Thursday… May 26th… 2016… A day unlike any in all of the twenty-four years I’ve seen. It started ordinary as ever. An ear-shattering noise waking me from my sleep. A morning ritual dragging on endlessly. And lastly, covering the same distance by train with the same people and their grumpy morning faces, just to get to that same kick-ass company I’ve loved working at since day one. It was all pretty much smooth sailing, from greeting my coworkers as they enjoy their first sip of coffee to typing so violently on my keyboard I might have to request a new one with IT soon. But as far as regular Thursdays go, that was about it…
I couldn’t help giving off suspicious looks and weird glances. Three heavy-duty cameras and its operators rushed into the room I share with two of my colleagues and Armin and BullySongs followed. I think I’ve missed the major part of Armin’s brief message or at least cannot recall entirely. But when I finally took off my headphones to discover what on earth was going on, his words hit me like few have ever done. “We’re meeting at the coffee corner. NOW.”
There was something up for sure. It’s not every day that the employees of an entire company are torn from their work for some kind of on-the-spot meeting. The question-mark-riddled eyes of everyone around me seemed to correspond with the different thoughts and scenarios I juggled in my mind. After we had all gathered ’round, a quick check confirmed that everyone was present. It was time…
“You are probably wondering why you’re all standing here.” Armin’s voice didn’t waver one bit and the look he gave partner-in-crime Bully showed he could barely contain his excitement. “So, we’ve been working for a long time together. With some of you, I’ve worked really close, and with some of you, I haven’t worked so close. But, you know, we’re all Armada and Cloud 9. We’re all one big family.”
The twinkles of joy in Armin’s eyes had become even brighter, more intense. He had the most addictive grin on his face, one that makes you smile just by looking at it. “I’ve always wanted to do this”, he whispered to Bully, loud enough for anyone in the room to hear. And then, he continued his speech. “So Bully…”
“Are you ready to freefall!” Bully sang, after which he reverted back to a regular tone of voice. “With us… today…” His voice lowered and the expression on his face became one reminiscent of someone teasing his sibling. “Right… now…”
BullySongs: “It’s crazy looking back to when we wrote the lyrics to Freefall that it would lead to throwing the whole of the Armada record label off a plane! One of the scariest, most exciting and exhilarating days of my life. A massive shout to Armin and the team for making it happen. I just wanna do it all over again now!”
It was all a grand mixture of nerves, excitement, and joy that would define the rest of the day. Some of us couldn’t be more cheerful, while others had to use their hands to stop their legs from shaking uncontrollably. Yet, there was no time to overthink the bomb that has just been dropped. Without being able to complete any unfinished emails, assignments, or business of any kind, we were rushed into an army of vans that had been waiting outside all along. Within fifteen minutes, one of the biggest surprises we had ever come across was well underway.
Before long, we found ourselves on a West-Frisian Isle called Texel. Another fifteen-minute drive took us from the harbor to the location where it was all about to go down. The planes buzzing directly above our heads could either be a ticket to hell or the gateway to heaven. Most of us still weren’t sure what it’d be. But we’d find out soon enough.
How do you prepare for something like this? How do you deal with knowing you’re about to climb to a height of 4 kilometers (over 13,000 feet). It’s a funny thing, really. I don’t think the human mind is meant to comprehend something like this. We weren’t even made to fly, to soar the skies like any bird would do with ease. We love the feeling of solid earth beneath our feet, because it makes us feel safe. How do you stand your ground knowing that said ground will soon be beyond reach? The answer is simple. You can’t.
We were split up in seven groups and I was in the fourth. I still remember the envy I felt, jealous of all of my colleagues jumping first. Not just because I was really excited to do this (I was), but because I didn’t know how I’d respond to seeing my colleagues drop down from the skies. I felt good and ready for the time being, but the question was if that would change as time progressed.
Michelle Schrama, Online Marketeer: “I still can’t believe we’ve all jumped out of a plane. Or thrown out of one, for that matter. The feeling you get is indescribable. The fear and the freedom, it’s all one grand ecstasy. And to have been able to share this with colleagues is amazing. I know one thing for certain, it’s that this was the craziest and most unexpected day ever. Armin and Bully, THANK YOU”
When my time had finally come, a weird sensation started to take hold of me. It still wasn’t fear or anxiety, but something was definitely stirring inside. Together with the rest of the team, I grabbed a suit off the rack and put it on. After all straps had been carefully secured by one of the airbase’s employees, I was introduced to my instructor, had a small chat and boarded the small, particularly fragile-looking airplane standing by. It was all getting real. Fast.
The roaring of the engine intensified and the point of no return faded into the distance as we began our steep ascend. Within the ten minutes that felt like an eternity, we had climbed to the pre-set height and I had been given a grand tour by my instructor, spectacular views included. The nerves began piling up now. The same thing applied to my colleagues, whose trembling hands swept away the pears of sweat that ran down their faces. But all of this didn’t even matter anymore when the door on the side of the plane opened and a stream of cold air blew me straight in the face.
One by one, I saw my colleagues disappear into the emptiness that surrounded the plane. No screams, no pleads for help, and no teary-eyed coworkers could be heared. They might have been there, but the ear-shattering noise of the wind had drown out every sound that could’ve been interpreted as such. My instructor tapped me on the shoulder and ran me through the most important instructions once more before pushing me forward, toward the gap in the airplane. And that was when sanity began to take over my mind.
What the hell was I doing? Mankind was never meant to be at a height like this and I was about to come crashing down like a meteor. What was I thinking? I hadn’t even told my girlfriend exactly what I was about to do, because I wanted to surprise her when I got home. But what if I would never even get home after this? What if something went wrong and I cracked my skull in half by crashing onto the ground head first at 200 kilometers per hour. A countdown started. 3… 2… 1… I was pushed over the edge.
Nicolet Hofman, Social Media Manager: “Thrown out of an airplane by Armin van Buuren, what an amazing experience! Nobody hesitated for a second; we all went for it! When the airplane door opened at 4 km high, you could feel the cold air. We smiled at each other, happy, but also nervous. There was no way back. While sitting at the opening, I waved and soon after, the freefall was a fact! What on earth made me do this?! What a rush, what a silence when the parachute had opened, and what a beautiful view! Every time I watch the video, it makes me feel like I’m jumping again. Insane! Thanks for making this happen!”
There’s no overthinking things. Frankly, there isn’t even a single thing going through your mind at a time like that. I’d have loved to say that this was the moment when I understood why people call this freedom, but it was only when I had landed that the thought occurred. My mind was empty. Falling down at such an incredible speed and height makes it difficult to breathe and posing for the camera operated by a woman circling you for sports is just not for me, as I think I just held up two thumbs throughout the entire freefall. But to say I enjoyed it can only be the biggest understatement ever made.
Once you let go of your fears and take the leap, your mind and body are at ease. It’s as if you are about to fall asleep, knowing your safe and secure to live another day. Tumbling down for a whole minute might seem pretty long, but when you’re actually doing it, it’s over before you know it. From the moment the instructor pulls the chord, time slows down and leaves you hanging. Your brain works quadruple shifts to deal with these strange sensations and you pull down the chords of the parachute as hard as you can to get back up to speed once more. And when you spiral down toward the landing spot and feel the earth beneath your feet for the first time since seemingly forever, an ear-to-ear grin will adorn your face for time to come. I know I had one. It’s still there.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you to Armin van Buuren and BullySongs for getting me to do something I would have never done voluntarily. And I’m glad they did. Otherwise, I would’ve never known what ‘Freefall’ is really all about…
*Want to win a parachute jump in your area? You can! Head over the THIS PAGE for more information.