One second I was in the plane, the next I was toppling face first into open air; free-falling at a speed so fast my ears felt like they were going to explode, yet I couldn’t strip the smile off my face. With my fingers bent into the Hawaiian sign for “hang loose”, I took a moment, still rapidly falling, and posed for a photo. As the ground grew frighteningly closer, the biggest spike of adrenaline seized me in the same moment that reality hit – I’d made one of my life-long dreams come true.
Skydiving had been on my bucket list for a long time and doing it over Oahu’s North Shore in Hawaii surely had to be once of the best ways to tick it off. In this article, I’ll give you the low-down on what it was like to skydive with Pacific Skydiving Honolulu. I’ve included at the end a detailed comparison between Pacific Skydiving Honolulu and Skydive Hawaii in case you’re comparing the two. I paid for my skydive with my own cash and I don’t work with Pacific Skydiving so this is an entirely unbiased review.
Note: for anyone suffering with ear pressure issues, I also have a section on that and was fine with some precautions.
Related Oahu Guides: How To Hike Diamond Head in Oahu | 10 Top Things To Do In Oahu For First Time Visitors | How To Visit Pearl Harbor | Things To Do In Pearl Harbor | 18 Hawaiian Fruits For A Taste of The Tropics
Why I added skydiving to my bucket list
I’d wanted to jump out of a plane for what seemed like forever; long before I wanted to take a ‘normal’ flight. I blame Keanu Reeves. As a teenager I watched the cult movie Point Break and stared in awe as Keanu threw himself out of a moving airplane – there was just something so liberating about the idea. One moment you’re on solid ground (kind of), and the next you’re soaring through the sky, uncertain, to some extent, how it might end. It seemed like the ultimate adrenaline rush, and I wanted in.
When I arrived in Hawaii, I knew I’d found the perfect destination for fulfilling my skydiving dream – who wouldn’t want to do a jump over Hawaii and gain a bird’s-eye view of the Hawaiian Islands?
The problem was, somewhere between my teenage plan, law school and the stack of legal files that filled my life for over a decade, I’d developed a health issue with my ears. So, by the time I stepped out from behind my desk and took my round the world trip, I was no longer sure I’d be able to launch myself head first out of a plane; not without worrying that my head might explode in the process.
Skydiving with ear problems
Anyone who has passed into their 30’s will tell you that things slowly start to break. For me it began with my ears. Nope, it wasn’t the years working in one of Liverpool’s loudest nightclubs. It was a flight back from St Lucia. My right ear popped as we came in to land. Unfortunately, it failed to pop back.
Cue: 18 months of pain, dizziness and misdiagnosis before I was finally referred to a specialist and given a correct diagnosis – a dysfunctional eustachian tube.
A what? I was the same. My amateur explanation is that I have trouble regulating the pressure in my ears. When most people gets a block in their ears, like on a plane, they can usually hold their nose, take a breath and pop the pressure out. I can’t. Here’s a proper medical explanation. Surgery followed, which improved things a lot but didn’t cure me. My tube still blocks causing the headaches, sinus pain and dizziness to return, sometimes for weeks.
Flying hardly helps but flight earplugs work. But what about jumping out of a plane? I contacted a doctor friend to find out the facts – what risk was I really looking at? After a series of conversations, I got the answer I was hoping for – it was unlikely I would die (due to my ear issues), nor was my head likely to fall off, or my eardrums explode (which was the real worry). I might suffer some pain, possibly more than on a plane, but the lower altitude I jumped from, the lower the risk. It was perhaps more relaxed advice than I’d have got from my official doctor at home, but it was enough for me to decide to book my jump.
Why I chose Pacific Skydiving Honolulu
There are two companies that compete in Oahu – Pacific Skydive Honolulu and Skydive Hawaii. After a lot of research, I chose Pacific Skydive Honolulu. Not only did they have a slightly lower price, the lowest jump-level was that bit lower for my ear issue; plus, Pacific Skydive Centre had been used by the film-crew for Keanu’s movie, Point Break.
Ok, there was a more compelling and practical reason that I booked with Pacific Skydive Honolulu – there were several people at my guesthouse who had recently jumped with them. Covered in a post-adrenaline glow, they gave me their honest reviews which were consistently the same: best skydiving company ever!
No. Contest. I booked for the following day.
Booking tip: book everything in advance and book direct. Walk in prices (and even photos with Skydive Hawaii) are much cheaper if you book at least 24 hours ahead online.
Full comparison: I have a full comparison of Pacific Skydive Honolulu vs Skydive Hawaii at the end of this article.
Related: Not sure which Hawaiian Island to visit? Check out my guides: Which Hawaiian Island is the Best to Visit? Quick Guide | Guide to The Hawaiian Islands – Maps, Names & Facts
Getting to North Shore
Pacific Skydive Honolulu does the jump from Dillingham Airfield (as does Skydive Hawaii). It’s 38 miles and just over 50 minutes from Waikiki Beach, depending on traffic. Make sure you park at the right building – for the company you’re booked with!
When I did my skydive, I got a free hotel pick-up but it seems neither company does this anymore. Let me know if you know differently. It’s a shame because the drive was a nice way to see the islands (though the Road to Hana on Maui, Volcanoes National Park on Big Island and Napali Coast on Kauai are still my favourites)
The legalities and safety
Skydiving is statistically a very safe adrenaline sport – check the skydiving statistics – but ultimately you are throwing yourself out of a plane without owning wings so there’s bound to be 1,000 things the skydiving companies want to legally disclaim, hence I was given a 13 page legal document to sign before I did anything else.
Perhaps I should have done what most of the other people did – glance at it, sign where indicated (i.e. next to every paragraph) and return to the views out of the window, but the ex-lawyer in me read every single word. Twice. Clause by clause I sank deeper into the reality of what a skydive might calamitously entail – my parachute might not open, I might get tangled in it, my skydiving partner (the expert) might get tangled in it…the list went on, giving me serious pause for thought.
I didn’t recall Keanu Reeves doing any paperwork, none of my travel friends had mentioned it either. In fact, I rationalised, it was an extreme sport that people had been doing for a very long time. Of course there were risks, but I was in the USA, where health and safety rules apply (two parachutes and a fail-safe device), I decided I wasn’t going to let the legalities stop me. In short, know that skydiving is safe, so just sign the legal document and do your jump – you’ll be more relaxed for it.
The pre-jump wait – not for wimps or solo-travellers
When you book a skydive, you’re told the end to end experience can take between 2 to 4 hours which can mean a lot of hanging around. Be prepared for this. When I arrived at the airfield, I was pointed in the direction of a video room for an instructional video, which was reassuring.
However, the reassurance was short-lived because the video had already started when I arrived and by the time it had finished I was not much wiser about what I had to do. I sighed and followed the group into the waiting area. I was convinced there would be some more detailed instructions before we fell out of the plane. Surely?
For the next three hours, since I was travelling alone, I made friends with the wooden bench in the “jump zone”, where I would sit in constant anticipation of being called to suit-up and board my plane. One by one, groups, couples, families and friends were picked out and readied for the sky. One by one, I watched as the small plane completed a circuit of take-offs and landings, dropping bodies from its hatch in a steady stream, some landing elegantly, a small run then stroll to success, others less-so, skidding to embarrassment on their butts.
It was torture for anyone to watch. Arguably more-so if, like me, you’re on your own. Usually, I’m more than comfortable with my solo-travel status but on that unseasonably chilly Hawaiian morning, I longed for a companion…or my mum ..actually, mainly my mum, to hold my hand as I started to sweat.
Boarding the plane to jump
After what felt like a torturously long amount of time, it was my turn. I took my wobbly legs over to the affable blonde girl who helped me step into an unflattering yet rather essential thigh-clasping harness. As she strapped me into it, I was introduced to my tandem partner, a supremely cool-due called Bundy.
Striding over to the airfield, I started to panic. We were about to get into the plane and I still hadn’t received my anticipated 4-hour instruction with time for practice and questions. Ideally, there would have been a complimentary 365 page manual and workbook I could maybe take home to complete over the weekend in proper preparation for a jump. Eyes-widening as I reached the steps to the plane I made a pathetic attempt at a protest, “I don’t know what to do,” I squeaked as Bundy took a pre-jump picture. I forced a smile for the camera but it was pure show.
“It’s ok, I’ll tell you,” my skydive instructor said calmly.
“When?!” I was bordering on backing out. At this point the only thing I felt like I’d been told – by the legal document and partial video – was all the ways it might go wrong.
“When you need to know,” Bundy said simply.
We’d walked as we talked and I somehow found myself inside the plane. Surely, we’d passed the “need to know” point already, but there was something about Bundy’s cool, relaxed approach that reassured me. In the same way I never panic on a plane unless the crew are panicking, a calm settled over me. I’d already watched Bundy’s successfully jump from the sky about a dozen times that day. He clearly knew what he was doing and me being in a panic wasn’t going to help. So, I sat back and tried to relax: not so easy to do when a) you’re harnessed at the thighs and tightly strapped to a complete stranger, b) effectively balanced on their lap, and c) have a confession that needs to burst out of your mouth.
“I can’t always regulate the pressure in my ears.” I’d taken a personal decision to wait until the last moment to mention this and I garbled the words out quickly. “I know it’s my responsibility if things go wrong…I signed the waiver…I just thought you should know…in case I start screaming.”
I half closed my eyes and waited for Bundy to call the plane back to base but to my relief he didn’t seem phased. “I have trouble sometimes too,” he confessed. “It’s all the jumps I do.” I smiled just as he pointed the GoPro in front of us. This time my smile wasn’t for show.
Minutes passed as we climbed. I stared out of the window watching the world reduce in size. The land had become a patchwork of minuscule areas that grew smaller and more distant as I watched the altimeter change. It was nearly time…6,000. 7,000. 8,000…JUMP!
Jumping out of the plane
We edged our way to the open plane door and I peered down. We were f#cking high up and my eyes were as wide as the goggles I’d been given. “Cross your arms over your chest. When I tap you on the shoulder, put your hands up.” He motioned the same pose you’d use in surrender and it somehow felt fitting.
“Are you ready?” He asked, excitement in his voice.
I looked once more at the ground below and felt like I was on the edge of space.
Was I ready? It was a good question. Should I say no? As I stood on the periphery of indecision, Bundy’s eager presence and my own sub-conscious propelled us forward, taking the decision out of my logical hands. And just like that, I was no longer in the plane.
I gasped as my conscious mind scrabbled to get a grip on the situation. My heart pounded, my stomach flipped and for the briefest moment, it felt like I was on the downward trajectory of a roller-coaster. Except I wasn’t. I was free falling in the air at a speed over 100 mph. And that’s when I started to scream.
There’s something about seeing the ground racing towards you that makes you scream for your life. Experience teaches us that when we jump off most things – a step, a boat – it’s a matter of seconds before we return to solid ground (or water) and I was convinced with certainty that any moment I would collide with the earth. But it didn’t happen. We were falling fast, but we were not even close to the ground and my brain flooded with confusion.
Just as I calmed my scream, my head starting to comprehend the wonder of the situation, I felt Bundy’s tap. Like a well-trained soldier, I assumed the surrender position and braced a smile, suddenly noticing the GoPro once again staring at me (how long had that been there)?
“Are you ok?” my instructor asked, calm as ever.
“Yes,” I confirmed, amazed it was possible to conduct a normal conversation while falling from the sky.
“Are your ears ok?”
It was the first time I’d thought about it. I had some pain, but nothing worse than I’d experienced on a plane. It seemed adrenaline had the power to work magic on my ears and I gave a thumbs up.
The free-fall at 8,000 feet is only 20 seconds but it felt like a short version of forever before Bundy pulled the parachute cord. With due warning, I braced myself for the jolt of abrasion as the harness pulled me skyward and I had to stifle another scream as my inner thighs took the impact (something else nobody told me about). But it didn’t matter. I’d been flying through the sky, like a bird without wings and I couldn’t move the smile from my face.
For the next 5 minutes or so, we glided gracefully towards the ground. At a much slower speed than in free-fall, I had the chance to truly look around. Bundy pointed out the slim strip of yellow sand that delineated the beach. Inland I saw a mass of green and in the not too far distance, the scratch of land where my adventure would come to an end – the dropzone. But not before Bundy handed over control of the parachute and taught me how to steer. Left. Right. Into a spin and near sickness. “Stop!” I squealed, this time with laughter – I didn’t want to imagine what vomiting in mid-air might feel like.
After a few more snaps on the GoPro, touchdown suddenly became “need to know” information and Bundy calmly proffered his final instruction – to start making a gentle running motion with my legs. Not one to dismiss good suggestions, I did as I was told and as the ground met my feet we were one of those tandem jumps that strolled to success. It was the perfect landing, no ass kissing the grass for us!
And the perfect final memory of this once in a lifetime dream.
Pacific Skydive Honolulu vs Skydive Hawaii
I’m a bit biased because I only jumped with one of them – Pacific Skydive Honolulu, which I chose for the reasons explained above (cost, personal recommendations and reviews). Here’s a comparison of the main factors you will want to consider when booking a skydive with either Pacific Skydive Honolulu or Skydive Hawaii.
- Best price: Pacific Skydive Honolulu, slightly cheaper at $269 for the standard 14,000 ft altitude jump.
- Highest altitude: Both offer the standard 14,000 jump. Skydive Hawaii offers a 20,000 ft jump for $1,600 (requires an oxygen mask).
- Lowest altitude: Pacific Skydive Honolulu – you can jump at 9,000 ft (increased since I jumped).
- Cheapest photo/video packages: Pacific Skydive Honolulu – lowest price $130 vs $150 (if booked online)
Detailed price comparison: Pacific Skydive Honolulu
Regular Economy: 9,000 to 11,000 (15-20 second freefall) – $249
Ultimate First Class: 14,000 to 15,000 (60 second freefall) – $269
Both altitudes include 120mph freefall speed and 5 minute canopy flight time (i.e. with the parachute open)
Photo and video options:
From a GoPro on your instructor’s wrist
Photos & Video: $220
Professional cameraman jumps with you:
Photos & Video: $280
Detailed price comparison: Skydive Hawaii
Regular: 12,000 (+20 second freefall) – $250
Regular: 14,000 (60 second freefall) – $275
Highest Tandem: 20,000 – $1,600 (requires oxygen mask)
Photo and video options:
Standard Photos: $150 if booked online/$175 book on the day
Standard Edited Video: $225
Photos & Video: $285 only if booked online. No on the day combo discount.
Both Pacific Skydive Honolulu and Skydive Hawaii offer a 14,000 ft jump, which is the highest and longest jump you can do without oxygen.
Most people want to jump from the highest altitude. If that’s not you, you can choose the cheaper, lower altitude Beware: I got significant pressure from the owner to upgrade. He even tried shaming me – I’d be the ‘only one’ bailing out at the lower level. When that didn’t work, he tried the money angle, convincing me I’d get more value for my money by upgrading. Eventually, he gave up, but a less strong willed person should pack some resolve. The pressure only came from the manager – the crew were amazing and the best part of the experience. Jump at whatever altitude makes you comfortable, physically and financially.
Wear something comfortable and that won’t blow around i.e. do dresses or clothes that will billow. I wore leggings, a very long t-shirt (that tucked inside the parachute harness, so didn’t blow around) and running shoes, which was a good choice. Stretchy jeans might be a better option to protect your inner thighs when the parachute opens. You have to have closed-toe, well fitted shoes like running or tennis shoes with laces – no sandals or slip-ons. Wear plain clothes i.e. without any gems or attachments that might fly off/hit you in the wind.
Take snacks, water and something like a book or other entertainment to distract you from your nerves. If you use the free hotel pick-up, you’ll also want these for after the jump as you wait for others to finish.
If you drive to the airfield, you’re told to put aside 2 to 4 hours; 4 hours being more likely at weekends. If you take the free pick-up, the entire process will take around three quarters of a day with a 6am start. Although you’re in the air for just minutes, the process takes long because of the paperwork, getting into the tandem parachute, and simply waiting until its your turn. Things can take longer at peak seasonal times.
- Guide to The Hawaiian Islands – Maps, Names & Facts
- Which Is The Best Hawaiian Island To Visit?
- 10 Top Things To Do In Oahu For First Time Visitors
- How To Hike Diamond Head in Oahu
- 22 Best Things To Do in Maui – Hawaii
- 15 Things To Do In Hawaii Big Island For First Time Visitors
- 16 Best Things To Do In Kauai For First Time Visitors
- Things To Do In Pearl Harbor – The Main Attractions
- How To Visit Pearl Harbor – Tickets, Tours & Tips
- The Best Hostels in Hawaii – Sleep Cheap in Hawaii
- 5 Must-See Sights in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- 18 Hawaiian Fruits For A Taste of The Tropics