Holy #*&@! Jumping Out Of Airplanes Over Fiji
By Matthew Karsten Date: 25 January 2017 Location: Nadi, Fiji Company: Skydive Fiji Cost: F$735 (about $400 USD) Useful Notes: If you plan to visit Fiji, this is a must-do activity. What an adrenaline rush! There are different prices for different altitudes, go big at 14,000 feet if possible. Tony yelled something to me. But I couldn’t hear him over the roar of the engine. “Are you ready?” he screams. Not really — 14,000 feet is a long way down… I’ve wanted to go skydiving for a long time. Everyone who’s ever described it to me always does so with a twinkle in their eye. You can feel their joy as they re-tell the story. Now it was my turn. Jumping out of an airplane over the Pacific Ocean surrounded by beautiful Fijian islands? It couldn’t get much better than that! I like to think that I’m a pretty fearless person. I’ve been scuba diving with sharks, camped on an erupting volcano, gone kayaking with crocodiles, and trekked through the notorious Darien Gap. Yet somehow butterflies still managed to infiltrate my stomach. While the instructors at Skydive Fiji went over details like proper body position, flight time, and how to land standing, I was nervously watching Bola (yes, that’s his name) pack our chutes off to the side. Lucky for me he’s been doing it for many, many years. Tandem Skydiving My first skydive would be a tandem jump, which means I’m attached to the front of an instructor using a special full-body harness. Four attachment points ensure I’m stuck to him like glue. I was paired up with Tony, a veteran skydiver originally from New Zealand with thousands of jumps under his belt. We left the shop and hopped into a van headed for Nadi International Airport. Pulling up to a side gate, we sign in with airport security and walk out on the runway where a white, single-engine Cessna 182 is waiting for us. This is a small plane. It looks like a car with wings. I peer inside. There’s only one seat. “We sit on the floor” Tony tells me. Colorful Island Landscape There’s another tandem jumper with us today. A German, or maybe Austrian I think. It’s his first time too. Our tiny aircraft will only fit 4 passengers and the pilot — so we all cram in together nice and cozy on the floor of the Cessna. The door shuts. We speed down the runway before gliding up into the sky. It’s loud in this plane. I watch Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu get smaller as we climb towards the clouds. More islands reveal themselves across the ocean below. A colorful mixture of turquoise blue water, white sand beaches, and vibrant green jungle. Kind of looks like a painting down there. Soon I’ll be diving head-first into that painting. Getting Intimate With Tony Maybe 10 minutes into the flight, Tony asks me to sit on his lap. But I really don’t know him that well yet. Shouldn’t he at least buy me dinner first? He explains it’s not personal, strictly business. We must link together and tighten down all the straps before the big jump. He also pulls on a gauntlet loaded with two GoPro HD Hero cameras. One for video, one for photos. This is obviously to record my last words for family and friends. And to get a recent photo for the obituary. Showtime! Twenty minutes after takeoff we’re finally at 14,000 feet — 2.6 miles in the sky. The pilot signals that he’s in position. Oh shit. It’s all happening a bit too fast… and it seems I’m up first! I’m not sure if I’m ready. Do I lean my head back and then cross my arms? Or is it the other way around? I can’t remember if it matters or not. F*ck! The door is open. This is actually going to happen. I’ve been pretty calm up until this point. Suddenly adrenaline is rushing through my veins. Wind is whipping around the cabin. I can’t hear anything. Tony yells for me to stick my feet outside the aircraft. I do what he says. There’s a tiny metal step outside, barely big enough for both of my feet to rest on. I look down at the earth — far, far below us. I probably shouldn’t have done that. My mind is racing. We jump. Sensory Overload For the first few seconds we tumble through the sky in a weightless front flip. I can’t tell which way is up. The earth spins. I’m completely disoriented. Gravity is pulling us downward faster and faster. My mouth is open, and the air quickly dries it out completely. With no hair on my head, my goggles start to slip off. Tony taps my shoulder and I remember to stretch my arms out into the proper skydive position. It’s difficult to process what’s happening though. My mind can’t handle the sensory overload. It’s never experienced these sensations before. We’re still falling, but I can feel air pressure building up beneath us. We’ve hit terminal velocity for a tandem skydive. 120 miles per hour. For about 60 seconds we plummet through the Troposphere. That may not sound like a long time. But it actually feels like 5 minutes. Parachute Landing Suddenly the free-fall experience stops with a jolt. Tony has pulled the ripcord, unleashing a massive parachute that quickly slows our decent to about 16 mph. The jump isn’t over yet though… Hanging at either side of me are a pair of steering lines. We can control our direction with them, pulling right to turn right, left to turn left. Pulling hard on one side creates a fast (and fun) downward spiral. We glide towards the Earth like this for another 7 minutes. Soon I spot the landing zone — Smugglers Cove. There’s a yellow mark in a field beside the beach. The field has horses in it. I briefly daydream about landing on a horse to ride off down the beach past bikini-clad girls. Total 007 moment! (minus the man strapped to my back of course..) Unfortunately, the horses moved out of our way. Oh well, another time. But we do stick the landing. For the next 8 hours my face aches from a massive smile I can’t seem to get rid of. Adrenaline is powerful stuff. Where To Stay In Fiji? If you’re wondering where to stay in Fiji on a budget here are my recommendations: Nadi Smugglers Cove Backpackers – For just $5 you can get a lot of privacy in the dorm, free airport pick-up and an evening show. Check prices on: Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda Mana Island Ratu Kini Dive Resort – For less than $20 per night you can stay on a beautiful island. Day tours and diving courses are offered. Check prices on: Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda Taveuni Garden Island Resort – More expensive, but one of the best places in Taveuni. All rooms have an ocean view. Check prices on: Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda I also enjoy using AirBnB from time to time. Make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels too.