James Bradshaw is one of a rare breed – a repeat tandem skydiver. Here, he tells his story about how he came to love the sport of freefall, parachuting and skydiving.
We’ve asked him a few questions about his experiences as a repeat tandem skydiver, which James has been kind enough to answer, sharing his experiences with anyone thinking about trying out the sport. As you can imagine, it makes for pretty interesting reading.
When did you do your first tandem skydive and why?
I did my first tandem skydive in the summer of 2004 after being challenged to do so by my daughter. Initially, I had never thought the world of skydiving would be open to civilians, but she showed me a website belonging to a dropzone called Skydive Hibaldstow, and they offered beginners courses. She convinced me it was safe and we came upon the idea of raising some money for charity at the same time – our local hospice.
Were you ever in the military?
Yes, I was briefly. I served for only a few years during the late 1950’s. I’m not going to say exactly how old I am, but I am in my 70s. I remember there was the chance to do military parachute jumps using, as I later found out, old style round parachutes. But I didn’t fancy it. It really wasn’t my thing. It was only decades afterwards, that I finally decided to take the plunge, so to speak.
What was the experience of your first tandem like?
It was so much better than I expected. My tandem instructor was a young lad called Wez and he gave me my classroom brief, explaining what I had to do and how the equipment worked. It was very professionally run and helped to ease my worries.
After putting my harness on, we got onto a small airplane – not like the big commercial ones you fly with when you go on holiday. It must have taken about ten or fifteen minutes to get to the jump height, at which point my and Wez’s harnesses were tightened up. Snug as bug, we waddled toward the open door and hopped out. For me this was the hardest point, but I found myself on auto pilot.
The freefall was amazing – that’s the part before the parachute has opened, but after you have left the airplane. It was a great sense of weightlessness and, bizarrely, not what I was expecting. My daughter had also paid for a cameraman, so I simply waved at him as best I could going at 120mph.
I think we were in freefall for about a minute before the parachute opened and it was during the opening, which takes about five seconds, that you suddenly realise how fast you are actually going. From here on, the experience completely changed. It was a gentle floating sensation, calm and quiet.
The landing was, again, another experience. In the final few seconds, the ground rises up to meet you pretty quickly. It feels like it is swallowing you. Apparently that’s called groundrush. We slid in on our bums to a gentle stop and that was that, a fantastic experience.
Were you scared?
For some parts I was. For example, before arriving at the dropzone, I was really quite nervous. The lesson really helped with that. The only other time I was scared was in the aircraft just before we got out. Human beings don’t have wings, so skydiving didn’t really seem natural. However, now having had the experience, I would have to change my mind and say it was completely natural. All the instructors who work at Skydive Hibaldstow have families as well, so you know it’s safe. Once you realise that, it ceases to be a problem.
What made you a repeat tandem skydiver?
At my age, the Accelerated Freefall course was not available to me. You have to be 55 or under to qualify for that, so the only option to continue was tandem skydiving and that suited me fine. It took me a few weeks to realise how much I’d enjoyed it, so I thought why not jump once a year in the summer and become a repeat tandem skydiver. From there on, I have slowly been clocking up the jumps. A couple of years ago, I even bought my own jumpsuit and goggles. As long as I am able to and want to, I will keep returning to skydive each summer.
Do you have any advice to anyone else preparing to make their first jump?
I would say don’t worry. The sense of achievement you’ll get from doing your first jump is worth it. If you have any fears, perhaps you should call the dropzone first and speak to someone there. They were very helpful. I have one other piece of advice: do some back stretching before you put your equipment on. You’d be surprised how physical the sport can be. I know I was as stiff as a rake after my first jump. Other than that, have fun. If I can do it, you can.