'The man who preserves his unity will never be dominated by the storms of existence; he has the strength to overcome the difficulties and move forwards.'
Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light
The door went up and the scream of the wind heralded the heat leaving the cabin. I’d felt this feeling before, but built up enough self-control that the spike of adrenaline no longer made me feel panic. Shuffling to the edge of the aircraft, I could feel the wind on my face and see the distant houses and cars looking like a miniature hobby set.
I brace myself and tried to remember the instructor’s words:
‘Face into the wind, body in-out-in and fully out. If you start tumbling, relax into an arch and you’ll stabilise soon enough’.
Looking at my new Texan friend – Scott - hanging on the edge of the aircraft, I notice that the red light is blinking on his helmet-cam indicating it’s recording. A huge wave of excitement washes over me as I realise I would get to see this new skill – controlled falling – on screen for the first time. A real enthusiastic character, Scott has come to the DZ for a weekend before he has to get back to his day job in San Antonio.
I had been in Texas for just a week and in love with its laid back lifestyle. Having got back from a busy 4-month deployment to the Mediterranean during the 2011 Arab Spring as a newly commissioned Royal Marines officer, I’d saved hard whilst I was away to make this a road trip to remember.
Today, Scott’s coaching me in freefall control. The plan is for him to exit the plane first and I’d follow, controlling my speed and movement to ‘dock’ as many times as I could in the 45 seconds of freefall.
Scott’s stood on the outside of the plan, one foot on the railing and one holding himself to the aircraft. I could see the wind rippling his suit and feel it rushing past my cheeks as I shuffled to the edge of the plane. I looked to him to give me a sign that he was ready.
With that, I see him fall away from the plane, and my instinct kicks in to just follow him – completely ignoring everything I’d been taught.
I dive out and immediately start tumbling out of control.
My vision becomes a blur of dark ground and light sky as I fight to gain stability. But it just makes me fall faster.
After what feels like an eternity I remember my instructors advice: ‘relax, and let your body arch’. So I stop wrestling this invisible opponent and let my body relax, trusting that it will stabilise me.
I regain control and then start flying to Scott, confident in the knowledge that I can hold my own when things start spinning out of control.
It’s times like this when I remember that fighting the wind will only make me tumble harder. When you relax, your body arches and you stabilise. Then you’re back in control and able to move in the direction you want.