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Hawaii was filled with highs for me. So when it came time to write about my trip, I thought why not start with the most literal high of them all? In Oahu, I conquered one of my long-standing fears and checked a major item off my Life List: I went skydiving in Hawaii.

Skydiving Hawaii

It all started long before I even bought a guidebook — host extraordinaire Wim was telling travel buddy Heather and me about all the amazing things we could do in Oahu, and she threw out the idea of skydiving. Heather, being the adventurous world traveler that she is, had already done it twice before and gave an enthusiastic yes. I gave my assent and then put it out of my mind — tried not to think too much about the reality of standing at the door of a plane with the wind whipping in my face and the intent to willingly jump out of it.

Skydiving Hawaii

Skydiving Hawaii

Photo at right by

See, I’ve always wanted to skydive — someday. I just wasn’t mentally prepared for someday to come so soon. It wasn’t so much fear that I’d be actually in any physical danger — what I would feel tight-roping across a canyon, for example — it was much more to do with my general anxiety issues. I was worried it would be my typical roller coaster situation: Someone proposes going on a rollercoaster, and they talk me into it pretty easily because I have and I’m a Yes Girl and it looks pretty awesome to begin with. As I wait in line my anxiety starts to build and I feel the usual queasiness in my gut. As they strap me in it gets kind of hard to breathe, and by the time the roller coaster stops at the top of the tracks before the main event I’m all GET ME OFF THIS ROLLER COASTER RIGHT THIS SECOND. So I was kind of envisioning that scenario, but in an airplane. I tried not to think about it.

Skydiving in Hawaii

And then suddenly, despite all my attempts at self-denial, I found myself pulling up to Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore and signing in at the hut. It turns out we weren’t the only ones wiling to pay copious amounts of money for the pleasure of a prolonged anxiety attack and the wait was hours long.

Skydiving Hawaii

Skydiving Hawaii

Photo at left by

After watching a safety video and signing away all liability on official looking forms, we had copious amounts of time to stage terrified “before” photos, eavesdrop on other customers, and contemplate the statistical chance that our instructors would suffer waking amnesia during our jumps and forget how to pull a parachute. I was actually feeling relatively calm and pliable, and Heather was easily able to talk me out of taking one of the anxiety pills I had stashed in my backpack.

Skydiving in Hawaii

And then our names were called, and the veneer of calm shattered. For every tightening of the harness, I felt a corresponding tightening in my stomach. The fear had arrived and I knew it would only grow from there. But the instructors have the whole thing down to a science and I barely had time to collect my thoughts — within ten minutes I was crawling into a tiny airplane and hissing at Heather that I should have taken the pills.

Skydiving in Hawaii

I love the following photo because you can see how totally in panic-paralysis I am. My stomach was knotting itself tighter and tighter, my breathing was turning fast and shallow, and anxiety was spreading through me like heat. My instructor could obviously see that I was going to a bad place, because he shoved headphones in my ears and turned the music up loud. It actually helped — as we lifted off the ground I focused on the beat and repeating a mantra in my head over and over. Hundreds of people do this every day. I am an adventurous traveler. I am perfectly safe. I am lucky to be here. It will all be over in an hour.

Skydiving Hawaii

Skydiving in Hawaii

The plane ride was almost unbearable. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so apprehensive. And just as I was starting to reach tolerable levels of control over it, the door whipped open and poof — people starting disappearing out of the plane.

Any zen I had achieved ended abruptly when the instructor whipped the earphones away from me and we started scooting towards the open door — well, more like he pushed me while I dug my heels in and started a stream of consciousness crazy-person conversation with myself. Heather, spotted in the background of the photo below, said she would have paid double to watch me again, that’s how entertaining she found it.

Skydiving Hawaii

And then suddenly, there was nothing solid under my feet, nothing coming between me and the force of gravity pulling me down towards Earth. Honestly, I think I blacked out for about ten seconds — from what I’ve read, it’s not uncommon for first time jumpers to experience — because I don’t remember actually leaving the plane.

Skydiving Hawaii
Skydiving Hawaii
Skydiving Hawaii
Skydiving Hawaii

Skydiving Hawaii

One moment I was in the midst of a panic so intense that my brain actually went into blackout to spare me the suffering, and the next I was coming to in the air — and all my fear was gone. Sure, my brain scrambled to make sense of the new sensations — my eyes looking down at the earth from 14,000 feet above it, my mouth gaping involuntarily as the wind blew by it at 120 miles per hour — but I felt no fear. What I had been most afraid of was taking that step out of the plane, and that part was over. This was the good stuff.

Skydiving Hawaii

Skydiving Hawaii

The scenery was unimaginably beautiful. I could see almost all of Oahu, from the gorgeous North Shore beaches to the stunning Wai’anae Mountain range. I could see all the way out to Kaena Point, the westernmost tip of Oahu, which Heather and I had hiked to the day before. I’m told in the winter you can even spot whales with this excellent aerial vantage point.

Skydiving Hawaii

There was plenty of time to soak it all in as well — we were in freefall for a full sixty seconds! There was an option to jump from just 8,000 feet for a bit cheaper, which only allows for about twenty seconds. I’m so glad we went for the upgrade — I don’t think twenty seconds would have been enough time to process what was happening, soak up the experience, and enjoy it.

Skydiving Hawaii

Skydiving Hawaii

I also chose to pay extra to have a photographer jump with me, and I’m so glad I did. Of course there is the obvious reason, that I now have amazing documentation of this wonderful moment in my life. But it was also incredible in the moment. I know this sounds unbelievable, but it wasn’t until I saw my videographer freefalling through the atmosphere, not being harnessed or held or protected by anything, that I realized I was doing the same thing. When I say that, people ask what exactly I thought skydiving was. I guess maybe mentally I hadn’t moved past the jumping part? Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until those moments — watching the photographer and grabbing his hands and spinning around and flying off again — that I really truly grasped what I was doing.

Skydiving Hawaii

Also, thanks to having the entire event recorded, I was able to see the true effects that 120mph freefall has on the face. Let me tell you, it’s not flattering. World, here’s what 80% of skydiving pictures look like:

Skydiving Hawaii

Yeah.

That minute of freefall felt gloriously long, but then as quickly as I had jumped the parachute was up, and instead of throttling towards the earth at speeds that made my eyes water and my mouth go dry, we were suddenly floating gently below the clouds. At times it felt like we were headed out to sea, but the instructor knew what he was doing and expertly steered us back to landing.

Skydiving Hawaii

Skydiving Hawaii

When we landed and they unhooked me and I took my first steps, I almost fell to my knees. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or the landing or the shock of being back at sea level, but it took me a few steps to get back to normal. I had survived the plane