Terrified of skydiving? You’re not the only one
It’s okay (and normal) to have second thoughts about jumping from a plane
Acrophobia, the fear of heights, is a common reason people are terrified of skydiving. And considering three to five per cent of the population suffer from it, you can take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
So, whether it’s acrophobia or merely the fear of the unknown, please know that we’ve introduced countless fearful humans to the world of skydiving, including our very own, Amy Stutt.
Fear and loathing 14,000 feet above the earth
Let’s set the scene. There was a Kiwi boy named Glenn. He met an Aussie girl named Amy in New York City. After some email to and fro, Glenn invited Amy to visit him in Taupo, New Zealand where he was the Operations Manager at Great Lakes Skydive Centre (now closed). After impressing Amy with an adventurous tour of the area via mountain bikes, climbing gear, and their own two feet, he suggested they go skydiving.
“Yes. I said yes straight away,” recalls Amy. “I’m frightened of heights, but I thought skydiving would be more of a surreal experience, so I wasn’t too worried.”
But when it came time to jump, she was more than worried. Amy was petrified.
“When the door opened, and the other tandems began to leave the plane, I panicked. I started to cry and say no, over and over. I was physically trying to stop us from moving toward to door,” she says.
What if I change my mind at the last minute?
Too scared to jump? Nobody will force you, but your skydiving instructor will give you some kind, persuasive words.
“Some people need gentle encouragement, and some people are adamant they won’t jump. If they say no when we get to altitude, I’ll have a chat to them and offer reassurance,” says Paul Morton , Skydive Geronimo skydiving instructor with over 10,000 tandem skydives to date.
In the thousands of tandems he’s completed since 2002, Paul says he’s only had four refusals. Most of the time, his sweet talk can turn a customer around.
“I once had a customer who said she didn’t want to jump. As we descended in the plane, I gave it once more shot when we got to 9,000 feet. I said, ‘we still have a chance to do this jump from 8,000 feet, but if we get any lower, we’ll have to land in the plane – it’s now or never’. She said ‘let’s do it’, and we went. She loved it,” he says.
From an operational point of view, there’s only a small window of time to do the jump says Paul. “We can’t fly around waiting for someone to overcome their fears, but we will give them every reasonable opportunity to do the jump they’ve paid for.”
If I don’t jump, will I still have to pay?
Yes. It’s important to know that if you decide to descend with the plane and not do your skydive, you will still be charged the full cost of the jump. For some people, that’s enough to make them leave the plane.
How many people back out of their skydive?
It’s not uncommon for first-time skydivers to freak out when it’s their turn to leave the plane. But it is unusual to refuse to jump.
“If someone is terrified and hesitant, that is not a sign that we aren’t going ahead with the jump. However, if they are positive they no longer want to do it, we will bring them back down in the plane,” says Amy.
“Our skydive instructors are experienced in helping people overcome their fears. Therefore, almost everyone who goes up in the plane does a skydive. We only have a couple of refusals each year.”
Who’s most likely to change their mind about skydiving?
Like we mentioned above, the fear of heights and the unknown are the prime reasons to back out of a skydive. Some people may not even realise how afraid they are until the door opens and the rush of cool air breezes through the plane. That’s the moment that strikes many as terrifying.
It’s essential for an extreme sport like skydiving to be the choice of the participant. Tandem skydives make incredible gifts, but if the recipient is surprised with an impromptu skydive, it may not go over well. Likewise, for any occasion where the person has not personally chosen the skydive.
When the ladies from the Chinese hit reality show, Viva La Romance visited Western Australia as part of season 2, skydiving was not their idea. And so, Zhang Jiani who was paired with Skydive Geronimo skydiving instructor, Jimmy Baker , decided not to jump. She was terrified of skydiving. In the four years that Jimmy’s been taking people tandem skydiving, this was his first refusal.
Take away message: Do not surprise someone with a skydive unless you are 100% sure they want to jump from a perfectly good airplane.
So, did Amy do that skydive or not?
As Amy went into panic-mode, Glenn switched gears from perfect date to professional skydiver. He spoke gently and reassured Amy that they were safe. By the time they shuffled to the door, Amy was ready to skydive.
“It hit me hard when I saw the other tandems exiting the plane. At that moment, I was terrified of skydiving, but once we left the plane and I stopped resisting the experience and a feeling of exhilaration washed over me,” she remembers.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and by the look of Amy’s first skydive photos, you’d never know she was terrified of skydiving just moments before.
“I started to enjoy it. I was fist pumping and smiling and loving it. As soon as we landed, I wanted to go again.”
Amy loved it so much, she went on to do six more tandem skydives, and also learned to skydive solo. As for Glenn Stutt, well, he got the girl. Amy and Glenn have been married since 2010. They own and operate Skydive Geronimo together.
There’s a quote by George Addair that sums this
story up nicely:
“Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”