How Skydiving Cured My Nihilism

Realizing that you don’t wanna die is a scary moment.

In 2011 I was living in Sydney with my girlfriend (now wife) K. She entered a national ‘Walk To Work’ competition, which involved, you guessed it, walking to work. The two of us got drunk the night before and caught the bus hungover into the city. K called me a couple hours later at my office and excitedly let me know that she won the damn thing, despite not shedding a drop of sweat that morning. The prize was a trip for two to New Zealand. 

We flew across the Tasman a few months later. After exploring Auckland for a few days we picked up our JUCY campervan which I christened Weezy. The plan was to explore the north island over a 10 day period. Once Weezy was loaded up with supplies, we made our way towards the Bay of Islands.

As the name suggests, the Bay of Islands is a picturesque enclave with hundreds of subtropical tiny islands, and it’s by all accounts an awesome spot for skydiving. After a night spent on the outskirts of Whangarei we headed towards a tiny airstrip.

I’d wanted to skydive for years but K wasn’t so keen. As we approached the airstrip I could see she was having second thoughts. I remember saying things like “It’s perfectly normal to feel a little scared”, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and “Don’t worry, I’ll be right there with you - you’ll be fine”.

It was a gorgeous sunny morning. After a short drive we reached a nondescript building connected to a little hangar.

We spoke with the Kiwi bro behind the counter. He talked us through the various options and we opted for a 60 second freefall, the maximum for a first time tandem jump.

The situation was hyper casual. As he processed our credit cards the dude asked us a ton of questions about our trip, and passed on suggestions about cool places to check out. Then he started walking towards the hangar.

“Hold tight crew,” he said. “I’m just gonna tell the pilot to fire up the engine.”

I was confused. Why would the pilot need to start the engine already? We hadn’t gone through any training yet.

Old mate sauntered back into the reception area.

“Ok we’re good to go. Let’s get you two suited up.”

I felt the first pangs of fear. This shit was happening. We went through to the hangar. The man who would be strapped to my arse for the next 30 minutes was waiting.

“Hi I’m Daniele,” he said in a brutal Italian accent. Daniele was a lanky bloke who looked a bit like a horse. “Pleased to meet-a you.”

It turned out K would be jumping with the bro from reception. As we got suited up, I asked Daniele what I needed to know. He just shook his head.

“Don’t-a worry about it. We talk in plane.”

Before I knew it we were in the air. It was a rickety little thing and the engine was loud as fuck. I started to regret my decision more and more the higher we got.

Conversely, K seemed in great spirits. She was chatting excitedly with the reception bro. I caught her gaze and she gave me a broad smile and two thumbs up.

Daniele tapped me on the shoulder and started yelling in my ear.

“Ok Tom…we-a jump soon...arms on-a chest...we fall...I hit-a your back…lift-a your arms and legs...ok?”

I tried to process the instructions.

“I’m sorry ...what's the first thing I need to do again?”

Daniele tapped me again.

“Ok. Good. We-a jump now.”

The doors of the plane flung open. Freezing cold air whipped around the cabin. K and her human backpack shuffled towards the edge. There was zero trepidation on her face. 

“3, 2, 1, JUMP!”

She flew out into the clouds. Now it was my turn.

Every part of me wanted to bail. But it seemed like Daniele only knew about five words in English. Even if I asked him to take me down I wasn’t sure he would understand. I was fucked.

We started inching towards the abyss, and my arsehole began to pucker involuntarily. I took a deep breath.

“3, 2, 1, JUMP!”

Me and Daniele plummeted towards the Earth. It was bitterly cold. Even after a few seconds the g-force was insane; my whole skull felt like it was being crushed. I started to hyperventilate.

Beyond the visceral pain, the fall packed an emotional punch too. “Oh God,” I thought to myself, “I don’t wanna die.” As a foolhardy nihilist I had never been too scared of death. But I also never sung the praises of life too loudly either. The fact was, I had a great life, I was in love with a beautiful girl, and I desperately wanted to keep living.

After what felt like forever, the chute finally opened. Relief consumed me. My mouth was overflowing with saliva so I hocked a loogie. It got caught in the wind and flew back into Daniele’s face like a huge money shot.

“Oh fuck! I’m so sorry dude…”

Daniele was understandably not impressed. I apologized profusely as he wiped his equine face clean, but the damage was done. All the islands looked absolutely amazing, but I was too rattled from the freefall to enjoy the moment. We glided down in complete silence.

Our landing was smooth as silk. K ran over and gave me a big hug.

“That was AMAZING!” she said.

That night we talked about our respective experiences over dinner. K had refrained from spitting in her guy’s face, and as a result he had cheerfully pointed out all the different landmarks as they floated down to the bay.

Apart from sheer existential terror, the other lasting memory I have is how ridiculous my Nike high tops looked thousands of feet in the air. The poor sweatshop worker who made them probably wrongly assumed that they would be used exclusively for ground-related activities. But some of us are so bored we literally jump out of planes wearing casual clothes for shits and giggles.

When I really think about it, the deeper fear is that when death comes, I want to be wearing the right gear. Don’t dress for the death you think you’ll have; dress for the death you want.

I don’t know how I’m gonna go or when my time will be up. But there’s one thing I do know. I assure you, over my literal dead body, when the Reaper comes to call my name, I will not be wearing Nike high tops, and there will not be an Italian man called Daniele strapped to my arse.