Gareth Couldrey, AFF Gradute FFU.
I’ve been into fairly extreme things for a long while – foreign countries, tattooing, very fast bikes, intense sports & competition – nothing without excess, but these were becoming a bit mundane. Then I read a Times article entitled “things to do in a weekend”, in the list was the Free Fall University & dreams of new adrenaline high’s came flooding in. Other commitments prohibited taking on this challenge immediately but 4 months later what started as a normal week at work went something like this: Monday am, reach project milestone, pm get in touch with David. Tuesday am, agree length of trip & details, pm Book trip, following Sunday find own way from Madrid airport to Aranjuez & book into Hostel. Sleep. Wake up Monday & the fun started. That first day was filled with the basics – drills, equipment, protocols, set sequences of actions (look locate cutaway reserve – you’ll get used to that one!) with the possibility of jumping that afternoon.
Over the next 2 days all 8 levels of the AFF course were complete and what started off as far too much to cram in to one free fall could soon be done by 8 or 9k ft, leaving plenty of time to play. Its difficult to describe the emotions of a jump but it went something like this: 10 minute call, kit up (heart beat kicks a bit), air of calm & concentration descends on the hangar, walk out to the plane & run through drills (heart kicks a bit more), enter plane & get comfortable, plane taxis, takes off & rises through 6k ft (same air of calm, another kick) run through drills again. At around 9k ft begin final kit checks & obligatory hand shakes (it may sound funny, but these little things make a student feel part of the family), heart rate goes up another notch. Just when you think things cant get better the pilot shouts “2 minutes”, shouts “exit”, the door opens, the air rushes in & F**K ME adrenaline-o-meter goes off the scale and continues to rise as one by one the jumpers simply disappear from the door, then its your turn. Here’s a serious bit – If I had 1 % of doubt in the abilities of the staff, do you think I’d have jumped out a plane with them? – I didn’t hesitate. The first 3 or 4 jumps were a blur of drills, instructors, bashing Andy’s hand (sorry, mate) but after that it all starts to gel. The first time you free fall unassisted is surreal, and a little rough around the edges & likewise under canopy – look down at your feet and then nothing until the ground around 4k ft below. Landings, either with or without the instructors guidance, are as soft as stepping off a curb. Then its big grin time as you walk back to the hangar, debrief, re-brief & do it all again. The last jump of my trip couldn’t have been more perfect – clear day & sun-setting, jump, stabilise, rotate to face the sun & drop to earth at around 150mph watching the sun set over the Spanish horizon & pull at 5k ft (honest), then keep on watching the sun disappear when under canopy.
Just writing this has put that glazed look in my eyes & great memories – I cannot wait to jump again. Mr Gregory – its all your fault! So – if your reading this, you are on the verge of an awesome experience – just get on with it, go out there & meet David, 2 Andy’s (Swiss Andy is a big softy really), Paula, Ulli, Louis et al. The guys at the drop zone could not have been more welcoming, the atmosphere is relaxed & friendly. When can I start BASE jumping ?