The red light flicked on beside me and the space-age plastic door blew open. The fear became real. Standing on a ledge 13,000 feet above Kin Beach, clinging to my harness, I jumped and couldn’t scream even if I wanted to.
Okanagan Skydive wrapped up their second annual Great Canadian Freefall Festival Tuesday at the Vernon Airport by inviting a few members of the media out for a jump.
“We wanted to build skill, build excitement, have a great time and take jumpers to the next level,” said Okanagan Skydive owner Brett Chalmers, who has owned the company for eight years and has jumped around 3,600 times.
What an unbelievable experience. I have been waiting to go skydiving for years. The night before the jump reminded me of Christmas Eve as a child.
The day started with safety training at 9:30 a.m. Everything was explained thoroughly and was very comprehensive. The crew at Okanagan Skydive did a great job in reassuring everyone’s safety and made jumping out of a plane seem almost nonchalant.
Making our way down the runway, it finally felt like the dream was becoming reality. I couldn’t wipe the stupid smile off my face.
“We bought a new plane for this year. The new Quest Kodiak 100 can hold 14 jumpers and it can go 3,000-feet higher,” said Chalmers. “It allows for longer free-fall times and bigger group formations.”
The plane shuttled 500-600 jumpers during the five-day event.
“What an absolutely wonderful event,” exclaimed Chalmers. “Everyone had a blast and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.”
Okanagan Skydive also holds a women-focused festival and festivals for different jumping disciplines throughout their season which runs from April to October, depending on the weather.
It took 15 minutes to ascend to our jumping altitude.
My instructor – who happened to be the owner – took that time to link our harnesses together. The harness was so tight I could feel the circulation leaving my limbs. But there was no way I was going to ask him to loosen up.
The Freefall Festival brought several professional jumpers from all over Canada including guys from the 2013 national champion Evolution team.
J.C. Ouimet was on the Evolution team and won the nationals 2013 in his hometown Montreal.
“We came out to the festival to jump with people, organize jumps and celebrate Canada Day,” said Ouimet.
Nationals go every two years and Ouimet is preparing for nationals next month in Edmonton.
Our group of four tandem divers went up with three pros who were jumping to work on new tricks. The door burst open and the pros dove into the blistering blue sky like they were jumping into the deep end of the pool – no hesitation and headfirst.
I was still in awe of their maniac departure when I was abruptly rushed to the door. It was go time.
The inside of the plane is not tall enough to stand in. I had to awkwardly shuffle while bent over, with a guide strapped to my back, towards the yawning door.
I felt like I could see from Salmon Arm to Kamloops and everything in between. The scenery was immaculate.
I used to jump off cliffs and high towers into a pool as a kid, but this wasn’t anything like that.
I was briefly terrified seconds after leaving the structure of the plane. My brain took a few seconds to comprehend what I was doing.
Once I was allowed to release my hands from my harness, I let everything hang loose and enjoyed the biggest riot of my life.
This is the craziest thing anyone can do. I’m sure at some point in my life I would have done it, but the fact that I was on assignment for work made it even sweeter. It was the biggest thrill ride I have ever been on.
We plummeted towards Earth at 120 miles per hour. During the 55-second free fall, I didn’t even feel real. The experience was mind-blowing.
Opening the parachute was the gnarliest part of the jump. I was plunging through the atmosphere belly first at break-neck speed before coming to a screeching halt.
It was a euphoric combination of a car slamming on the brakes and the eerie feeling of being on a ski lift without the bar lowered when the lift suddenly stops.
The float down was breathtaking. Dangling above ground, we drifted over Okanagan Lake, surrounding neighbourhoods and the countryside. Chalmers even let me steer the parachute. Twisting and turning, spiralling down to the landing strip was better than any roller coaster at Six Flags.
We came in pretty hot for the landing, but it was the easiest part of the jump. We slid on our butts to safety.
Once we stopped, my body was taken over by another wave of adrenaline. I began laughing hysterically and yelled “Woooooo!”
I’m never going to look at a normal plane ride the same ever again.