When you tell people you’re planning to jump out of a plane at the weekend, they tend to exhibit one of two reactions. You’ll either find yourself pressed on whether you’ve been feeling unhappy lately, or slapped on the back with a shout of ‘Awesome!’ ringing in your ears. Whatever the response, most people acknowledge this is one of the most thrilling activities out there – the ultimate bucket-list sport.
There’s only one place to get a piece of the action in this city, and that’s at Skydive Dubai, located around the corner from the Habtoor Grand hotel, and right where the ‘doughnut building’ was supposed to be (no-one seems to know its real name, but it’s irrelevant now because the project has been cancelled). If you’ve spent time on the JBR beach in the past few months, you’ll have seen the sky littered with amateur jumpers, along with some of the world’s most accomplished skydivers – several are employed by the centre, which itself is owned by skydive enthusiast and Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.
When I visit I’m desperate to get up in the air, but a delay earlier in the morning (as a result of Jebel Ali air traffic control requesting Skydive Dubai push back its start times) means I’m left sitting around for a couple of hours while the team work through the build-up of divers, both tandem and solo.
In the meantime, I’m introduced to my tandem partner, Chris, and videographer Marat. While I’m not nervous, I’m grateful to find they’re both amiable, gregarious and confident – if you’re going to be strapped to anyone while you’re plummeting 13,000ft, you probably don’t want it to be someone who looks as nervous as you.
While you have to be over 18 to jump, my group otherwise includes all shapes and sizes, including some very giggly girls, several nervous-looking middle-aged couples, Tom Cruise’s mum and sister (seriously) and Sheikh Hamdan himself. After being strapped into my harness (only the tandem instructor wears the parachutes – of which there are two – while you’re strapped to their front), I’m given a quick brief on falling out of the plane, which involves nothing more than crossing my arms across my chest and kicking my feet back towards my head. It’s a little while longer before I’m off in a golf buggy to the plane, where I’m one of 16 people (a mix of instructors, videographers and amateurs) wedged on board as it takes off.
I’m the penultimate tandem to jump and, as my turn comes and I shuffle towards the open doorway, my videographer is already hanging on to the outside of the plane. It’s only then, as we’re dangling out of the door, looking down on the Palm Jumeirah, that it hits me exactly what I’m doing. But before I can think on it too much, Chris launches us out of the plane. The rush of the wind is overwhelming, the whole experience is full-scale assault on the senses – if my ears weren’t so badly in need of popping, I’m convinced I’d be able to hear the rush of adrenaline.
The freefall lasts around a minute and, despite what I’d expected, it doesn’t feel like falling – it’s more like pushing against masses of air. When Chris pops the ’chute, we begin a five-minute descent; after popping my ears, which are aching something wicked, I’m able to take in the incredible views as we swoop over the Palm towards the landing turf. This really is the best way to see Dubai and, even though these guys do around 60 jumps each a week, they don’t get bored of this.