“This is Chris, but we call him T-Rex – big body, tiny arms”
“If Chris is your tandem instructor, expect some incredibly close-up shots of your own face”.
In the 20 or so minutes I have been at the Australian Skydive Centre in Torquay, they’ve already managed to make us feel at ease.
I admit it was touch and go for Eva, my vertigo-suffering German buddy, when the receptionist asked us to write down our addresses so they’d know where to send the bodies… As I let out a snorty giggle, Eva looked to be seriously regretting her life choices.
I’m eerily calm and uncharacteristically quiet as we register and complete our safety briefing. Perhaps I’m thinking at this point, that nothing can be more distressing than the weigh-in I just had to do – damn those Melbourne brunches.
As I immediately mentally apologise to Melbourne, and brunch because I love them both and they have brought me so much joy, I know there is no way I am chickening out of this.
We are in Torquay, a trendy beach town and surfers lure about half an hour from Melbourne, which marks the start of the 150-mile Great Ocean Road – a famous scenic drive that takes in the dramatic coastline of Victoria, ending in a town called Allansford near Warrnambool.
The events leading up to this moment have involved driving through the Great Otway National Park, stopping to gawp at a koala bear sitting casually at the side of the road like a patient dog waiting outside a supermarket. Daydreaming on the deserted crescent beach at Appollo Bay, counting the remaining apostles (there’s meant to be 12), wandering in and out of ‘Op Shops’ (Aussie for charity shop) in Lorne and taking shamefully touristy photos at Loch Ard Gorge.
It is now time to get a bird’s eye view of the Great Ocean Road, or more specifically, be the bird.
We don our gear – think racing driver overalls, only wayyyyy less sexy . It’s early December, and the weather is predictably unpredictable as is common in Victoria – alternating between rain, wind and sun on 10-minute rotations.
T-Rex and Joe teach us how to land – bring your knees towards your chest and lift your feet off the ground. At this point, I start to worry less about myself and more about the other lady in our briefing, who has somehow managed to reach adulthood with not an ounce of core strength, and is consequently unable to lift her own legs. Alarmingly, she still ‘passes’ the safety briefing – I mean how important can landing really be?
After some cringe-worthy photos showcasing our bewildered faces and clenched jaws, we board our teeny plane – positioning ourselves squarely onto the crotches of our tandem instructors (they told us to I promise).
We take off, and I am still oddly calm – lamenting that, sitting here, on T-Rex’s crotch is the closest I have been to a man for quite some time. Ironic that he has to be tethered to me.
I thought it would be like in the movies – a small, rickety plane, turbulence, panic, regret, screams, refusal – but it isn’t like that at all.
As we ascend over the vast Southern Ocean, the ride is smooth (T-Rex tells me that the ocean absorbs the turbulence) – I don’t know if it’s true or not, but he sounds confident and given that he is the key to whether I live or die today, I decide not to question him. Instead, I gaze out of the window in my trance-like state, responding robotically to his questions.
“It’s time”, says T-Rex, as Eva’s instructor opens the plane door and they disappear into the clouds.
It’s cold, loud, windy – I’m not scared, I am mesmerised. I learn that a mesmerised me defaults to doing exactly what I’m told. And no, I haven’t been mesmerised many times in my life.
“Shuffle towards the door”. I do.
“Put one leg out”. Yes, sir.
“Put the other leg out”. It’s out.
“Now lean forward”.
I’m in the sky, sh*t, I am in the sky. Cold, wet, clouds, wind, noise – we are free-falling, only it doesn’t feel like falling – a bit more like being thrown. I neither have the time, nor presence of mind to be afraid. I am experiencing an absolute assault on the senses and it is exhilarating.
I am jerked up on one side, then the other. It feels a bit wrong, and I think about asking T-Rex if this is normal. I figure that if it’s not, it’s probably better not to know / i will find out soon enough, so I keep my mouth shut.
Suddenly, I feel like I am standing on a platform – the parachute is out and it feels strangely secure. – I imagine it like a parent yanking the reins when a toddler is about to fall over. I am the toddler in the story.
Presence of mind returns, and now I can look around and take in the seemingly endless stretch of ocean, a glimpse of just a few of Australia’s 10,000 beaches, the hills, the trees, the meadows. Ooh a rainbow – wait is that real or am I having a spiritual moment?
I feel privileged and emotional and quite overwhelmed. Green seems greener, blue seems bluer and I don’t want to get down. T-Rex lets me steer under his instructions and we navigate our way towards our landing site.
I nail the landing to a round of imaginary applause and want to do it all over again.
Afterwards, as we look through our photographs and video clips, Eva develops excitement-induced verbal diarrhoea. I’m not listening though, I’m thinking about all of the things I told myself I was too scared to do – building a new list of adventures in my mind that I know I can do now.
These days, if ever I start to talk myself out of an adventure, I look at the close-up pictures of my own face (below), and remember the time I became the bird.