As the sun crested the horizon out to sea off o the south coast on England, the biting chill of the February dawn began to become a little more bearable. My toes being only wrapped in an old pair of converse were feeling numb, and my breath hung in the air…but the stunning watery orange sunlight lit up the morning. It was perfectly still and calm and perfect conditions for what was to come.
It is February 2008, and I am skipping lectures at University to be at Beachy Head to ground crew for my mentor Cal who is at this point in time checking his rig (parachute system) in preparation for the imminent jump from the 350′ cliff. We have just travelled in his camper van down overnight to be here in time for dawn and low tide, and he is beginning to show signs of a reserved nervousness. Although a seasoned veteran of the sport – it has been some time since he has jumped.
With a final call to the coastguard* to warn them we are jumping, he dons his rig, and I snap my attention away from the sunrise to help him sort everything out.
(*It is a myth that BASE Jumping is entirely illegal in the UK. In fact, there is no regulation to say that. Still, depending on the situation, you could be collared for other infringements such as public endangerment or trespass – but these only tend to relate to urban settings).
Having never made (or even witnessed) any form of parachute jump I admit I was pretty helpless at pre-jump checks. But nevertheless, I take Cal’s wallet and van keys and slip them into my own jacket pocket and wish him luck.
He walks calmly to the edge and steps off. I was to later learn that Cal is not one to hang about on the edge, psyching up or visualising. Once he is ready, he goes. Simple as that.
He drops out of sight, and a few seconds later, I hear the dull crack of the parachute opening. It echoes around the cliffs followed immediately by a cacophony of sea birds’ cries as they are woken from their morning slumber by some strange object falling past their cliffside abodes.
I drop down into prone position and shift towards the edge trying to keep my weight as spread out as possible, the cliff edges here are crumbly and unstable, and I don’t have the luxury of a parachute. I peek over the side, and I see him on his feet gathering up his canopy, and I am reassured it went well. I’m not sure whose heart is racing faster, and with ideas swimming in my head, I begin the walk back to the car park for a much-needed coffee and fry up.
I now had a mission in life. I knew now there was no chance of returning to essays, lectures, endless drinking games, cornflakes, housemates and Xbox marathons. I swiftly bought myself a car, some warm sleeping bags and a camping stove and hit the road in search for my new life. I had no-where to live and no idea of how to go about it, but I was determined, and I knew I could work hard, and so the positivity that I felt overrode the nervousness…
Fast forward to March 15th 2008 and I was sitting in a rainy hanger just east of Swindon. Sitting in front of me was a long-haired firefighter and a softly spoken kiwi who were now teaching me the basics of skydiving. Read that story below!
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