I’d started learning to skydive via the AFF http://www.netheravon.com/learn-to-skydive/accelerated-free-fall/ course at Netheravon in June 2016 and had managed to limp my way through 5 levels in 6 months with considerable delays, repeats, bad weather holds etc.  On the advice of my (very patient) instructor I decided to head to sunnier climes to try to complete the course over a concentrated week and this found me and my husband, John, heading to http://www.skydivespain.com/  in Seville last month where they have year-round good weather and jump from a whopping 15,000 feet.

Day 1 – In which I learn a new mantra for my exit

I have a half-day refresher ground school with a cheerful Irishman called Dave: “I came here 6 years ago to clean the loos and skydive, then quit my job back home on an oil rig to learn to become a packer, then a tandem instructor and now I’m an AFF instructor”.  After lunch, Dave introduces me to Roberto who is to be my jumping instructor.  Skydive Spain has asked me to repeat Level 5 (which I had previously passed) and this is my first jump with Roberto.  I tell him that I’m very nervous but it all goes pretty well.  After the jump we watch the video Roberto took with his GoPro.  He gives me some tips on body position and tells me that everything is generally good, however I lack confidence: “I want you to approach that door thinking I am a fucking good skydiver” – this has become my mantra for all exits since!

Day 2 – A round of applause

It’s windy today and all student jumps are on hold.  John (who is able to jump in this weather because he holds a higher licence level) practices a formation sequence with a Dutch guy we’ve met called Onno.  I video their ground practice.  Other experienced skydivers want to join in and the formation becomes more and more multi-national, eventually comprising guys from Spain, Luxembourg, Austria, the Netherlands and the UK.  I’m pretty chilled because I don’t believe there will be any student jumping today.  In the late afternoon Dave calls all the students over and I think here we go – he’s going to tell us to go home, but in fact he says the wind has dropped just enough for students to jump so we’re all to get going.  I feel my stomach flip over but go to get my kit.  I do a Level 6 jump with Roberto and then he immediately manifests (books) me on to do Level 7.   Although my track (a fast horizontal move) is much better, I don’t really feel I’ve done well enough to pass Level 7 and I shake my head at John when I come in to land.  He looks disappointed and we walk together to the hangar to drop my chute off for packing.  Next there is an announcement “A big round of applause for Sara who has just passed AFF”.  Really?!  I stand confused for a moment thinking I must have mis-heard, until Roberto walks towards me with the GoPro asking how I feel and I manage to mumble something that vaguely makes sense – I’m shocked but thrilled!  John, Onno and I get a drink at the bar to celebrate.  We sit outside to watch the beautiful sunset and I clumsily manage to spill most of my celebratory glass of wine over Onno.

Day 3 – Whoop whoop!

I’ve passed AFF but to get the British Parachute Association A licence http://www.skydivespain.com/en/coursesAFF I now have to do 10 consol (solo) jumps and AFF Level 8.  I’m initially relaxed about the first solo jump until I’m on the plane and suddenly realise that there is NO INSTRUCTOR, just ME.  When I jump I start to spin and have a moment’s panic, but with a deep breath and a good body arch I get stable again.  When I pull my parachute I shout “whoop whoop” to the sky for no reason other than sheer joy.

Day 4 – Exits, landings & 21 bruises

I did 3 consol jumps the day before, but John wants me to up my game and do 4 today because we’ve heard the weather’s going to turn in a couple of days – although it’s beautiful today.  On my first jump I try a new exit – the Float exit – which involves climbing onto the outside of the plane before letting go.  It sounds terrifying but I manage it easily (who knew it would be easy to cling on to the outside of a plane?!) and it quickly becomes my favourite exit.  I also do an unstable exit where I have to bend over at the door and topple out.  I hesitate so long that Dave gives me a shove.  Out I go, over and over, seeing Earth, Sky Earth, Sky – hey this is fun!  After 5 seconds I arch and am pleased to regain stability immediately.  My jumps were good today however my landings were terrible.  I managed one perfect one landing gently on my feet, but had 3 badly misjudged ones crashing and skidding on the ground.  That night I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and count 21 bruises.  I have to improve my landings tomorrow.

Day 5 – Circular rainbows and celebrations

There’s another student on my first consol jump of the day and we decide to manifest ourselves together to do Level 8 on the next load (plane taking off).  AFF Level 8 is a low altitude jump (commonly known as a hop n pop) to show that you can cope with jumping from a lower altitude in an emergency.  All the students are nervous about the hop n pop.  Ian & I sit on the floor by the plane door like rabbits caught in headlights and everyone else on the plane looks at us.  At 5,000 feet the plane levels out and Dave opens the door.  I’m to go first.  Yikes!  At 5k the ground looks really, really near!  Don’t look down, Sara, don’t look down – I am a fucking good skydiver – just jump, get stable, pull.  Phew, I’d done it!  My next jump is consol 9 and while in freefall I see a rare circular rainbow https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow – it is stunningly beautiful.   On landing, I do what I don’t usually do (because I’m inherently lazy and like breaks) and manifest immediately onto the next load in 34 minutes.  It’s going to be my last consol jump and I decide that I’m going to do all the things I love best.  I do the float exit, then some 360 degree turns, followed by a back flip just for the hell of it.  Then I get into a nice position for a stable pull at 4.5k.  I land on my feet, but lose my balance and sit (gently) on my bottom.  I jump up immediately in the hope that no-one has noticed, and start gathering in my chute like a pro.  Yay – I’m a licenced skydiver!*

*After a debrief, some form-filling, passing the CH1 test and sending payment to the BPA of course