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(Image: Seattle Refined)

A Grown Man's Guide to Skydiving for the First Time (with only minimal crying)

I’m not a fan of heights. Not phobia status or anything. I just prefer to have my feet planted firmly on solid ground. So, as you might expect, the thought of going skydiving, of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, rarely crossed my mind. When it did, it was quickly followed by another thought. ‘I would never do that’.

Most of my family doesn’t share my fear. My brother went skydiving on his 21st birthday, and my mom, well, simply put she’s hardcore. Back in the 70’s she used to jump out of planes solo. Apparently skydiving was one of her hobbies, which seems insane because, well, it was the 70’s, and I have to imagine the safety protocols weren’t as solid as they are now.

She’s been gently pushing me to try the sport for years. Maybe that’s why, when the Refined team was discussing story ideas, I blurted out, “What if I go skydiving?”

Honestly, I threw it out there thinking no one would bite. I assumed everyone would think it was a terrible idea and we would move on. To my surprise and dismay, everyone thought it was a VERY good idea.

Within a matter of days the jump was booked. I was going skydiving whether I liked it or not.

I did not like it, at least the thought of it. I spent the weeks leading up to my jump alternately pumping myself up and running through every possible disaster scenario. What if my chute doesn’t open? What if the harness breaks? If I got separated from my instructor could I survive the fall (probably not I decided, unless I got lucky and landed in a hedge)? You get the idea. I was scared.

On the morning of the jump I was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. I figured, if I’m going to die today, at least it’s nice out. My colleagues were particularly cheerful as we packed the car and hit the road for Snohomish. Why not? They weren’t the ones putting their life on the line, I was. But when we arrived at Skydive Snohomish, something unexpected happened. My nerves slowly started to fade away. Why? One reason is the facility itself. It’s legitimately nice. Spacious and extremely well-maintained, with cornhole on the lawn and a large viewing area for guests. The other is the staff, led by GM Tyson Harvey. The team at Skydive Snohomish works with first-timers all the time, and as Tyson told me, they consider it a privilege to introduce people to the sport.

After safety training, I met my instructor Vladimir. That’s really when I knew everything was going to be okay. Like all the instructors at Skydive Snohomish, he’s a pro. Vlad has more than 20,000 jumps under his belt. He also happens to be the perfect combination of professional, personable and hilarious. By the time we suited up and headed to the plane, I wasn’t scared, I was just fired up. The jump was happening and I actually felt ready.

The ride to 13,500 feet took about 15 minutes. There were spectacular views of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Puget Sound, but quite honestly I wasn’t paying too much attention to the sights. I was focused, listening to final instructions from Vlad and staring at the door. The door we’d be exiting from in a matter of minutes. This was happening. No turning back.

When we reached cruising altitude everything happened fast. The roar of the plane’s engine went quiet. The light on the side of the door suddenly lit up red. The door was open. The light turned green. Within seconds three experienced jumpers were out the door. Then it was my turn (Pro tip: if you can jump first do it. There’s no time to think. You just go). Vlad and I crawled towards the door. Just like that my feet were hanging off the edge of a moving aircraft. In retrospect, that’s an insane thing to think about. Sitting on the EDGE of an airplane. But at the time, I wasn’t thinking. My adrenaline was pumping. We rocked back once, then in the blink of an eye I felt my body leave the plane. We were FALLING!

It took me a few second to get my bearings. Falling through the air didn’t feel like falling. It’s actually similar to sticking your head out the car window. The air is rushing by, but at the same time you feel almost weightless. Apparently we were in free fall for almost a minute, but between playing to the cameras (this was a TV shoot after all) and trying to comprehend what was happening, it felt like 10-15 seconds.

When our chute deployed the sound of rushing air was replaced by silence. Amidst the adrenaline, I felt a sense of relief mixed with a sense of awe. The view was stunning. Mount Rainier shone bright in the mid-day sun, and the fields below looked like a patchwork quilt stretching for miles. As Vlad and I floated to the ground, I couldn’t help but smile. I had done it!

It seems silly, but when we finally touched down, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Why? Because I faced my fears. I did something that scary, something way outside my comfort zone. I think, often, it’s when you face your fears that you feel the most alive. I certainly felt alive that day.

My advice to those of you considering going skydiving: just do it! Head to Skydive Snohomish (or another reputable outfit) and check one off your bucket list. It may make your nervous, it may scare you, but I promise, the experience is unforgettable. When your feet hit the ground, you just might find yourself smiling too, because like me, you know you made a memory you’ll cherish for a lifetime.