - it was sunny and I was relieved. After having a light breakfast at the cafeteria, I quickly checked into the main building and bought a black "SKYDIVE DUBAI" printed T-shirt from their merchandise store. Took no time to get into my skydiving attire - my newly bought T-shirt, shorts and shoes. I was ready. Within no time, the place was full of activity. Stood in the queue of 10 and it took me 15 minutes to reach the registration desk.
"Marhaba! Welcome to Skydive Dubai", she wished with a wide smile on her face. She then validated my booking order and measured my weight and height. My BMI reading was 23.5, well within their maximum prescribed limit of 30. I was then asked to pay the remaining amount and was given a 5-page waiver. She insisted on my reading it very carefully. I remember having signed on that waiver about 40 times, perhaps more. This is a document that will remind you that anything can go wrong and you are solely responsible for it. Believe me, this piece of paper is scary. Even after having made up your mind to jump, this is the only thing that will make you feel that you shouldn't be doing this.
The waiver said something similar to this:
"I know and understand the scope, nature and extent of the risks involved in the activities covered by this agreement and that some dangers cannot be foreseen. I understand that these risks include, but are not limited to: equipment malfunction or failure to function; defective or negligent design or manufacture of equipment, improper or negligent parachute packing or assembly; improper or negligent operation or use of the equipment; carelessness of negligence of skydivers / parachutists, instructors, jump masters, pilots or ground crew; improper or negligent instruction or supervision. I voluntarily, freely, and expressly choose to incur all risks associated with the activities covered by this agreement, understanding that those risks may include bodily and personal injury, damage to property, disfigurement or death. I voluntarily and freely choose to incur such risks and take responsibility."
That means you know that the pilot may be both careless and negligent. He may forget to fuel the plane, or neglect to keep his rating current. The drop zone may neglect engine maintenance. The plane may crash. Your instructor may be a nutcase and may choose not to open the parachute. Even if he opens the parachute, it may malfunction. There are a thousand odd things that can go wrong. And, knowing all that, I still agreed to take the risks and I agreed not to sue them in case I survived any mishap. Insane!
The key here is to decide beforehand. You do not want to reach the drop zone and then decide not to do it. There can be nothing stronger than a made up mind. Sign the waiver and keep your word, or don't jump. I decided against the latter and it turned out to be the best decision that I had ever made. I submitted the form and was allotted to two divers - JP and Brittany. JP was my instructor and Brittany was my videographer.
After having waited for about 15 minutes, my name was called from a distance. It was JP - my instructor. "Come, let's throw you out of a plane", were the first set of words from his mouth. Hearing that, my nervousness instantly multiplied exponentially. Actually, it was mixture of multiple emotions - anxiousness, nervousness, happiness, excitement and the fear of the unknown and uncertainty along with my age old fear of heights. While he was putting my harness on, I was briefed with a series of instructions and made to go through a body positioning drill.
"Do not not jump, I will push you out on a count of three. Have your head laid back on my shoulder and your arms crossed against your chest while exiting from the plane. We fall. Three taps on your shoulder and you open up. Remember to have your feet always bent backwards towards my back and do not forget to smile at the camera. While landing have your feet upwards and parallel to the ground. Any questions?", he asked. "How many times have you done this?" was my instant, nervous and a curious reply. He said, "8,000 times", with a proud and a confident voice. That means this guy has jumped out of a plane from 13,000 feet about 8,000 times and survived each time. So the probability of surviving this jump was very high - I thought to myself with an attempt to reassure myself that everything was going to be fine. He had to be the most important person in my life. After all, I was trusting him with my life. I was trusting a person whom I had met just moments earlier. This guy's only job was to literally push me out of the plane and not let me die. Madness, isn't it?
All formalities done, instructions understood, check of the harness completed and it was time to go. They took us in a golf cart to the runway. The plane landed and I was the first person to get into it. Meaning, I was going to be the last one jumping out.
Inside the plane:
The plane can hold a maximum of 20 people - a jumper with his instructor and videographer i.e. 6 jumpers, 6 instructors, 6 videographers and then the pilot of course and a co-pilot. The plane had benches on either side. All the instructors and videographers had an altimeter on their wrists to determine the altitude. We buckled our seat belts and the plane took off. With each passing minute, we were going higher and higher. I could feel the pressure in my ears. The view from the window pane was indescribable. Just when I felt that this must be high enough, better get ready to jump, JP shouted in my ears, "We are just half our way up." His altimeter was reading 6,000 feet. This was when I realized just how high 13,000 feet really was. It was very high. It took us around 20 minutes to reach the height of 13,000 feet. I can't explain what it’s like to hear the door open for the first time and feel the rush of wind enter the cabin. It was intimidating. It was loud. It was very loud.
One after the other, they started jumping out. The videographer jumps a fraction earlier than the jumper who is buckled to his instructor. My turn was getting closer. I sat on JP's lap and he buckled his harness tightly to mine. He asked me to put on my goggles while doing the final inspection of the equipment. We started duck-walking towards the exit and the moment was here. Me sitting on the edge of the plane at 13,000 ft staring down at planet earth - this moment was the most nerve-racking part of the entire experience. My heartbeat was faster and like never before. On the edge, just before shutting his helmet shield, he shouted in my ears, "Welcome to my office, do not worry, enjoy the ride and do not forget to smile at the camera."
The 60-second freefall:
1..2..3 and we were gone!!! "OOOoooaaaAAAhhhh", I screamed and continued screaming. That feeling was from out of this world! No training could have prepared me for this. There is no exaggeration when I say that it feels like time freezes, I flew almost in slow motion out of the door. These first 5-6 seconds were the best part of the jump. The feeling of being swept away by the wind is indescribable. The next thing that I remember was JP's tap on my shoulders and as per the instructions I opened up my arms. I was flying or rather falling although it did not feel like a fall, because there wasn't anything that was moving past me. It felt like I was floating with an intense rush of wind hitting every inch of my body and I could barely hear my own scream. I saw Brittany floating with us in close proximity. I started switching roles between smiling at the camera and screaming and sometimes mixing them both at the same time. It was fun. This was the closest that a human can get to fly and I was experiencing it. Falling down at a terminal velocity of 220 km/h for about 60 seconds and experiencing gravity like never before was quite an exhilarating experience.
Things changed drastically in a couple of seconds. Slowing down from 220 km/h to a mere 10 km/h in just 2 seconds flat - that was when I realized that I was still attached to JP's harness and he had deployed the parachute and it had worked. It was a sudden jerk. But who cares about the jerk, the relief of the parachute working took over. It then became calm, quite and it was very cold up there. I did not expect it to be cold in Dubai. But one thing that I had expected was the view. Oh my God, it was amazing! My jaw dropped in awe. The curvature of the horizon, the vast desert on one side and the beautiful Persian Gulf on the other, the world's tallest building - Burj Khalifa was looking the size of a needle. The astounding over head view of the man made islands - The Palm Jumeirah, The World Islands, Dubai's skyline and its iconic landmarks - Burj Al Arab, The Atlantis and Dubai Marina. I was seeing them all. I was seeing the city of Dubai from a different view altogether. It was very beautiful and those scenes were captured in my memories forever.
We then started swirling our way down slowly and steadily. He pulled the lines towards left to descend downwards in the left direction and then right, to descend in the right direction. This continued in an alternate pattern multiple times. We were reaching closer and closer to planet earth and it was time for touchdown. As instructed, I had my legs parallel to the ground and the touch down was very smooth. The expedition had come to an end. And all this happened in a matter of just 30 minutes (from sitting in the plane to touchdown), but I'm very sure that it will last in my mind for a lifetime! In short, from start to finish, it was just perfect! Thank you Skydive-Dubai and goodbye acrophobia!
"The City of Gold" has many things to offer. As far as I'm concerned, no trip to this buzzing and glamorous metropolis is complete without this electrifying expedition. As a matter of fact, I personally consider it to be the biggest and the most captivating highlights of the city.
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