From 10,000 feet above, Wall Township seems almost unrecognizable.
Is that Route 138? No, it’s Route 34; it’s running parallel to the ocean. Wait, maybe it’s Route 35. Yes, it is. But there’s not much time for sightseeing anyway.
“Five minutes,” says the pilot of the single-seat propeller plane, as he finishes his climb and makes one last turn. The single seat is his, while the rest of us sit on the floor of a plane that has probably seen better days but is, thankfully, still able to get the job done.
The tape on the wing would usually be the most unsettling detail of a plane ride like this, but in less than five minutes, still 10,000 feet above the ground, the door was opening and we were jumping out. The plane, from there on out, would be the pilot’s problem, while I, attached to a guy named Bud, would be falling 120 miles per hour towards the surface of my hometown.
Only as the plane door opens, bringing a rush of air and a loud mix of noise of the wind and propeller, do the butterflies start fluttering in my stomach and my legs go weak.
With one leg out the door, staring straight down at the ground, what I’m about to do finally sinks in.
My heart is pounding.
"Wave to the camera," Bud, my tandem instructor, tells me.
I'm so nervous I can't find the camera that is attached to his wrist. Bud, who realizes this, gives my head a little nudge.
I'm terrified, but I do my best to look like jumping out of a plane for the first time is no big deal by giving a little smile and wave.
“Don’t do anything. Let the instructor do all the work,” they tell you while you’re still on the ground about the moment right before you jump. I am doing my best to adhere to this instruction.
If you’ve ever been to a chiropractor, you know the feeling just before he's about to crack your neck. And for me, at least, it’s a bit nerve-racking, but I know as long as I relax my muscles and let him do what he’s done thousands of times before, it’s going to be OK. While this hardly compares to skydiving, nothing else comes close.
Bud has also done this thousands of times, he told me earlier. I figure I'm in good hands.
I try to make my body as limp and malleable as possible while Bud waits for the right moment to jump with me attached to his waist.
And, without warning, we’re off. We tumble once then flatten out, belly-flopping towards the ground for the first 5000 feet.
At first I'm completely bewildered by the tumble, but once we straighten out I start cracking up with laughter. This might be the most fun I've ever had.
It’s also probably the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced. Is it pure freedom? Maybe. Is it overwhelmingly exhilarating? Definitely.
During those 35 to 40 seconds of free-fall, the experience is so surreal that I’m not even thinking about what could go wrong – I’m just trying to see and take in as much as I can while I’m still soaring at 120 miles per hour.
The air is cold, the wind is brazen, but the view is incredible.
After falling for what I would deem my money’s worth, Bud pulls the chute and we come to what feels like a screeching halt. The jolt reminds me that we still have about 5000 feet, or about a mile, to go and I’m hanging by a couple straps and metal clips to Bud, who is hanging to the parachute by a couple straps and metal clips – not exactly the most reassuring feeling in the world.
My lungs begin to notice the cold air I'm breathing and start to hurt. I later learn that skydivers don’t have to breathe during free-fall because they absorb enough oxygen through their skin, and I now realize I probably wasn't breathing for those 35 to 40 seconds.
After a minute, the feeling subsides and I can start enjoying the view again.
“Want to steer?” Bud asks.
I’m not crazy about the idea, but OK, why not?
“Pull it hard to the left,” he says.
We take a sharp left turn and I’m instantly the most scared I have been since just before the jump.
After a few more turns I get used to the feeling and start really enjoying myself.
“See that baseball field? I used to play there in high school,” I say to him. We were right over the St. Rose High School athletic fields. Only then we didn’t have a baseball field – I played lacrosse.
Bud asks if I can put my legs up, making my body into an L-shape.
“Try again, this time do it more smoothly,” he says. “OK, perfect. Do that when we land.”
We glide toward the approaching landing field, and I put my legs up just like he said.
“Stand up,” Bud says.
We land on our feet with just a little shuffle. It could not have been easier.
“Come back, come back!” Bud yells at me. The parachute is about to get caught on a nearby metal canopy.
Bud unhooks himself from me with one hand, while pulling the parachute with the other. Fortunately he gets the parachute – and me -- safely to the ground.
“I want to go again,” I tell my two friends, who also jumped that day, as we walk back to the car. “Right now.”
Maybe next year.
Skydive Jersey Shore is located at Monmouth Executive Airport just off Hurley Pond Road in Wall. They run daily trips through September and on weekends in October, depending on the weather, co-owner Mike Harger said. Harger and his wife, Lynne, founded the company in 1998.