Air apparent

  • The List
  • 2 October 2008

The other side of the Atlantic is the place to try your first tandem skydive. You can jump from higher and for a fraction of the price than you can in the UK. Susan Wright loses her stomach in California

I am so stupid. I’m shuffling forward on a bench in a King Air plane above Hollister, California. Only now, at 15,000 feet, after a quarter of an hour of shivery anticipation, and a mere stride from an open door to the sky, do I realise the implications of doing a tandem skydive. I’m strapped like a helpless muppet to the front of my jump master, JR. The front. When we get to the yawning gap I’m going to be facing the empty yonder with nothing between me and gravity-induced oblivion. What was I thinking?

Actually, I was thinking that a tandem skydive sounded like a great way to spend an afternoon in California. I hadn’t realised it was so easy to arrange, but a friend I was visiting in San Francisco had extolled its thrills and told me to call Adventure Center Skydiving in Hollister and book a jump. It was that easy. In fact, we could do some shopping at the outlet stores in nearby Gilroy, grab some lunch, leave our cheap jeans in the trunk of the car, and then take to the skies.

Jumping in the US offers good value for money, even with the pound in freefall. For $169 (around £95), you can jump from 10,000 feet. You can’t do the same for less than £170 in the UK. An even better option is to make the leap from 15,000 feet. This gives you more freefall for not much more money (around £118).

When you’re at the top of it, 15,000 feet is a lot of air. The view over the Californian desert is beautiful. The dusty hills, the Sierra mountains, a peek of the ocean – everything in bird’s-eye looks just like it does when you scrunch your nose against the window of a jet plane. But when there’s no window, and you’re intending to jump, it’s frighteningly vast.

‘Okay?’ yells JR from behind me at the doorway. ‘Remember to keep your head back.’

And in a split second we topple out of the plane. I think the sudden fright flipped my stomach, but trying to analyse a sky dive after the event is like trying to figure out why you’re in love. It’s just a blur of dizzy emotion and sensations.

More than anything, I was trying to breathe. I felt winded, in awe, and it was utterly intense. When you’re in the air you’re not just looking at the view, you are the view. You’re in thin air and you’re rushing through the wind. And it’s the best thing you’ve ever done.
At 6,000 feet, JR signals me to pull the rip cord. The blossoming canopy transforms our freefall into a gentle drift through the air. We spin and scud, my throat dry from the earlier intake of panic. It. Is. Amazing. Six minutes in the sky and my life is changing.

The desert dirt comes to meet us and all too soon I’m back on land. It’s over, but the skies are already different. As Leonardo Da Vinci so eloquently said, ‘When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.’ Oh, to be shuffling along that bench …

The Essentials
Adventure Center Skydiving is located at Hollister Airport, just north of Hollister, California, an hour and a half’s drive from San Francisco. Opening hours 9am until sunset, seven days a week excluding some holidays. Cost Tandem skydive from 10,000 feet (20-30 seconds of freefall) $169 (£95). Tandem skydive from 15,000 feet (60 seconds of freefall) $209 (£118). Tandem skydive from 18,000 feet (90+ seconds of freefall, requires oxygen) $269 (£152). What you need Trainers, comfortable jeans or shorts, T-shirt or sweater. Contact (831) 636 0117 or 1-800-FUN-JUMP Handy links The National Skydiving Association The NSA lists all the skydiving centres and drop zones across the US.

Three others to try: Conquer gravity & wind

Indoor skydiving

Experience the thrill of skydiving without hurtling towards the Earth at over 100 miles per hour. Airkix in Milton Keynes has a vertical wind tunnel that simulates the experience of free-fall. Fun for all the family aged 5+. See


Paragliding will have you floating above the land while harnessing the wind – enabling you to take in the scenery at a more leisurely pace. A sport that seems tailor made for the hills and Munros of Scotland. Centres over the country. See

Power kiting

No heights involved – claim mastery over the wind with power kiting. Sit in a buggy, hold onto your kite and zip across the land in this fast-growing sport. Various locations across Scotland. See &


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