Sunday, November 20, 2011

Skydiving

Tandem Skydive, Perris, CA
Tandem Skydive, Perris, CA

Growing up, the very thought of skydiving used to instill a feeling of excitement and euphoria in my being. I remember watching adventure shows on AXN TV that showcased skydiving and vowed to try it someday. The idea of jumping out of an airplane from 12,500 feet had a certain radical appeal – it symbolized freedom and adventure and allowed one to experience human flight. As I grew older, the desire to skydive remained strong, but I was too chicken to turn my childhood dream into reality. Fast-forward to 2011. One evening while checking out my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a picture of a friend doing a tandem skydive. “This is not possible,” I thought to myself. My friend is not into extreme sports and he did what? Not to be outdone, I decided to finally take the plunge and go for a tandem skydive.


Tandem Skydive, Perris, CA
Tandem Skydive, Perris, CA

I decided to skydive at Skydive Perris on Memorial Day. Skydive Perris is one of the largest drop zones on the west coast. Furthermore, their website has a video of Mandy Moore doing a tandem skydive with one of their instructors – can we say “sold,” boys and girls? I booked my skydive via their website and spent the night before my dive, tossing and turning, doubting my decision to actually go through with it. Come Memorial Day morning and the drive to Perris was accompanied with apprehension, nervousness and a lot of questions. What if I screamed like a little girl during the free-fall? What if my parachute did not open? What if we hit the ground hard? Would 'The Maury Show' still exist if there was no DNA testing? Does Simon Cowell really buy his t-shirts at Baby Gap? Well at least no one would be able to hear me as we hurtled towards the earth at 120 mph.


AFF Skydive, Perris, CA
AFF Skydive, Perris, CA

Upon arrival at Skydive Perris, I checked in at the reception. Paperwork completed, where basically you sign your life away and waive the DZ of any liability in the event of a mishap (injury or death), I was led to meet my instructor, Piya. Piya suited me up in an overall and a harness and walked me through the procedure. In essence, I would be harnessed to Piya and at 12,500 feet, he would push the two of us out of the plane and into free-fall. We would fall approximately 7,000 feet at the rate of 120 mph – a descent that would take around 45 seconds. Piya would then release the parachute and we would (un)happily descend to the earth, at a rate of 10 mph. Easy Peasy!

AFF Skydive, Perris, CA
AFF Skydive, Perris, CA

As the plane took off and climbed higher towards our jumping altitude, my fellow tandem jumpers and I started to get really nervous. Watching the houses and trees become smaller and smaller and knowing that we would, in a few minutes, be jumping from the safety of the plane, was unnerving. At 12,500 feet, Piya nudged me towards the now open door. Standing at the edge of the door and looking out at the vast openness below, I questioned my sanity. Was I crazy for doing this? And then before you could say "Jerry Springer," we fell! The first few seconds seemed to be a blur due to the sensory overload. But once we achieved terminal velocity, it was incredible. There was no falling sensation, the kind that one experiences in a rollercoaster. Rather it was almost as if we were floating on a cushion of air. Suffice to say, that it was exhilarating. 45 seconds later, Piya launched the parachute and I found myself peacefully floating towards the drop zone. The parachute ride down took around 5 minutes and the landing was incredibly soft. Wow, this experience was nothing like I had imagined. I would actually do this again!

AFF Skydive, Perris, CA
AFF Skydive, Perris, CA

A few weeks later, I decided to go in for another skydive. This time though, I did not want to be harnessed to an instructor and thus opted for an AFF skydive via the First Jump Course. The First Jump Course consists of ground school for around 6 hours followed by the student jumping wearing their own parachute system. Two instructors accompany the student and will test the student’s knowledge during the skydive. The student will free-fall for around 45 seconds, during which time he/ she will complete certain tasks assigned for the jump and then pull their parachute at around 5,000 feet. The student is responsible for steering and landing their parachute. The ground school was pretty intense, but great. Upon completion of the written test, I was introduced to my two jump instructors, Bret Townley and Benjamin Summers – two very cool guys. Although nervous about jumping solo, without the safety of being harnessed to an experienced skydiver, the jump went off well. Below is the video of my AFF jump (skip to 3:00 to avoid the chit chat).

AFF Skydive, Perris, CA

If you haven’t tried skydiving, I strongly urge you to try it once. It is definitely an experience you will not forget.


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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA


Horsetail Fall, February 2016, Yosemite National Park, CA
Horsetail Fall, February 2016, Yosemite National Park, CA

For the past three years, I have been wanting to visit Yosemite National Park to photograph the natural fire-fall. No these aren't lava spewing, heat dispensing falls of fire like the ones in the LOTR movies. Rather for a few days in February, the sun's angle is such, that it lights up 'Horsetail Fall' in Yosemite National Park as if it were on fire. It really is a spectacular sight and one that I have been fortunate to photograph last year as well as this year.

Horsetail Fall, February 2011, Yosemite National Park, CA
Wide View of Horsetail Fall from the Valley floor, February 2011

This fall was made famous by Galen Rowell through his photograph 'Last light on Horsetail Fall'. Since then throngs of photographers descend upon Yosemite during the month of February, to capture this natural wonder. This event happens twice a year - in October and in February. During October, the fall is dry and hence one cannot see the event. Even in February, a few conditions have to be met before one can see this beautiful phenomenon - there should be sufficient snow melt for the fall to flow and the sun should not be obstructed by clouds around sunset (when this phenomenon takes place). During this window in February, as the evening sets in and the sun goes down, the light falling on El Capitan assumes a rich golden color. As the sun nears the horizon, the light falling on either side of the fall, gets narrower and narrower, until the light is focused just on the fall, giving the impression that the fall is on fire. It was thus with the intent of photographing this elusive event, that my friend Mike and I drove from Los Angeles to Yosemite on a cold Saturday morning.

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA
Horsetail Fall, February 2016, Yosemite National Park, CA

We arrived at Yosemite National Park around 1 pm and found a great spot with a clear view of the fall. We set our chairs down, mounted our cameras on tripods and high-fived each other, excited that we had got a prime spot to photograph this event. While gorging on sandwiches and washing them down with coke, we waited for sunset and watched as the initially empty landscape, began to fill up with photographers. By 4 pm, all the good spots had gone and panic was setting in among the late arrivals. Some took to the trees and some waded into the river water to try and get that perfect composition. As the excitement mounted and the friendly chatter of all present drowned the babbling of the Merced river, 'Ra' decided to play dirty and hid behind some clouds.

Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA
Horsetail Fall, February 2011, Yosemite National Park, CA

Some of us started to get nervous, thinking that we might not see the fire-fall, while others started to pray for the clouds to part. It was really interesting to watch the reaction of people around us - people from different walks of life and interests, all hoping and praying for the clouds to part and let the sunlight through. Fifteen minutes before sunset, the clouds were completely obscuring the sun and most of us had lost hope of seeing the event. And then... Magic! The bottom of the fall started to light up as the sun's rays broke through the clouds. "It's happening", I shouted out to the other photographers, who then looked up and ran towards their gear. Slowly, but surely, 'Horsetail Fall' transformed into the 'Fire-Fall' right before our eyes. Noisy chatter was replaced by shutter clicks as awe-struck spectators marveled at the sight before their eyes. And then, ten minutes later, it was all gone. The 'Fire-fall' reverted back to 'Horsetail Fall', as everyone let out a collective sigh of disappointment.

One thing is for sure - Mike and I will be back next year to capture this event. I for one, just want to be in the presence of this indescribable beauty.

Here is a video that I created of the event.



Recently my video of 'Horsetail Falls' was profiled in a program that aired on NHK, Japan. My segment can be seen from 00:15 to 01:35 in the clip below.


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