What is it like to go skydiving?

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May 08

First skydiving travel experience via @insidetravellab

14 000 feet, Costa Brava

“Bend your knees,” he says and I have to obey. From behind, he pulls the strap until the rubber scrapes my skull. I hug my arms against my chest and crank my head back, making the shackles around my thighs tighten further.

“Now,” he commands, as I try to ignore the gap where the side of the aeroplane should be, “don’t forget to smile for the camera.”

And with that, we’re gone.

That first skydiving experience via @insidetravellab

My First SkyDiving Experience

Of course, there’s been a build up to my first sky dive. Hundreds of thousands of other people have already done this, including, I’m hoping, my instructor. I use this thought to keep me steady on the morning of the big day. I’ve met people who’ve done parachute-loads of these things, including those for whom it’s simply a matter of getting from A to B: barracks to war zone. Their plight puts my pre-jump jitters into perspective.

Then again, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s only string that’ll stop me from hurtling into the earth at 180 km per hour or, as it’s otherwise described, at terminal velocity.

As soon as I arrive at Empuriabrava in northeast Spain, it’s obvious I don’t belong. Sun-weathered faces cluster along the bar, while the loudspeaker announces the next “drop” with all the excitement of a station manager in Epping. The whoosh of all-black ninjas turning somersaults in the air before speeding in to land gets ignored by everyone apart from us.

Read about more travel experiences here

Skydiving Training

We, the skydiving virgins, are shown a five stage cartoon: cross arms, head back, knees bent, jump. One tap on the shoulder to open your arms. Second to brings arms to chest as the parachute opens. Knees bent for landing. Questions?

Our training, admittedly advertised as brief, lasts for less than five minutes. Then the waiting begins.

There’s plenty of time to think about the important things in life: wills, outstanding emails, and every song with a potential link to skydiving. Having dismissed Jump by the House of Pain and something worse by Van Halen, I decide that if I have to have music in my mind as I plunge to my death, it might as well be Top Gun’s Danger Zone.

And so I swagger along the airstrip, my heroic stance only slightly undermined by the harness-induced waddle that makes me glad to be a girl.

I duck beneath the tail of the plane and catch a hint of burnt rubber. The Spanish sun greets me with ferocity as my hands grasp raw metal and my feet take me up the ladder, rung by rung. This, I already know, is the real point of no return. One step, the other step, keep walking, keep climbing. The humiliation of breaking an ankle before I’m even inside the plane would be simply too much to bear.

We’re in. The door closes. We’re off.  Squashed into two benches that face one another, I’m reminded, out of nowhere, of the ritual sacrifices in Aztec America. The skydiving instructors morph into faceless priests of the sky, camouflaged by helmets, sunglasses, balaclavas and cables. Only Ana and I look like flesh and blood humans, with our hair loose, faces exposed and summer clothes barely skimming our skin.

I smell petrol and heat and realise that it’s already started, that the first ones have gone.

“Sit on my lap,” says my instructor, whose name Santo translates, reassuringly, into saint.

“We must get ready,” says Santo, to the backdrop of clinking metal.  The harness compresses my pelvis and ribcage and we stumble along the plane. It’s here, right now, that the absurdity of the situation takes hold. There’s a gaping hole where the side of the plane should be and not only do we not have our seatbelts on, but we’re walking right past it. Are they c-r-a-zy?! Don’t they know how dangerous this is? That we could fall out at any moment?

I’m not sure whether the roaring in my ears comes from the engine, the scalding air or the blood that’s blasting through my temples. Still, I’ve decided not to pay attention. All I have to remember to do is to bend my knees, cross my arms and, X&*^!, there was something else.

The miniature fields of Costa Brava taunt me from far below, the speeding air steals the breath from my airways and within seconds I’m suspended in the air, clipped to Santo. The photographer hangs in the doorway like an animated Spider-Man and I know that this is the moment we’ve been waiting for: the 60 second freefall.

He disappears. Then so do we.

First photo about tandem skydive with aeroplane

And we’re gone…

Tandem Skydive - Just about in view of the plane

Sixty Second Freefall

Nothing could have prepared me for this. Not snowboarding, not diving, nothing. I don’t feel as though I’m falling, I’m spinning upwards and backwards in a jet of burning air that whips away my voice, deafens my ears and spins my brain into overdrive. Those ochre fields twist around in hexagonal disarray. The earth and coast move way too fast and something slowly registers that I don’t seem to be breathing.

Closeup of tandem freefall in Costa Brava EmpuriaBravaNeutral survival kicks in: you need to try harder. Breathe through your nose, breathe harder, harder again, really use your lungs, you’re running out of time. I try it all, then swallow hard.

I’ve adjusted to this strange new reality and I stretch out my arms, feeling the sky run through my fingers like scorched cotton candy. I’m seeing the world in a whole new way when my throat chokes, my shoulders snap back and those thigh harnesses remind me that they’re there. The tumble dryer effect continues for another few seconds and then it stops. We’re still. Floating, dreamlike in the quiet, quiet air.

I hear Santo’s voice in my ear as he loosens my goggles, unfastens the harness and asks if I’m alright.

All about a tandem skydive over spain: fields below skydivers

Tandem skydive showing the mediterranean coast

Plummeting over the Mediterrannean Coast

Parachute opening during a skydive


Through the haze, the Pyrenees rise up like purple shark fins. The Mediterranean Coast glitters appropriately. Santo points out the airport, the towns, and the border with France that hovers on the horizon.

He loops canvas over my fingers. Pull left to spin left, right to spin right, both down hard to stop. I’m flying, floating, soaring across the sky and it’s the most amazing, freeing feeling. I wave at the others on the ground and see them waving back.

It’s freedom, it’s intoxicating, it’s enough to mess with your mind.

We sweep in to land and my graceful out of body experience ends in a graceless heap on the floor. I’m not injured but it’s a shame the TV cameras were watching. Still, it could have been worse. I could have died thinking of Van Halen.

My skydiving experience at Empuriabrava was sponsored by the Costa Brava Tourist Board. As you’ve probably gathered by now, all views are my own.


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • Cailin says:

    So awesome!! I don’t know if I could ever do it! But I love love love that you had Danger Zone in your head while you were doing this! Best song ever! haha :)
    Glad you made it safely back to earth :)

    • Abi says:

      Negative ghostrider, the pattern is full ;)

    • sara says:

      if i was sky diving i would not be thinking of songs i would be preying to God that i make it safe to the ground

  • Terry Lee says:

    Fabulous description (the closest I will ever get to experiencing it), I felt I was there with you. Well done Abi and indeed all of you.

    • Abi says:

      Thanks – but you’re not too old to skydive ;)

  • Steve says:

    Great post! Sounds like a blast!

  • Mike Forbes says:

    The real problems start when you decide to do it again. And again. And again…

    • Abi says:

      Hmmm…sounds like someone I know! Do it enough times, though, and they start paying you! Or something…

  • ayngelina says:

    Incredible! But also gives me so much anxiety!

    • Abi says:

      Sorry. Didn’t realise my writing was THAT bad ;)

  • JoAnna says:

    What a fantastic experience! I have no desire to go bungee jumping, but this looks like a lot of fun!

    • Abi says:

      I haven’t bungee jumped, so I can’t compare. Skydiving? Highly recommended…

  • Andrea says:

    Fantastic shots! I couldn’t do it – looks so scary but, I’m sure exhilarating! =)

  • Sarah Wu says:

    Wow, what an incredible adventure!

    • Abi says:

      Thanks – pulse still races at the thought of it.

  • YAY!!! and i LOVE how you wrote this!!! the thrill is right there. i’ve always wanted to do this but haven’t yet. plan to change that soon! great post! :)

  • Arantxa says:

    have you noticed the shape of the beach is the reflection of your smile?!
    How did you manage to smile?
    I hope you enjoyed both experience and the unbeateable view of Cap de Creus down there

  • Gemma says:

    Woooow Abi! You don’t look scared at all in the pics! Just seeing your face and your wide smile, I can tell you did really enjoy the experience! I wish I am brave enough some day to skydive and see the Cap de Creus from up above…

    • Abi says:

      An amazing sight. The sound, however? Not so good ;)

  • SkydivingChris says:

    Yeah, Empuriabrava is the place to be for skydiving! Can’t wait to go back! Great piece!

    • Abi says:

      Can I deduce from your name that you’ve done this before? Any tips?!

  • oliver says:

    i wonder if i cud ever have the courage to try this out…

  • Roy | cruisesurfingz says:

    My heart was racing just reading this! I so want to sky-dive…

    • Abi says:

      Well, I’ve only had the one skydive – but my instructor at Empuriabrava was flawless. I’d highly recommend it.

  • Anna says:

    Wow, that sounds like an amazing experience! The photos are great, too!

    • Abi says:

      Yes, the photos are spectacular, aren’t they? Much better than I’d hoped for. Have to hand Empuriabrava the credit for these though. I had other things on my mind at the time ;)

  • John says:

    Wow! So you finally did it! Stunning photographs you’ve got there, too!

    • Abi says:

      Great photos, aren’t they!

  • Sophie says:

    I’m envious! I need more guts to do it, really nice!

    • Abi says:

      Go for it! The only gutsy thing you need to do is climb into the plane…

  • Fiona says:

    Great post, loved going through all the emotions with you. The five mins training sared me a bit – any idea how that compares to the UK or US? Those views are amazing, though I guess you were probably more worried about stuff like breathing and staying alive. So… would you do it again?

    • Abi says:

      My sources tell me that the training time increases to about ten minutes in the UK & US!
      Loved the views once the parachute opened, up until then everything moved too fast for me to appreciate it.
      I’d definitely jump again ;)

  • Christina says:

    Wow! Your description of your sky dive is really captivating. First the turbulence and disorientation, and then the smooth floating. I’ve been this close to doing a skydive in Taupo, NZ, but then thought it would steal my bungy jump’s thunder (it was still too fresh)… Now I can’t wait to have a go at skydiving, hopefully over Taupo or Queenstown.

    • Abi says:

      Enjoy! (And come back and let us know how the two compare!)

  • Bluegreen Kirk says:

    Sounds very exciting now if a could only get my wife to go. You would probably forget to breathe its so breathtaking.

  • Pete | Hecktic Travels says:

    So awesome. I will be in Spain later this year and this will be a must. I don’t know who will be more nervous me in the plane or my wife on the ground watching me…

    • Abi says:

      You…Er, I mean, that is, I don’t know either of you so it could go either way…;) Have fun!

  • Alex says:

    Great story, I am feeling as I\ve experienced it myself )
    How much did it cost?

  • Faith says:

    This post actually made me want to go sky diving. This sounds amazing! :D

    • Abi says:

      Fantastic news! I’m so glad I jumped…

  • What an engaging post. It’s great that you got so many pictures in the air. I’m looking forward to my first time :)

    • Abi says:

      Hope you had a great first jump – drop by and let us know how it went.

  • Kyle says:

    You. Are. SO. Brave. I look at this and get a knot in my stomach. No desire, but I did love looking at your pics :)

    • Abi says:

      Glad you enjoyed the pics. It’s been a while since I looked at them…Now I’m getting a knot in my stomach as I look at them!

  • Jillian says:

    I’m with Terry Lee, been there, done that…thanks to you.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience!! It’s sooo fun :)
    I would wish I was brave as you are :)) I eager to feel that feelings but scared too much at the moment! :-D May be one day I’ll do it!
    Thanks for inspiration!


    • Abi says:

      Once you’re in the plane, courage doesn’t matter! I hope you do get to do it one day- and that you enjoy it. Cheers, Abi

  • Flexicover says:

    I remember my skydive, I did it in Nottingham for a charity and it was terrifying at start but ending with soo much fun! The guys in front were showing off doing handstands and falling out of plane whereas I was holding onto my instructor for dear life.

    Your photos are in good quality :)

    • Abi says:

      Yeah, I think I need a few more jumps under my belt before I start showing off…One step at a time ;)

  • Jim C. says:

    Going Sunday May 20 …. its my 65th Birthday and my first jump will be in Deland Florida…which i think has an excellent reputation. I am informed that i will be tethered with an instructor as we jump out at 15000 ft. My wife is jumping tethered to an instructor also.

    • Abi says:

      Enjoy! You probably will be tethered – they don’t usually let you jump alone for the first time!

  • Mary B. says:

    Wow, this is awesome! As much as I love to scuba dive, I’m dying to try this too. I can see that you really enjoyed your experience. Seeing you, it inspires me to really try this one day. I really wanna try this and hopefully I’m gonna have fun like you.

    • Abi says:

      Good luck! My husband’s done it since & seemed to think it was a breeze…;)

  • Ahmed Naween says:

    Wow, Lucky you are, It is so nice of you to share you photos and feelings about your first jump.

  • Rachel Ramos says:

    Amazing. Simply amazing. Always wanted to try this but I never had the guts for it. I don’t know why I am so scared. You are such an inspiration to me.

    Best of luck to you:)

    • Abi says:

      Thousands of years of evolution telling us it’s a bad idea to jump off high things…That explains the fear I think! Best of luck to you too :-)

  • Abi says:

    It’s around £100 as a rough rule of thumb for your first jump…With discounts applicable if you sign up for a week long course to jump solo (!)

  • ilgen2013 says:

    how cool is that!

  • Charl says:

    Hi Abi, sounds like you had an amazing experience at Empuriabrava, they’re one of the many great spots in Europe. For those on the fence about jumping out of a perfectly good plane, have a look at https://www.dropzone.com/skydiving/ . The page has a lot of information on the sport plus a link to a drop zone finder enabling you to find a spot nearby to do your first jump.

    Blue Skies!

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