Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go skydiving without your sight?
For those who have jumped before, picture yourselves hanging from the edge of the plane, wind in your face, feet dangling into the air. How would this moment feel if you couldn’t see?
Geoff, 78, is the president of Exsight Tandems Illawarra, and has been completely blind since childhood. Exsight began in 2008 and provides tandem cycling opportunities for people with vision impairment, or who for any reason cannot ride solo.
It takes a lot of courage to trust another person to safely navigate the Illawarra cycleways, but what about trusting another person to navigate the skies?
One of Geoff’s tandem pilots at Exsight, Dallas, also happens to be one of our legendary tandem instructors at the Wollongong DZ, and together they decided to take the leap over Wollongong!
Geoff has shared with us his personal experience of going skydiving without sight, and here, in his very own, beautifully written words, is his story:
3rd June, 2021.
A cool morning but the forecast rain hadn’t yet arrived, Xiumei and I drove to Skydive Wollongong at Stuart Park. This is where the journey begins.
The paperwork was completed and I was weighed, with all of my four jumpers and two tracksuit pants on to protect me from the anticipated freeze, weighing only 68kg. Then came the kitting up with the all-encompassing harness that will strap you to the tandem captain (If that is the correct term), with the charismatic Dallas assisting with black humour, such as, “Is this harness the one that was stopped being used?”, and the lady staff member replied “No! It probably will go one more time, if we are lucky”.
Once on the bus travelling to the airport at Albion Park Rail, it was more like a gentle drive through the park, and the conversation belied what the future held.
Within minutes of arriving at the airport on the bus, I went up three steps and got the first surprise – that the roof of the plane was lower than I expected , which made me trip, but only falling to my knees in prayer, which obviously was answered, as I am sitting here now in a state of continuing euphoria!
The seat was a raised, long, firm foam rubber one that you sit astride, where Dallas, my guardian angel, sat behind me with the exit door only a metre away – saving me a long shuffle when the action was to start. Once the other brave or, perhaps, naive passengers like me, were aboard, the plane was away down the runway.
I hardly was aware of lift off, most likely my flight and fight responses had already kicked in for a destiny unknown. Dallas continued progressively to tighten and secure the harness straps to make us one person instead of two. Still there was the relaxed talk and reminders of the small part I had to play: “Hands up to shoulder level holding the loops to keep them close in”. The tight fitting goggles were put in place, and not too uncomfortable once they were properly adjusted.
Over Kanahooka Park onto Stuart Park, gradually climbing to 14,000 feet. The sliding door slipped backwards with a brisk,not too uncomfortable breeze, probably due to the fact that I was wearing all my wardrobe to prevent hypothermia. Dallas instructed me to straighten the knees and we shuffled forward off the low seat with the open door becoming ever more the point of no return, and then…
A ROLL TO THE RIGHT INTO SPACE, AND THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN!
Seeming to spin around and around until we stabilised. A tap on the shoulder to tell me to place my arms stretched out, a little like swimming; and that is what it felt like, as though the 200km/hr freefall wasn’t through air, but similar to the pressure of water. The speed was fantastic with the roar of the rushing air making anything else impossible to hear.
Strange as it may seem, there was no fear of the rapidly approaching ground, just the movements from side to side and waiting for the next momentous stage. Suddenly, there was a slight sense of a bump as the parachute opened; once again my existence spun as we slowed and I assumed a more natural upright position – I am still wondering during the freefall whether I was diving down or some other position.
Once the vestibular system had adjusted, we floated down with Dallas steering. Sometimes turning to the right gave that feeling of riding a wave as we turned into the rise; slipping back to the trough and swinging into a left turn rising up and back down to neutral.
This movement felt a little like that fairground ride called The Waltzers that swung you this way and that way causing that slight tension of apprehension. All the time, the reassuring voice of Dallas made these sensations allow the drifting pleasure to superceed anything else.
All too soon I was practicing the landing movements, “knees up; straighten the legs out in front,” and shortly afterwards it was for real, sliding gently along the grass and back to terra firma.
Since the skydive, there has been this strange euphoric state that I can only imagine must be something like people experience when tripping out on their favourite mood changer.
I am truly indebted to Skydiving Australia, particularly the staff in Wollongong and most of all, Dallas, who gave me the experience of a lifetime. In fact, it matches the one of floating down a river in Sri Lanka by the boat that took us through the rapids, with the boatman merely holding onto my hand with no fear – amazing, since I am a poor swimmer.
Has Geoff’s story inspired you to take a moment and think about what is holding YOU back?
We’d like to extend a massive thank you to Dallas for helping us give this incredible experience to Geoff, and of course, to Geoff himself for putting all his fears aside and taking the ultimate leap of faith. If you’d like to learn more about Exsight Tandems Illawarra, or if you’d like to make a donation to this volunteer run charity, please click here.