We go through different phases in our life. I am in a phase where I like to watch videos of people doing different adventure and extreme sports on YouTube. It fascinates me and I want to do all those cool stuff. I want to jump out of planes, climb mountains, ski, surf and everything I see on those videos. Now where do I start? Which sport do I start with? Mountaineering was the first pick but something always told me skydiving. But, how do I go about doing it? Where do I get the money from?
I was at a very nascent stage of adventure sports to get any sort of sponsorship. One weekend I was at Prajwal Da’s place for a night out and as usual we were discussing mountaineering throughout the night. When I woke up early in the morning, I was pretty bored so I went on YouTube. While browsing I watched a documentary on parkour, People in Motion. There they had run out of money for their film so they decided to crowdfund their documentary. Crowdfunding, as the name suggests is getting funding from the crowd. You pitch your idea to the public and if they like it they help fund your dream/idea/concept. In return you offer them a reward for their contribution mostly based on the amount they fund you.
The concept hit me like a bolt. I was like damn! That’s such a cool idea. How about I try crowdfunding my dream to become a skydiver? I was always into photography and filming, amateur level of course! So I thought how about I film my journey about being a skydiver?
I’ve heard about crowdfunding abroad but didit happen in India? Were there any platforms in India? While researching I came acrossWishberry.in. I pitched my idea to them and luckily they were interested in hosting me on their platform. Good, now the main question was, was the Indian audience ready for such a new concept?
I spoke to a few friends about this idea and I got mixed opinions. A few said it was amazing, others said they had never heard of such a thing and it would never work. Why would someone want to give me money if they are not going to get something in return of equal or more value? Why would someone want to fund my dream instead of funding their own? These were the issues I faced till the very end of my crowdfunding journey.
After talking to more and more people and getting positive responses from most, I was convinced that this was a good idea. Based on my conversations I made a conservative list of who might contribute and who might not. The numbers looked pretty good and if I worked a little harder I’d be able to raise the money required. Meanwhile the startup I was working for went bust so I took up a job as a Quality Control Analyst so that I would have my own funds to add.
I signed up with Wishberry for a 60 day timeframe funding, with a target of Rs 350,000. My campaign went live on the 20th of Sept 2013; I had embarked on a journey where I would face a lot of ups and downs. A journey that would change the way I looked at a lot of things. Nat and I discussed different strategies on how we can make it a success and tweaked it from time to time as we felt necessary. From day one I went gung ho marketing my project. I shared it with a lot of friends; I requested a lot of friends to share it with theirs. Some did, some didn’t. Some even went out of their way to spread the word around. The progress was painfully slow but contributions poured in little by little. Every morning when I’d wake up I’d check my email to see if any contribution came in through the night. This would be my morning ritual till my campaign ended.
After the first round of marketing, Wishberry’s servers were hit by viruses and most antivirus companies blocked their page making it inaccessible. It was a big blow to me. A lot of people got back to me with negative messages for spamming; a few potential contributors who went on the page to contribute never came back. A few days later their site was back and running only to be attacked again, after almost a week the site was stable again. But the damage was done, I had lost many potential contributors. Wishberry agreed to extend my deadline till the 10th of Jan 2014. Little by little contributions trickled in and by the end of my campaign I managed to get a little over Rs. 200,000. More money poured in from late contributors outside of the platform and I’d also managed to save some from my salary.
At the end of my crowdfunding campaign, I came out a humbler person. Receiving contributions of Rs 200,000 is no joke; they came in from everywhere imaginable. Close friends, not so close friends, acquaintances, friends of friends and people I didn’t know and hadn’t heard of. A humbling feeling engulfed me when I saw someone who I didn’t know contribute, a friend (who I had probably ignore when he called me to catch up) contribute, a person who I’d least expect, or when a friend who I last met years ago mails me a cheque after the campaign ended, with a handwritten message saying that he’d be too scared to jump out of a plane and this was the only way he’d be able to do it. Contributions came in other forms too, friends helped me spread the word; they helped me with graphic designs, music for the film and tons of motivation whenever I needed them. Having taken care of the financial part I was ready to jump out of a plane but little did I know there were more roadblocks ahead….
ARRIVING IN SPAIN
Now that the money had been raised, it was time to start working on the dates. Having already checked a few locations around the world, I narrowed down to Freefall University in Spain. But actually getting there was going to be a task in itself. I finalized my dates: 23rd March 2014, paid a majority of the fees and booked my tickets. The institute sent me a confirmation letter which I had to submit while applying for my visa. I got all the paperwork done, got my travel insurance and applied for the visa. In the mean time I brushed up my photography and filming skills and learnt a few more.
Two weeks later my passport came back but my visa had been denied. Now I was in deep trouble. The reason was that they could not determine my reason for going to Spain. I mean, it’s clearly mentioned in my application that I’m going to learn skydiving. For heaven’s sake. Now what do I do? I’d already paid most of my fees and I wasn’t sure if they would refund it. I called up the visa office and they said that I can appeal for the visa. Quickly I reorganized all my documents and filed for an appeal. This was my last shot. If it got rejected again, I could only reapply after a few months with a considerable financial loss on the tickets and visa fees. Now all I could do is wait and hope they would approve my visa application. Luckily another guy (Sahas Reddy who I met in at the institute) had also applied to learn skydiving around the same time as I did. So when the embassy saw two applications for visa for the same course they called the institute and confirmed.
After ten days of waiting and hoping my passport had arrived. When I went to collect it, they handed me a sealed envelope. Now it felt like I was opening my final exam report card when I was a kid (I wasn’t a bright student growing up, failing all the time). Without any hesitation I quickly opened the package and opened up my passport and there. THERE was the visa, my entry into Europe. Ecstatic, I walked out and treated myself to some nice biriyani.
After a few days of planning and packing I flew to Spain. Damn that was a long flight (never been on such a long flight before). Finally I reached Madrid and with my guide manual in my hand that David had emailed me I made my way to Aranjuez a small town 45 minutes from Madrid. Once I reached Aranjuez I was picked up and taken to my hotel, Hostel Real with very friendly people working there. Hostel Real is very centrally located in the small town, 2 minutes walk from the palace so I knew I wouldn’t get lost.
Over the next few days while roaming around in the town, I noticed a lot of things were called Real. Hostel Real, Café Real, Real Moneychanger, etc.
Sunrise at Aranjuez
Also little did I know communication would be quiet a problem but I had come well prepared. With an offline version of Google Translate on my phone, wherever I’d go and I wanted to ask something, I’d type it on Google Translate and read it out in Spanish. The people were very pleasant and helpful. In India, as a pedestrian the vehicles would always bully me and not let me cross but there the cars would stop for me to cross. The first time I was waiting to cross the road an oncoming car stopped right before me. After a while when I looked at the driver, he was frantically signaling me to cross. So now I didn’t want to run to the other side of the road nor did I want to take a leisurely stroll and inconvenience him, so I gave a very weird quick walk to the other side. I realized what I’d done and it cracked me up, when I looked at the driver to thank him, he was smiling too.
Rice! I’m a heavy rice eater. But Spain being a bread eating nation it was very hard for me to find rice. Now I hadn’t eaten rice for almost 10 days and my craving grew by the day. So one evening when someone suggest we go to a Pakistani restaurant, I was very excited as I was sure I’d get rice there. While they were very happy eating roti and curry, I sat quietly in one corner and devoured my chicken biryani. Even though I ate rice just that one time I was more than happy to eat their staple food.
After a good night’s sleep, we(students) were driven to the dropzone at Ocana which is around 20km from Aranjuez. After doing the necessary paperwork at the office, I was handed over to Phil my ground school trainer. Phil would teach me everything I needed to learn about Accelerated Freefall (AFF) before I actually jumped out of the plane. On the first day the course began with knowing what AFF is all about, learning about the parachute and other equipments, aircraft emergencies, exit procedures (how to correctly exit the plane) and communicating while on freefall using hand signals. Phil also showed me around the dropzone (dz) and took me to the hanger where I practiced my exit procedures on the plane. Since I was already filled with a lot of new information and jargons, we decided to call it a day.
Emergency procedure was one of the most important parts of the course so we took it up the very next day. Emergency procedures include situations like what if your parachute doesn’t open, what are the checks you have to perform after your parachute opens, cutaways (where you cut away from your malfunctioned main parachute and open a reserve parachute), what if you are going to crash into some other skydiver and crash landings. We did a simulation of the emergency procedure on the ground where I was suspended from a harness, lifted horizontally and shook violently and then showed an image of what my parachute looked like and I had to decide whether it was a good parachute or a bad one and if it was a bad one how to cut away from the parachute and open a reserve. I don’t remember when was the last time I paid so much attention while learning something. My safety depended on these procedures.
After my ground school got over, I sat for a written exam of everything I had learnt. The exam wasn’t very tough and after every answer I wrote was I had to sign beside the answer. This was to ensure that if anything went wrong during the skydives I could not blame the institute for not having taught me. Fair enough. Now I knew I was getting into some really serious territory.
After having a tough time raising the funds, issues with my visa I thought the bulk of my problems were behind me but then that was only the tip of the iceberg. When I was planning for the trip I kept 15 days at hand. I was told that it would take a week for me to finish my course. My course which included of 7 exam jumps and 10 consolidated solo jumps however I kept a buffer for 3 more days, a total of 10 days and the rest 5 days to see Spain. But all that planning was to go out of the window.
After I finished my ground school on the 27th of March 2014, I had to wait for a few days because of bad weather to make my first jump. You need almost perfect weather to make your first jump. Low winds and a bright sky. Some days it would be bright and shiny but with too much wind. Some days there would be no winds at all but it’d be raining or too cloudy. We’d go to the dropzone every morning and wait for the weather to clear but then we’d end up staying there all day and returning home not having done a single jump. Every morning when I’d go to the dropzone my mind would be split up into two. A part me would be pissed off because I would not be able to jump because of the bad weather and another part of me would be happy because I was too scared to jump.
Couple of days going to the dropzone yielded to nothing. It was the 30th of March and still no jumps. It was already around 4:00pm and we were all ready to leave when my instructor Bryn called me outside the hanger and pointed at the sky. I looked up at the clouds and said, “Ok?” and he was like, “Can you see that hole in the clouds? We can jump through it. You want to?” I was like, “Alright let’s do it!!”
In 10 minutes I had worn my jumpsuit, my parachute container and the other equipments. By then the plane had arrived and we made a formation on the ground according to our seating arrangements inside the plane and then boarded the plane. The plane, a Pilatus Porter is a single engine plane that could accommodate 10-12 people. I was to be the last one out of the plane. We all squeezed inside the plane the door closed and we were off. The temperature on the ground was around 8-10deg Celsius but in the plane it was pretty warm. At 8000ft Bryn and I went through the procedures and the plan for the jump. At ~13,000ft the pilot pressed the buzzer which sounded like an alarm. Taanaa naaanaaa naaanaaa naaaanaaaa. I still hate that sound. I still fucking hate that sound!!! Then the person sitting on the floor near the door opened it. Now like I said it was around 8-10deg Celsius on the ground which meant it was way colder up at 13,000ft and not to forget, the plane was also travelling at 200km/hr. The cold air hit me so fast and so hard that I took a deep breath and froze. It’s a similar feeling you get when someone pours icy cold water on you. After a couple a seconds I regained my breath and looked down from the door towards earth. The ground was waaaayyyyy down. So so so (again fill in the appropriate abuse) far away. The first thing I told myself was, “Rewat, what the hell are you doing here, why do you even want to jump out of perfectly working plane? You crazy or what? You could have quietly stayed in Bangalore and gone to work.” (It was around 8:30-9:00pm in Bangalore and my shift was about the start). Did I ever think of backing out? Ohh yes I did. I had to make a choice, either I was going to jump out of that plane, land safely and walk proudly to the hanger, or stay in the plane and do the AFF walk of shame from the plane to the hanger. Quickly I thought of the journey so far, how hard I and my friends worked for it, the amount of faith people put in me. DAMMIT!!I’m going to jump. By then almost everyone was out of the plane and I was the only one left. Then Bryn shouted, “Are you ready to skydive?” “YES!!” I hollered back. There was no turning back now. I was on the floor, on the door and out of the plane. People had asked me earlier as to how one breaths when they are falling at 200km an hr? I had no answer. So the first thing I remember after I was out of the plane was breathing frantically. Then I realized, oh it’s not that hard. It’s just normal breathing. My fear didn’t end there. After the canopy opened, I thought, what if the harness rips? No reserve parachute would save me then, but quickly I shouted at myself, removed that thought and enjoyed the view while preparing for landing.
My scariest jump was the fourth jump. Not because I failed and toppled over but because I got lost in the clouds. After the jump and my failed maneuvers, I pulled my parachute and I got my first line twist. (A line twist is when the parachute lines get twisted and you have to turn yourself around to untwist it. Sometimes it happens easily while sometimes you have to cutaway and deploy your reserve). Luckily for me, the line twist straightened out but when I looked around, I was in dense clouds. I could barely see 20 meters around me. After a while I saw a tandem on my right. I was about to follow it, but then it disappeared into the clouds. I heard my radio crackle but I guess due to the cloud interference I could not understand anything Bryn was saying. So I just hung around there hoping to be out of the clouds soon. When I was finally out of the clouds I couldn’t recognize anything below me. I didn’t know where my DZ was, where the runway was or the freeway. Nothing! After a while when I finally recognized my DZ, I was around 2km away and too low to reach my landing area. Attempting it would be plain foolishness because I had to cross power lines and the freeway. So I zeroed in on a patch of green field beside a factory and landed there safely. The institute’s pickup truck came a picked me up.
Unfortunately due to bad weather throughout my stay there I could only jump for 4 days out of my 15 days and could manage to do only 9 jumps. But nevertheless I finished my course and came back home a skydiver. In the end it was one hell of a roller coaster ride and a huge test of my patience and confidence, especially when I failed two jumps and was running short of time. I had to wait for a few days before I could redo my jumps because of the bad weather where I would just sit and doubt whether I’d be able to do it or not. I guess all you got to do is be patient and take it one jump at a time.
I am still very scared to jump out of a plane but I know that in the end of the jump when you land safely, it would have all been worth it. Like Bryn said, skydiving is more about mental than physical. Your skydive starts from the time you decide to jump where you assess the dropzone, the weather conditions and the wind directions. For every 1 jump I made I jumped a dozen times in my head preparing myself practicing every maneuver. Because, in the beginning when you are freefalling your mind will stop working and your muscle memory will play a huge role in guiding you.
A shout out for my instructor Bryn Chaffe; for me the physical part wasn’t the hardest but the mental was. Every jump, even the last one I was very scared and Bryn saw it. Before every jump he would spend a few minutes with me prepping me up mentally for the jump which really helped to become a skydiver.