Hawaii was filled with highs for me. So when it came time to write about my trip, I thought why not start with the most literal high of them all? In Oahu, I conquered one of my long-standing fears and checked a major item off my Life List: I went skydiving in Hawaii.
It all started long before I even bought a guidebook — host extraordinaire Wim was telling travel buddy Heather and me about all the amazing things we could do in Oahu, and she threw out the idea of skydiving. Heather, being the adventurous world traveler that she is, had already done it twice before and gave an enthusiastic yes. I gave my assent and then put it out of my mind — tried not to think too much about the reality of standing at the door of a plane with the wind whipping in my face and the intent to willingly jump out of it.
Photo at right by Heather Holt Photography
See, I’ve always wanted to skydive — someday. I just wasn’t mentally prepared for someday to come so soon. It wasn’t so much fear that I’d be actually in any physical danger — what I would feel tight-roping across a canyon, for example — it was much more to do with my general anxiety issues. I was worried it would be my typical roller coaster situation: Someone proposes going on a rollercoaster, and they talk me into it pretty easily because I have FOMO and I’m a Yes Girl and it looks pretty awesome to begin with. As I wait in line my anxiety starts to build and I feel the usual queasiness in my gut. As they strap me in it gets kind of hard to breathe, and by the time the roller coaster stops at the top of the tracks before the main event I’m all GET ME OFF THIS ROLLER COASTER RIGHT THIS SECOND. So I was kind of envisioning that scenario, but in an airplane. I tried not to think about it.
And then suddenly, despite all my attempts at self-denial, I found myself pulling up to Dillingham Airfield on the North Shore and signing in at the Pacific Skydiving hut. It turns out we weren’t the only ones wiling to pay copious amounts of money for the pleasure of a prolonged anxiety attack and the wait was hours long.
Photo at left by Heather Holt Photography
After watching a safety video and signing away all liability on official looking forms, we had copious amounts of time to stage terrified “before” photos, eavesdrop on other customers, and contemplate the statistical chance that our instructors would suffer waking amnesia during our jumps and forget how to pull a parachute. I was actually feeling relatively calm and pliable, and Heather was easily able to talk me out of taking one of the anxiety pills I had stashed in my backpack.
And then our names were called, and the veneer of calm shattered. For every tightening of the harness, I felt a corresponding tightening in my stomach. The fear had arrived and I knew it would only grow from there. But the instructors have the whole thing down to a science and I barely had time to collect my thoughts — within ten minutes I was crawling into a tiny airplane and hissing at Heather that I should have taken the pills.
I love the following photo because you can see how totally in panic-paralysis I am. My stomach was knotting itself tighter and tighter, my breathing was turning fast and shallow, and anxiety was spreading through me like heat. My instructor could obviously see that I was going to a bad place, because he shoved headphones in my ears and turned the music up loud. It actually helped — as we lifted off the ground I focused on the beat and repeating a mantra in my head over and over. Hundreds of people do this every day. I am an adventurous traveler. I am perfectly safe. I am lucky to be here. It will all be over in an hour.
The plane ride was almost unbearable. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so apprehensive. And just as I was starting to reach tolerable levels of control over it, the door whipped open and poof — people starting disappearing out of the plane.
Any zen I had achieved ended abruptly when the instructor whipped the earphones away from me and we started scooting towards the open door — well, more like he pushed me while I dug my heels in and started a stream of consciousness crazy-person conversation with myself. Heather, spotted in the background of the photo below, said she would have paid double to watch me again, that’s how entertaining she found it.
And then suddenly, there was nothing solid under my feet, nothing coming between me and the force of gravity pulling me down towards Earth. Honestly, I think I blacked out for about ten seconds — from what I’ve read, it’s not uncommon for first time jumpers to experience — because I don’t remember actually leaving the plane.
One moment I was in the midst of a panic so intense that my brain actually went into blackout to spare me the suffering, and the next I was coming to in the air — and all my fear was gone. Sure, my brain scrambled to make sense of the new sensations — my eyes looking down at the earth from 14,000 feet above it, my mouth gaping involuntarily as the wind blew by it at 120 miles per hour — but I felt no fear. What I had been most afraid of was taking that step out of the plane, and that part was over. This was the good stuff.
The scenery was unimaginably beautiful. I could see almost all of Oahu, from the gorgeous North Shore beaches to the stunning Wai’anae Mountain range. I could see all the way out to Kaena Point, the westernmost tip of Oahu, which Heather and I had hiked to the day before. I’m told in the winter you can even spot whales with this excellent aerial vantage point.
There was plenty of time to soak it all in as well — we were in freefall for a full sixty seconds! There was an option to jump from just 8,000 feet for a bit cheaper, which only allows for about twenty seconds. I’m so glad we went for the upgrade — I don’t think twenty seconds would have been enough time to process what was happening, soak up the experience, and enjoy it.
I also chose to pay extra to have a photographer jump with me, and I’m so glad I did. Of course there is the obvious reason, that I now have amazing documentation of this wonderful moment in my life. But it was also incredible in the moment. I know this sounds unbelievable, but it wasn’t until I saw my videographer freefalling through the atmosphere, not being harnessed or held or protected by anything, that I realized I was doing the same thing. When I say that, people ask what exactly I thought skydiving was. I guess maybe mentally I hadn’t moved past the jumping part? Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until those moments — watching the photographer and grabbing his hands and spinning around and flying off again — that I really truly grasped what I was doing.
Also, thanks to having the entire event recorded, I was able to see the true effects that 120mph freefall has on the face. Let me tell you, it’s not flattering. World, here’s what 80% of skydiving pictures look like:
That minute of freefall felt gloriously long, but then as quickly as I had jumped the parachute was up, and instead of throttling towards the earth at speeds that made my eyes water and my mouth go dry, we were suddenly floating gently below the clouds. At times it felt like we were headed out to sea, but the instructor knew what he was doing and expertly steered us back to landing.
When we landed and they unhooked me and I took my first steps, I almost fell to my knees. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or the landing or the shock of being back at sea level, but it took me a few steps to get back to normal. I had survived the plane ride, lived through my anxiety and gone skydiving. And you know what? I would do it again.
Want to see the whole thing go down? I had always planned to buy the photos, but the morning of my jump my mom called me and said, “You know what? I’m never going to do this, so I want to watch you do it. I’m buying you the video.” And so thanks to Mom in Wanderland, I now have this video to prove that I’m crazy enough to jump from a plane!
Please ignore my weird interview. I plead panic-induced insanity. Speaking of which, I re-edited the footage to include the song that was playing as I talked myself off the edge of a mental breakdown in the plane, the song that will now forever be my skydiving song. I can’t watch this video without smiling!
Shot by Pacific Skydiving, Re-edited by me. Click gear icon and change to HD for best quality.
This is a pricey experience, to be sure. The jump alone is $170 ($15 off with military or student ID), which from what I’m told is a great price for skydiving. What really makes this pricey though is buying the photos and video. Digital photos alone run $125, a DVD alone costs $160, and a package of both costs $190. To some people it might seem crazy to spend more to documenting something than you spend actually doing it, but from what I could see the vast majority of people end up going for some form of digital memories.
The quality of the photos and the video is pretty decent, though I ended up doing significant editing all the photos myself (so don’t necessarily expect yours to look like this off the disc) and I recut my video (because I’m OCD). But I’m so, so glad to have both photo and video.
Are you thinking of going skydiving for the first time? I have a few tips to keep in mind!
1. If you wear contacts, bring a spare pair! I didn’t realize until the briefing that there was a strong possibility they could be knocked out by the wind. Had that happened I would have been in big trouble the rest of the day.
2. Bring cash for tips. Similar to the dive industry, instructors and videographers rely heavily on tips to make ends meet.
3. Wear sneakers. If you show up in flip-flops, you’ll have to wear yucky loaners.
4. If buying photos, wear leggings and consider long sleeve tops. The wind does incredible unkind and unflattering things to the skin, and I deleted many photos where my arms looked like they were being pummeled by a million super strong bathroom hand dryers. I would call the effect “wind induced cellulite.” I saw one shorts-wearing woman’s photos — despite the fact that she was very thin, her legs did not look great at all.
5. Enjoy! If I can go from this —
to this —
— so can you! This was one of the best experiences of my life, and I’ve thought back to it frequently in the time since. I’m so glad I tackled my fears and just did it, and dare I say I even look forward to skydiving again someday — once my bank account recovers, that is.
Photo by Heather Holt Photography
Have you ever been skydiving? Where? Were you as scared as I was?
Wow– never thought I wanted to skydive but your video made it look so cool!!
Get ready… I’ve got a surprise for Vegas 🙂
Really great post with lots of beautiful pictures, but I have to say, I’m doubting I could ever sky dive… I’m too much of a scaredy cat! I think I would’ve looked out the plane and sat back down, haha. Good job on facing your fears, the experience looked incredible!
Thanks Ashley! I asked him afterwards if people ever can’t go through with it and he said its very rare… he said he hates coming down with the plane and he’d rather push someone out than do it 🙂
Looks like a blast (and Oahu looks gorgeous)! So glad you came out of it with good and not terrible memories! I went skydiving in the Swiss Alps two years ago and it was incredibly gorgeous too. Breathtaking, even. Unlike you, I wasn’t really nervous. I don’t have a fear of heights and I figured, “Hey, this guy does this ten times a day. I feel safe.” But the look on my face as I’m falling out of the plane looks like I want to die! My mom still doesn’t believe that I wasn’t scared because of that picture. I wasn’t! But either way, I thought it was an amazing experience and very different than anything I had felt before. Definitely recommend it!!
Weirdly I don’t have a fear of heights and like I said, it wasn’t really a physical fear that I was going to die… I think it was more of an anxiety, if you know what I mean. You know what they say, the fear of fear is the greatest fear of all!
Awesome!!!! I SO want to do this. Now I am Totally convinced and when the opportunity arrives in a good view place I’m doing it. Even with the added expense of photos and video. And hopefully with a hot instructor being I’ll be tethered to him.
You definitely get very up close and personal with the instructor, so it helps if they aren’t bad looking! 🙂
I have never had the desire to go skydiving until I watched that video. Now, it’s on my bucket list. The view is amazing! So glad you got to experience that!
Thank you so much Carolyn! Glad to hear I infected you with the idea 🙂 I’m loving reading your blog by the way!
Very, very brave. I watched the video too, and I don’t think I could do it. Will you repeat?
I would definitely do it again, maybe over the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. But I need a while to replenish my bank account now!
I have NO desire to throw myself out of a plane, but watching you do it was awesome! I realize I didn’t pay for them, but I think the pictures and video were totally worth it.
Haha, I love this comment 🙂 Well I think the photos are worth it, and my mama thinks the video is worth it so… we all agree!
I just spit all over my keyboard while laughing at your “wind induced cellulite” tip. I hope to skydive someday and I will sure remember that! hahahha
Ha well this is the kind of important information that I try to provide here on Alex in Wanderland! Ha ha.
I am so jealous! I’ve wanted to go skydiving forever! I imagine I’ll have a momentary panic attack like you did jumping out of the plane. I imagine it will be similar to when I went parasailing and had that horrifying moment of doubt when I lifted off the back of the boat. But the rest of it must be so amazing and exhilarating!
I love your pictures too. They were definitely worth the big bucks!
Thanks Jen! I agree… I hope you find the perfect place to do it someday, it will be great!
I have never skydived, and given Tony’s intense fear of heights, I am not sure if it is something we will ever do. But I still understand a bit about what you mean about “someday” coming too soon, as that is how I felt the night before I had my first Scuba experience last week! It was something I always wanted to try, certainly one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip, and right when we were on the cusp of it, I started to worry/wonder whether it was too soon and I wasn’t ready! Thankfully we pushed through and now we are underwater (not sky!) divers… It’s like a whole new world has opened up to us, and I can’t wait to explore it!
Steph I am so glad to hear you went diving and that you loved it! A whole new world is open to you now! Congratulations 🙂
Oh wow, the view looks incredible! And thee price is so much cheaper than here in Australia. Definitely something I’ll have to do someday 🙂
Australia is the other place I would like to do it… I’d love to see the Great Barrier Reef from the sky!
Congratulations Alex, that looked amazing! I did a skydive in Tuscany of all places, and felt very similar to you prior to leaving the plane! We jumped from 15,000ft and it was one of the best things I have ever done. I would love to do a jump in Hawaii as well, the scenery looked incredible 🙂
I’ve never been to Tuscany but I can only imagine that would be a fantastic place to do it! There has to be amazing scenery in order to talk me into something like this…
Go Alex!!!! I went skydiving once, when I was so young. (probably your age) I wonder if I’d have the guts to do it again!
I think if I did it in the next year or so it would be easier, because I’d know I was able to do it the first time. But who knows, maybe it would be terror all over again!
Awesome! Good on you Alex, the video is amazing! Happy birthday for the other day BTW 🙂
Thanks Sarah! The video seems very popular, I’m going to have to give my mama an extra big thank you!
Yeah I’m exactly like you, I want to do it someday… But I know I’ll be totally freaked out from the moment I’ll get to the place. I definitely need someone to talk me into it! That video is incredible.
Thanks Amanda! Yeah, I’m so grateful I had Heather there to talk me through it. It definitely helps to have a buddy, especially someone who has done it before and is totally nonchalant!
Cheers to your bravery! I have a weird thing about 0-gravity, not sure if I can do that!
Funny enough, I never want to bungy jump! I’ve never even had the desire. So I know how you feel.
WOW! I can’t believe you jumped out of a plane!So proud of you! It has always been on my life list but I don’t want to do it alone so I am still waiting and hoping to find someone willing to jump with me! Unfortunately I can’t watch the video because of all the crazy restrictions that Germany has now! =( But your pictures already look amazing and you look stunning even fourteen thousand feet up in the air!
Oh, I’m sorry you can’t see the video Caty! If we ever meet in person I’ll show you then 🙂 And I know how you feel, there is no way I would have done this without Heather!
I’m going skydiving in New Zealand at the very start of our travels in March. This post has convinced me that it’ll be amazing – even though I have an intense fear of those moments where you’re poised at the plane door, ready to jump. I hope my instructor just forces me out, even if I’m freaking out. Oddly, one of my fears was also about what will happen to my contact lenses, so I’ll be sure to bring an extra pair!
The instructor told me that he hates to come down with the plane, so he’d be happy to push me out if necessary 🙂 As for the contacts, I hadn’t even thought about it and was kind of annoyed when they told me they might fall out… I feel like you need to tell someone that when they book!
Love the expression on your face, you are far more brave than I!
I don’t know about brave… maybe just foolish! 🙂
I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go skydiving, but have never gotten up the nerve. But after watching this video I’m going to go try…although this also makes me want to wait for Hawaii….cause I can’t imagine going to New Jersey and jumping over corn fields and oil buckets would make the experience as memorable!
Yeah, I don’t think anyone would have been able to talk me into skydiving in upstate New York, that’s for sure. The location has everything to do with it!
I had pretty much the exact same experience when I sky dived in Oz, except I probably wouldn’t do it again. Once was enough! I can’t believe how fabulous you looked falling from the sky!!!!!
As always, your comments make me feel great 🙂 Thanks Andi!
I just did this in September and it was just as thrilling!!!
I would do this over and over! Good call on getting the pictures and video. I did the same thing and it was SO worth it!
Sometimes you just gotta splurge! So glad I went for it here 🙂
After seeing this, I think I would chicken out at the last minute – if I even got that far, At my age, I don’t have to think about anything that is slightly controversial Gram E
I think that’s what I was most afraid of — that I would chicken out and not do it!
This is beautiful! I’ve been skydiving twice here in BC. I am absolutely petrified of heights and thought I was going to pass out as I sat on the edge of the plane. But what a high you get afterwards! I was jumping out of my skin for weeks after! The second time wasn’t as exciting – so I know I’ve got to change location. Hawaii just joined New Zealand as the top of the list!
– great advice on the clothing choices too – here in BC, you get to wear really snazzy coveralls because it gets cold up there!
Yeah I can imagine in a new setting it would be totally like doing it all over again for the first time! Eek — makes me nervous to do it again someday!
Wow! You are so brave. I don’t know if I could do this! Love you recommendation to wear leggins and a long-sleeved top. I have similar photos of my thighs looking enormous when paragliding!
Ha, I think that was one of the most helpful travel tips I’ve ever given and I’ve never read it anywhere else! Stick with me, you’ll get flattering travel photos 🙂
Wish I could get to courage to sky dive one day and what better place to do it than in Hawaii. Looks like you guys had a blast.
Megan if I could do it I bet you could do 🙂 Best of luck!
Hahahahaha, this is great! The first couple of photos after the jump are hilarious. You screaming, and your instructor doing the shaka sign, super chill… priceless
I know, right? That calmed me too, thinking… okay, this is just another day at the office for this guy!
SO well-written, Alex! You actually had me feeling anxious while I was reading about you heading up in the plane and seeing people disappearing out the door…
Okay, maybe I can do it. Someday. But as you said, sometimes ‘someday’ can sneak up on you!
Cheers! Congrats on conquering your fears!
Thanks chica! Funny enough, someone was telling me about their skydiving adventures in Vietnam… maybe time for a vacation?! 🙂
Hahaha I love this post! And I LOVE the expression on your face whilst you’re in the plane, it’s a combination of ‘psyching yourself up, and thinking of your loved ones’. Fantastic video, shame about the expense though! Oh and thanks about the tip re: long sleeved tops 😉
Yeah, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay up for these things! I just hand over the credit card and try not to think about it…
EEEEEEEeeeee! One of the thing I’m DYING to do!!!! Although, I’m sure I would black out. I’m a weenie.
Well, I think anyone that jumps out of a plane is NOT a weenie, regardless of the ridiculous faces they make and the horrible stomach cramps they have leading in… or maybe I just want to feel brave today, ha.
Giselle would never jump out of a perfectly good plane. I on the other hand went skydiving with my Mom for her 50th birthday. something she wanted to cross of her bucket list. It was awesome and so much fun!! 🙂
I wish I could convince my mom to come but I guess I’m lucky she would never — that’s how I ended up with a great video! My dad on the other hand says he always tries to keep up with his children.
Awesome, not much else I can add to that…
I like to leave people speechless 🙂
This feels like the best skydiving experience you could get without skydiving. Thanks so much for sharing!
This really made me want to go.
Hey Nick, glad you could come on my virtual jump with me! Hope you get up there someday yourself 🙂
Skydiving’s always been on my list, but now I simply must go skydiving in HAWAII. Looks awesome! (Loved the pix!)
Thank you so much Susan! Hope you get there soon!
Sarah and I just jumped in Playa del Carmen and it was pretty much the awesomest thing ever! It gives new understanding when watching other peoples videos. Yours looked equally awesome with an additional awesomeness added for the extra long free fall (you can tell how jazzed I am by the jump from my excessive use of the word awesome).
Yeah, I think there needs to be a club for people who have been skydiving to get together and collectively geek out over their experience… because there is no way that anyone else would understand our collective overuse of positive adjectives!
Great video, the photo at the end is fantastic.
As a solo skydiver, I have to tell you to try it solo. There is nothing like it.
Being in control of yourself is so rewarding when you are up there.
Hmmmm…. I don’t know Amanda, this was pushing my limits quite a bit as is! But on the other hand, I’ve learned to never say never…. who knows where I’ll be in a few years? I might even be an instructor 😛
You wouldn’t be totally alone the first time. My first “solo” jump I had 2 instructors hanging on to me until I deployed…you know just in case!!! It’s definitely an experience that no words can describe.
I’ll look forward to seeing when you make the jump! 😉
Going to Oahu in 2 weeks and am thinking of skydiving–I have the same anxiety of dying as you did lol but looks like it’s completely worth it! thanks!
It’s the best natural high I’ve ever had, Sitara! Go for it — and let me know what you think 🙂
I’ve only been skydiving once, in Wanaka, New Zealand, and my experience was incredibly similar to yours. When it was my turn, my instructor had to physically lift my legs, one by one, out of the plane, because I had gone into shock. When I finally regained consciousness, it was an incredible experience!
I’m loving your blog by the way 🙂
Thanks so much Brittany! And glad to hear I’m not the only one who had to be pried out of the plane. I actually look back on this with such shock now… I don’t know how I did it! I guess I was braver just a few short years ago 😉
Next time try Skydive Hawaii!! I used to dive there all the time and they are such a great group!! And congrats for jumping – it’s such an amazing experience!
You know, as much as I LOVED this experience I don’t know if I would do it again! I am more afraid of flying than ever, and considering the expense I’m not sure I need to pay so much to be terrified for a second time 😛
I can totally understand that! Flying tandem is really expensive and there is absolutely NO point in spending that money if you didn’t enjoy it!
Super glad I did it this time though 🙂
Ahhh this looks so great! It’s on my bucket list and I want to do it soon because I know the older I get the more cautious (chicken) I’ll be.
So true Sandy — I already can’t believe I did this and don’t think I would do it again — and it was just a few years ago! Ha.