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Taking the leap from 2 miles high

Ethan Beswick/On the Runway • Aug 31, 2018 at 1:00 PM

Want to know what it's like to skydive for the first time? Over one of the most picturesque drop zones in the United States?

This summer, Skydive Grand Haven offered tandem jumps to first-timers who wanted to give it a try at the Grand Haven airport.

I took the leap a few weeks ago. This is my firsthand account.

The door opens suddenly and the noisy wind rushes past. My heart rate increases as my eyes seamlessly scan the horizon. The view from 10,000 feet is breathtaking.

Nearly 2 miles below, the Grand Haven beach, pier and downtown area are all in sight. The landscape is captivating, and if it weren't for my tandem jump instructor strapped to my back, I could've enjoyed the view for hours. But at his enthusiastic urging, my mind quickly skips from the scenery back to the task at hand.

Against every reasonable fiber of my being, and in violation of almost everything my mom has ever taught me, I scooch to the door and maneuver my feet onto the step outside in the 80 mph slipstream. My instructor, whom I'm hoping is still securely fastened to my back (after all, he's the one with the parachute) shouts the countdown — “three, two, one!”

Of course, I never hear “one” because we jumped at “two.”

Now I'm falling. Fast. Really fast.

I arch my back and arms and legs just like in the James Bond movies, and the fall is utterly exhilarating. My apprehension turns to joy as the grin on my face spreads from ear to ear. Time stands still as 30 seconds of freefall pass. On my instructor's cue, I pull the ripcord, the chute opens, I'm jerked to a "stop" and it immediately gets quiet.

Our exciting free fall converts to a comfortable glide through the air, soaring like a bird. Once again, I take the time to enjoy and appreciate the view. There's the Grand Haven High School football stadium to the south, Spring Lake to the north, a Lake Michigan sunset to the west and the airport below. Before I know it, the ground creeps up ever so gradually and we glide a smooth, stand-up landing on the grass at the Grand Haven Memorial Airport.

The ride is over, but the memory will last forever.

Of course, before your jump, the experienced instructors give you a thorough "crash course" (you see what I did there?) in skydiving. The parachute “rig” is explained in detail (who knew a tandem parachute actually contains three separate parachutes in one compact “rig”?), and you learn what to expect throughout the entire course of your jump. You're taught how to properly exit the airplane at altitude, how to position your body for free fall and how to prepare for landing.

Immediately following your 10-minute jump tutorial, you gear up and head to the plane. The climb up to 10,000 feet in Skydive Grand Haven’s Cessna 182 aircraft takes approximately 20 minutes. After the scenic flight over Grand Haven, you're 2 miles above the Earth with the opportunity of a lifetime.

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, an average Joe seeking to check a box on your bucket list or simply curious, you should give it a try. 

The Grand Haven Memorial Airport is located at 16446 Comstock St. For more information on skydiving, visit www.skydivegrandhaven.com.

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