Chris Farina, Christy Frikken and Josh Hall left lucrative desk-jobs to play in the sky for a living and in competition. They perform dozens of intricately synchronized linking movements in a single freefall.
As we exited the plane in a bunch, I was instantly reminded of how much focus and skill it takes to control a body in flight. The slightest arm or leg movement alters the air flow, and while they pivoted like clockwork, I spiraled onto my back out of control. I expected a justified ribbing on the ground, but they were warm, gracious and anxious to go back up and try it again. Which proved ...
skydiving is one of the few sports where amateurs can play with hall of famers. On my last jump of the day, I went up with Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, a living legend known as "Dan B-C."
But if you didn't know he had 10 world titles and more than 24,000 jumps, you'd think he was just another friendly skydiver. He suggested a little "distance flying" and once we were in the air, we linked up and then he backed away in the fading, golden light.
By pushing arms back and straightening legs, my challenge was to fly to him and tracking across the sky. I grinned. Dad was right. There is nothing like watching a sun set, Superman style. But then again, Dad never got to jump out of a hot air balloon.
As a cherry on top of a incredible weekend, we were up before dawn, packed into a wicker basket with 15 other sky divers. As the giant blow torch singed our bed-heads, we rose gently out of a dew-soaked field and into a brilliant morning.
One by one, the men climbed onto the lip of the basket and stepped away. For added fun, there was a trapeze dangling from the balloon and a few of the guys swung out before letting go. Once the basket was nearly empty, I climbed out and soaked in the scenery. Unlike an airplane jump, where the wind, noise and momentum narrow your awareness, the balloon provides almost-eerie tranquility. With a gratuitous "Good Morning America!" I stepped into the sky, and my guts were instantly in my throat. Jumping at 5,000 feet, the free fall is shorter but somehow much more exhilarating.
It is safer than you think. According to the U.S. Parachute Association, there were 16 skydiving fatalities in 2009, out of nearly 3 million jumps by 32,000 USPA members and 400,000 first-time jumpers. Most years, more people die on golf courses.
Better equipment and training and stricter safety regulations are the reason deadly accidents have been cut by more than half since the 70s. But there is no denying the inherent risk that comes playing dodge ball with the earth. But with risk comes the rush. And managing that risk to land safely on terra firma? Nothing sweeter.