An obsession
– not a hobby

Written by Michael Badnarik

When I was a skydiving instructor, people would often ask me how much the first jump would cost. I would tell them that the experience would cost about $250, “plus half of everything you make the rest of your life”. That answer was rarely understood. Skydiving is more of an obsession than a hobby. As they walked out of the hangar, I heard a husband tell his wife, “…but the children went to school last year”. I’m not sure he was kidding. A young lady that I knew had recently purchased a brand new Camero. I convinced her to come to the drop zone to try skydiving. Less than a month later she sold her new car and bought a small, used, Volkswagon Beetle in order to have minimal transportation to the drop zone on weekends. She used the money to finish her skydiving lessons, and to purchase her own parachute and jumpsuit. Anyone who has gotten off student status knows that I am not exaggerating.

I was only planning to skydive once, just to prove to myself that I could overcome my fear of falling. That was the only fear I’ve ever had. I was so excited after my first jump, I was incoherent for forty-five minutes. I returned to the drop zone fifty out of fifty-two weekends my first year. One weekend it rained like a monsoon, and the second weekend I flew to Indiana to show my mother my beautiful parachute. (She was not amused.)

As a skydiving instructor, I was often contracted to work at different drop zones across California. On this particular weekend I would be working in Monterey Bay because they were expecting an unusually large number of students. Skydive Monterey Bay is one of the most beautiful places to jump, because the nearby ocean view is absolutely breathtaking. I would often recommend that new visitors make their first jump alone, because the view would significantly distract them from any routine they were planning with their friends. It is like stepping out of the plane into a postcard.

I drove up on Friday night to have dinner with my friend, and to sleep on his couch to avoid hotel expenses. At 05:00 I went to the kitchen for a glass of water, but I didn’t quite make it. What I thought was a five-inch step up to the kitchen turned out to be the bottom of a door with an ancient plate-glass window. As I lifted my right leg to step up, my knee went through the glass and made a terrible noise. At that moment I worried that I might accidentally wake my friend up in the middle of the night. Then I felt something warm and wet running down my leg. This wasn’t safety glass, and I had cut myself pretty severely.

I ran to the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub. I knew that a four-inch gash and this kind of bleeding could not be fixed with a Band-Aid. I consoled myself with the knowledge that if I bled to death, at least I would do it in the tub and I wouldn’t leave a mess for my friend to clean up. When he saw my injury, he got very serious. He asked me which of four nearby hospitals I wanted to go to. I asked him which hospital had the most beautiful nurses. That’s when he realized that I was not going to panic, and that my sense of humor remained undamaged.

As the doctor examined my wound, I asked him if he could please hurry up because I had to go skydiving at 08:00. He laughed and said, “You’re not skydiving today.” I told him that if he didn’t stitch my knee, that I would simply wrap it with duct tape and meet my instructor responsibilities anyway. Based on the look on my face, he did a layer of stitches inside the cut, and a second layer of stitches at the skin. Then he wrapped my leg with an indestructible bandage and reluctantly sent me on my way. My friends at the drop zone gave me grief because I was fifteen minutes late. When they learned that I had come directly from the Emergency Room, they offered to let me stay on the ground all day. I insisted that we had a contract, and that I was going to make all of the tandem jumps available that afternoon. At the end of the day, I took off my jeans and put on a pair of shorts to relax. The bandage had worked beautifully, but it was finally coming apart so I took it off. The stitches were still in place, but my knee looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie. My skydiving buddies were in awe. They couldn’t believe I had worked all day with an injury like that. I asked rhetorically, “You didn’t think I was going to miss out on skydiving just because of this minor thing, did you?” I bought a case of beer and was the drop zone hero for the rest of the weekend.

I spent half of my money on skydiving. The rest I wasted.

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3 Comments

  1. bruce sloane

    why would someone jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane ..?? 🙂

    [mjb: If you’ve gotta ask the question, then you’ve never made a jump. Once you’ve made your first skydive, this becomes a rhetorical question.]

    Reply
  2. Mette

    The story Pat tells about his first jump. He was an observer on the flight. He had no parachute, had never jumped. There were doing a lay low at 300 feet, 100 knots. He was standing at the back door of a C130. This was a hot mission. I can understand why the Colonel and Command Sergeant Major wanted Pat with. Pat spoke Russian with a Georgian accent. He also spoke Turkish and German. The two men got on either side of Pat, gripped him under the arm and went out the back door of the plane. This was done without notice or warning. Did I mention no parachute? The Colonel and Command sergeant Major both had para wings. As Pat put it, when they reach the ground the Colonel and Pat went to blows, until the team chief threw Pat an AK47 and told him to start running. Pat said his pants were full of shit, he was scared. The Colonel was just laughing. Pat started jumping after that whenever they had a mission.

    [mjb: That’s a terrible first experience. The military has a primitive idea about how to train people. I’m glad that Pat wasn’t as traumatized as he could have been. Be well!]

    Reply
  3. Joe

    I’m not a skydiver, but I feel the same way about skiing. I grew up on the Gulf Coast where the only kind of skiing was water skiing. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I got to go snow skiing. Despite falling about 200 times the first day, I was immediately hooked and bought my own equipment before the second day. I knew I would be skiing every chance I got for the rest of my life. There’s just something about blasting down a mountain at 50 or 60 mph (my personal record is 67.2, and yes, there is an app for that) that is so exhilarating. I imagine in terms of the thrill of speed/fear of death aspect, skydiving may be even more intense!

    Reply

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