It is fair to say that blogging has opened some amazing doors for me over the last eight-or-so years. But this is the first time that door has been to an aeroplane and I’ve been asked to jump out…
Welcome to a blog post in which I do my best to explain how it feels to do a tandem skydive! I was invited by North London Skydiving to join them for this very popular bucket list experience, and didn’t hesitate in saying yes to this one. This isn’t the first time I’ve done a tandem skydive; I did one to raise money for the RNIB a few years back (you can read about what I thought about it here), and absolutely loved it. I don’t think it would be a spoiler or stop you reading the rest of this post if I tell you now that I had such an awesome time with the guys over in Cambridgeshire, and even a month down the line I struggle to talk about my tandem skydive without a beaming grin appearing on my face.
In this post I will try and explain what happens when you book a tandem skydive from the start of the day to the moment your feet touch the ground. If a tandem skydive is on your bucket list, or you are curious as to what happens during such an experience, then read on.
Oh, and if you prefer pictures to words, there’s a video if you scroll down a bit!
North London Skydiving
Well first of all, North London Skydiving is not actually in North London. It’s North of London, for sure. But If you were to start your journey in central London you would have a fair way to travel. It’s actually in Chatteris, close to March in Cambridgeshire – so not even on a direct train line. Thankfully I have been to March before and was well-aware of the location before I made the booking, and so I didn’t have a surprise when I worked out my route the night before.
Location versus name aside, because as long as you check the address it’s irrelevant to proceedings, North London Skydiving opened in 1997 and is a British Parachute Association affiliated club. They offer skydiving qualifications as well as one-off experiences, and have other facilities such as an on-site wind tunnel skydiving simulator.
And they were a great company to work with. I was able to book a slot on a bank holiday Monday just three weeks prior, and had all the information I needed including some very detailed driving directions in a very timely fashion – all by email. The details were very clear – long, certainly, but very informative so I didn’t need to go back with any questions before I turned up on the morning of my skydive.
What Happens on the Day?
Arrival is super early in the morning. At weekends and on bank holidays (so including the day I chose), it’s 7.30am. The team recommend you arrive that early to get booked in as jumps take place in the order that you sign in. Starting early in the morning means they can start jumping as soon as they can start flying, meaning there is a much higher chance you’ll actually get to do the skydive even if the weather is being a bit unkind.
On the day I jumped there was very low cloud first thing and potential for rain, and so things were very relaxed when I arrived. I imagine if there are clear skies and warm sunshine it’s all a bit more animated in the centre as they get everything ready to go much earlier. I dutifully signed in at the required 7.30am, finding myself number seven on the list. I realised there would be a significant wait before any flying took place, so I settled down to read my magazine and drink some tea. The weather was due to clear, though, and everyone seemed confident that I’d get my skydive done before lunch.
Always with the silly faces. I can’t help it, this is just who I am.
My name was called over the tannoy just after 8am ready for our briefing. This instructor-led briefing first consists of a sales pitch for the photo/video package that you can purchase as an add on for your skydive. Back in 2010 when I did my tandem skydive for RNIB I didn’t pay the extra because it was too much for me to afford, but I had been gifted the full package this time around and was super excited to see what I looked like mid-flight. I have to admit I don’t really like these sales pitches you seem to get at this type of thing these days, it feels like something you’d decide on before you arrived, but it didn’t last long and thankfully there was no hard sell to feel awkward about.
After that skydive instructor Tim, who also happened to be my partner for the day, went through everything with us and gave us some clear dos and don’ts for when it was our turn to head up in the plane. We had a run-through on the matting, too, just to make sure what we’d been told had sunk in. Tim was clear and to the point, he knew exactly what he was talking about and made us all very aware what his expectations were – in a calm and nice manner.
There was more waiting around (cue more tea) until a little after 10.30am when the first group were called and the plane took off for the first time that day. My name was called in the second group and I got into my flying suit and met up with Tim and my videographer. My suit and harness were checked a number of times by different people to make sure all was in order, and Tim went through the process again with me to make sure I understood what would happen and what I needed to do. When it was our turn we walked over to the aircraft and took our position sitting on the floor – I was sat right by the door which meant I would be first to jump when we got to altitude; it also meant I had the best view for the 10-15 minute flight up to altitude.
The Practicalities of the Jump
During the flight up to altitude, somewhere around 12,000 feet, Tim attached his harness to mine and made more checks to ensure nothing was going to go wrong. Just before the door is opened I put my helmet and goggles on, and Tim checked with me that I was okay and remembered the instructions. With the door open, I could see the ground clearly, and while a little nervous about leaving the aircraft, was incredibly excited and very ready to jump.
Being a tandem skydive, the novice ends up with their entire body outside the aircraft just before the jump, as the instructor sits on the edge. That moment is very surreal; your legs are dangling, the rush of the wind and the noise of the aircraft is incredible, and your eyes are very wide with the prospect of falling to the ground. Well mine were, anyway. Exactly as explained, Tim gave me a firm tap and we left the relative safety of the aircraft door, and hurtled towards the ground at great speed.
I am not afraid to admit that I screamed “woooooooooooooooooooooooooooo” an awful lot in the next 40 seconds, which is about how long the free-fall lasts. Seriously exhilarating and quite an adrenaline rush. It was all so fast and noisy and full-on that I had no time to think about what my facial expression might look like on camera – I think I got away with it!
Another firm tap on my shoulder and everything stopped almost instantly when the parachute opened and we started the much more gentle part of the skydive. It’s strange because it feels like the harness pulls you up sharply, but actually all you’re doing is slowing down to a gentle glide as the mass of material above your head flutters in the breeze. We “sat” in our harnesses in mid-air chatting about what we could see, commenting on the flatness of the Cambridgeshire Fens, the sound of the birds, and the calmness of the scene. Tim gave me (some…) control so I could steer the parachute for a bit, which felt very important – we span round to the left and right, speeding up a bit (good job I don’t mind spinning!), before Tim took back control so we could come into land. It felt like we had all the time in the world, drifting around gently for three or four minutes before it was time for the all-important landing.
They make a big deal of the landing in the briefing, and for good reason. Get it wrong and you could very easily end up in a tangled heap on the floor, with broken bones and an unhappy end to your tandem skydive experience. But it really is straight forward if you do as you are told(!). The job of the one in front, me, is to lift your legs up as high as you can so there is no chance of your feet touching the ground until you’ve actually landed. The easiest way to do this is to use your hands to hold under your knees. We came in right on target and landed just perfectly; I put my legs down to stand up when Tim gave me the signal, and was uncoupled from his harness and giving him a thank you hug almost the instant we got on the ground.
And that was it. Tim went to get ready for his next jump, I walked back to the briefing room to remove my harness and flying suit, received a certificate to say I’d completed the tandem skydive, watched my video on the TV monitor in reception, and sat watching other people jump while I ate my packed lunch before driving home. The little purple aeroplane took off and landed every 20 minutes or so; I’ve no idea how many people jumped that day, but the tannoy was sounding very regularly calling people in to get ready for their turn.
Oh, okay, it’s all been a bit “then I did this, then I did that” so far, so here’s the video:
Putting the Tandem Skydive into Words
Walking back to base after landing, my instructor said, “so what are you going to write about that then?”. He was right, putting the experience into words is so difficult. I tried when I did my first tandem skydive and I think I failed then too. On the video I mumbled something about the massive juxtaposition between the noise and rush and speed of the freefall versus the calm and quiet and gentleness once the parachute opens. And that really is the only way to describe it. Both bits were amazing, both bits made me smile, both bits have given me something to remember. The adrenaline rush of the two parts combined is something I’ve not had with any other experience I’ve had in my life, I am so pleased to have this one in the memory banks.
I left Cambridgeshire with the biggest beaming grin on my face and I’m not sure, over a month later, that it has disappeared completely yet. Apparently skydiving is on nine out of ten bucket lists. If it’s on yours, then get it booked and get it done. Honestly, although super expensive on the face of it, it is totally worth the money, an experience you’ll never forget.
You can book a tandem skydive experience with North London Skydiving for £175 (for a Wednesday jump, a bit more for the weekend). The photo/video package I had was £155 in addition, and although it is an awful lot of money at first glance, you are paying for a second skydiver to join you for the jump with a load of camera equipment, and means you get everything documented to jog the memory banks later in life.
Having experienced them myself, I would definitely recommend these guys; the whole thing was very well organised and run, the instructors and ground staff were superb, and most importantly I had an amazing time with the North London Skydiving crew.
For more details and to book this experience for yourself, check out North London Skydiving online: https://ukskydiving.com/
With huge thanks to North London Skydiving for inviting me to do a tandem skydive and for looking after me so well. I honestly had such a good time, a bucket list tick I will certainly never forget.
Photos and skydive footage courtesy of North London Skydiving. Used with permission. Thank you!