When did everything get so serious?
I learned to skydive in 2006. Today, I arrived in the Czech Republic to represent my country at the FAI World Skydiving Championships. I don’t correctly remember the series of decisions that led me into competition, I just wanted to be good, was desperate to be good - able to move and fly and zoom in any and every direction. I wanted to make it look effortless, the same way that I saw people do in videos as a brand new skydiver almost a decade ago. Some of the same faces in those videos, I recognise here today. I can now, I suppose, but effort is the key word. For every rockstar photo and video, every moment where it looks right there are the sore muscles and the injuries, the wear and tear from everyday in the tube, and all that sweaty rushing from landing area to hangar to plane.
Somewhere inside is the jumper I once was, strictly in it for fun and self-improvement, chafing at the forced formality, the rigmarole of where the logos have to be placed and the importance of matching fucking shoes.
Having people in your corner is important when you are trying to get this stuff done. Competing is expensive, and every bit of support makes it a wee bit easier to achieve ...Like the time when a week before the World Championships you find yourself dirty low over Empuriabrava and filthy fast enough to snap the lines of your raggy old canopy, leaving it attached in about two-thirds of the necessary places and making the rest flail about like a panicking octopus. So you get rid of it, knowing without looking that you are balls deep over the resort where all the restaurants and tourists are, and only remembering after the whole process has unfolded that Sun Path sorted you out with a new rig that has a Skyhook, and the thousand feet you had no real encouraging plans for can now be used to make it back to the dropzone without even having to cancel the backup load. Thanks again, Sun Path.
We showed up to the airport this morning peacocking about the place in our Great Britain Skydiving Team delegation polo shirts. We had to have a team meeting to discuss if it was ultimately a good idea to wear them. A team meeting. Also on the agenda is a meeting about how much enthusiasm I have been injecting into this year’s special handshake. While it’s under discussion, I shuffle about forlornly, hoping only that it is more fun that the little chat we had about the exact structure and semantics of the fucking preposterous ritual in the first place.
We are convinced the shirts worked in our devious plan to blag stuff. The goal is to be seen wearing them by as many total strangers as possible, with the whole affair only a little bit completely undermined by our flight out of the UK on ludicrous purple budget airline Wizzair. A trio of unremembered boarding passes had us ganging up on the hapless check-in lady, allowing her to bask in the glory of how important we are to the point where she ultimately let us off the ninety pounds it would cost for three pieces of paper.
In Prostejov the weather is crappy. Nobody is doing anything much when we arrive. Long faces tell unsurprising tales of long waits for lifts, but within the atmosphere of medium-strength confusion about how and what and where, there is a relaxed relief that something with a long build-up is now finally happening.
We ultimately manage a couple of training jumps: a twitchy first one, with our fragmented attention spooned out over considerations such as where the dropzone might be under the seven thousand-ish feet of ominous cloud, and a second attempt aborted halfway through the routine when it got to the point that the rain felt like it was stripping the skin off our faces. We were given the option to bail as the plane rolled in, but everyone involved was excited enough and dumb enough to universally opt to go anyway, only truly realising the error on jump run, when the rain didn’t even wait for us to get out the plane before it wanted to be friends.