Jumping off Cliffs and Building your Wings on the Way Down

Today somehow reminds me of my first para-sailing experience at the National Cadet Corps (NCC) Camp at Air Force Station, Tambaram (Tamil Nadu, India).

Back then, I was this 18 year old ‘kid’ who had decided to enroll with the NCC simply because they had told us that, as NCC cadets, we would get to do crazy adventurous stuff like rifle shooting, skeet shooting, parasailing, etc.  – Enough ammunition to get the pulse of any guy racing!

What they did not tell us – We would be put through a gruelling self-discipline learning over the next couple of years which included attending NCC training on weekends and annual camps where we would learn to march (or walk smartly, as they put it), run 7 laps of a ground 3 times the average football ground (at 5 in the morning!), and also do a whole lot of other stuff which would, ahem, build our character.

Running on the Runway - Extreme Right (strange how I actually looked lean back then!)

Why do I speak of this – Because I loved every moment of it! Strangely when I look back, I now realize that we were doing all the not-so-fun-disciplinary-stuff for the major part or almost 80% of our time spent in NCC activities but which made us able and up-to-task to take up the next 20% of mind-blowing experience that the annual camps had to offer us.

I remember, in particular, my first para-sailing experience – Our batch from college had assembled that evening at the grounds for the parasailing drill (the entire drill was to be on ground, and not water), and all of us were asked to strap on the harness one by one… and wait.

For most of us who had no idea how to go about the para-sailing, this meant that we had to keep running behind a jeep which held us by a thick rope, this with a para-sail strapped to our back, lift off to stay in the air for some 3 minutes, and then land on the ground from a height of 25 – 30 feet at the end of it.

Though I was ‘a bit’ enthusiastic about the entire experience, I did feel a bit unnerved at the thought of ‘plummeting to death’ on my way down, and managed to delay the experience by asking others to go ahead all evening – this till I was the only one left for the exercise! Having seen a few guys get bruised from the effort (or lack of it!) of not keeping on running before they were lifted off – in which case one is dragged by the jeep for a few seconds, and suffers bruises and cuts; I just strapped on my frail helmet while being assisted with knee pads (the knee pads hardly looked as if they could support my weight and save my knees should I ever be gloriously dragged on the runway, or on cheese for that matter!) and started to focus on what would help me survive the entire drill.

The instructions were simple:

  1. Run with the jeep.
  2. Once you are lifted off the ground, focus on keeping up with the peddling action up to a height of 10 feet, so that even if you were to get back on ground because of not strong enough winds, you would be in running motion and will not get dragged around by the jeep (very much a possibility given my generous built!)
  3. Once you have crossed 15 – 20 feet and reach a stable height, signal whether you are comfortable: (a) If Comfortable – Release grip from harness and stretch hands wide open once, then get back to hold the harness, (b) If Uncomfortable – Cross and open legs a couple of times.
  4. On your way down when being lowered, ensure you bring together your body such that your line of sight is in aligment with your knees and forefoot.
  5. Land gently while keeping balance.


Up, up... and...

... Away... !!

Now the funny part – I managed to keep myself focussed on points 1 and 2, as had been instructed, and did just fine till the part I was in the air… and then the wind hit me!

For the few seconds that I left grip on my harness to signal that I was doing Ok out there, the feel of wind on my face with all that force, and the feeling of flying out there (self-confessed Superman fan!) was so strong that I kept my hands off the harness and stretched out my hands all the while, till I was lowered down.

Grinning all the way down, I felt like a champ and was all kicked up with wishful thinking whether I could do this a couple more times before retiring for the day. However, my seniors at the camp did not share the zesty feeling and rushed forth, rebuking me for not having kept my hands on the harness after signalling. I, of course, thanked them for their concern, and told them that the harness felt all right and safe… and that I would heed their advise going forward. Got let off, thankfully!

The next morning, the Sergeant who had coordinated the drill practice (Sgt Johnson) called on me and one more individual to help him arrange for the para-sailing experience.

During that day, I learnt a lot about as to how one had to keep the sails arranged for quick launches, what were the different aspects one had to keep in mind so that we could assist safe launches and avoid any mishaps, and all that jazz. By the end of second day, I had made considerable progress and was already amongst the 2 guys who were chipping in full time for the para-sailing part.

At the second camp, we did the para-sailing on the Runway: winds were much more powerful and even at a height of 50 feet, one really did not want to lose grip of that harness! I and my friend Subin along with young NCC cadets (whom we were now training how to get the drill in order safely, more so given that our second camp was also our last one), managed more than 50 launches in an evening. Sgt Johnson told us this was the highest number of launches he had done in a single evening, throughout his career! Sgt Johnson was retiring from the Air Force soon after the camp, and intended to start a para-sailing club abroad; with the credible number of launches he had done as one of the points, helping him with his venture.

Felt good, given that we had just one jeep and 2 sails – along with a bunch of guys who were working efficiently to pull this off!

Assisting launches... !

As the camp drew to an end, I was already speaking with different individuals as to where and how I could skydive – I liked the para-sailing part, but now wanted to learn how to manage the entire distance from launch to landing on the ground by myself. The camp passed by and I told myself that I would skydive soon, and then college passed by and I forgot all about it.

All ideas of para-sailing and skydiving somehow got buried for a few years, only coming up in spikes when one got to watch a ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ or when revisiting college albums (so much for living life vicariously!).



That was till today – When I have made the conscious decision to move from a job to a start-up full-time… and can somewhat feel the lightness of being up there.

Now for the wind to hit my face… and to delightfully soak in the experience of flying without wings while I am still in the air… !

Got similar experiences?  Would love to hear from you in the comments below!


For the uninitiated, I have decided to put my foot where my mouth is. I have worked with a few entrepreneurs, helping them do their thingy better with their marketing, branding, strategy etc, for some time now, and have finally jumped in full time to join an exciting startup with Sanjiv Rai. (Thanks Sanjiv, for the opportunity and your belief in me; and Thanks Yinglan, for helping me with initiating a journey towards doing more of what I want to do).

Not sure if going down the line, this will count as one of the better decisions I would have made in my 26 years on this planet so far (Ok, let’s cut the cr*p, I am really looking forward to this!), but one thing is for sure – I intend to do and learn a lot, and I intend to have fun doing it…

Praying to the One above. Eternally thankful and grateful for all my experiences so far…