So, given that I’m in Auckland right now with the incomparable Zara Potts, this will be a co-written effort.

Simon: I’m currently on holiday in New Zealand – my friend Mel and I are spending a few days in the North Island, a few days in the South Island, then heading back to Melbourne. We’ve got a list of things to do while we’re over here, and the first item to check off – for me – was to go to Auckland’s Sky Tower and take a SkyJump. For those unfamiliar, the SkyJump is where you pay to strap yourself into a harness and jump off a 192-metre drop, freefalling for eleven seconds before the harness catches you and you decelerate the last few metres down to the landing pad.

It was Zara who originally suggested I do this.

Zara: New Zealanders are well known for their love of jumping off high buildings. It’s become something of a national pastime and we pride ourselves on this peculiar brand of brave foolishness. The SkyJump, however, is no ordinary bungee jump. The Sky Tower is an imposing concrete needle that reaches high into the clouds and is topped by a flying saucer-like disc, which tourists and thrill-seekers alike climb up to marvel at the best views of the city.

Native Aucklanders are so used to this ridiculously tall structure, which dwarfs everything around it, that they barely glance at it. Until, that is, they hear the screams of people plummeting towards the ground at terrifying speed.

I was pretty sure Simon was going to be screaming the whole way down.

Simon: We’d checked out the Sky Tower from a distance on our previous drives through Auckland, but it was only when we drove underneath I truly realised how tall it is. I’d booked while still in Australia and the reality of what I’d signed myself up for was still safely hundreds of miles away. Once I saw the tower up close and personal, however, I could also see the way it loomed high over the buildings surrounding it. It was at this point I started to get nervous, and I started making jokes about how what Mel and Zara would hear as they waited at the bottom was a loud Australian voice: “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-“

I’d decided to do the SkyJump because when I first heard about it, I didn’t want to do it. Heights scare me, and so I’ve traditionally avoided them. And as soon as I realised I was scared, I told myself I had to do this thing; that I had to challenge myself and take the plunge. I’m no adrenalin junkie (at least, I wasn’t before the jump), but I do believe in facing your fears and coming out the other side. As a psychologist friend of mine is fond of saying, avoidance maintains anxiety.

Zara: I have managed to avoid going up the Sky Tower for the ten years that I have lived in this city. The best way of doing this, so that I don’t look chickenshit, is to suggest to visiting friends that while they take the trip heavenward, I will selflessly stay on terra firma and photograph their sky-hijinks from ground level.

When they hesitate, I am quick to reassure.

“It’s not that high really,” I say. “It looks scarier than it actually is.”

I fail to mention to them that I have never been brave enough to see for myself if this is true.

“Simon, you go up and I’ll get a good spot on the ground and record it for you on my camera. It’ll be awesome.”

He fell for it.

Simon: Sign-in consisted of completing a form agreeing that I wouldn’t sue anyone if the absolute worst happened, and then being fitted with a lurid yellow and blue jumpsuit. I was assured that yes, my butt did look big in it. My pleasantly Scottish guide strapped me into a harness and introduced me to the three teenage Kiwi girls who would be my jump group. As we first got ready, we were joking, and laughing, and trying to make light of the fact that the drop was getting closer and closer.

The lift up to the jump platform was set with large glass windows, so as we went up we could see just how high we were getting. It was when we passed the hundred-metre mark that we all went quiet. I cleared my throat and said ‘So who’s going first?’

One of the girls said she would, because she wanted to get it over and done with. Then the lift doors opened and we made our way out onto the deck.

Zara: As Simon was making his way up his personal concrete Everest, I was making a fast getaway out the front doors and onto the street. I cracked my neck as I craned my head to look up at the tower. I could see tiny shapes moving on the outer disc of the observation deck. I knew they were people, but at that moment they looked more like tiny spiders clinging to a steel web.

One of those shapes was Simon.

Simon: The fear that had earlier checked in at Casa Del Simon’s Stomach really started to kick into high gear as we stood in the windowed waiting room and watched the first girl walk out onto the ledge, get strapped in, and drop. It was only then I fully accepted the knowledge I was going to do the same thing in ten minutes.

After what seemed like a long, long time, the attendant came out and asked who was next. I raised my hand.

Desperate to keep my game face on while the upper altitude winds rippled my suit, I cracked wise with the guy standing by the roaring pulley system that was going to keep me alive. I asked where he was from (a hamlet in Yorkshire, England), told him that my mother was from a nearby town (Rotheram), and warned him to expect the loudest profanity that Auckland had ever heard as soon as I was off the platform.

The jump attendant hooked cables to my back and told me what to expect. Like someone walking the plank, I was lead out to the jump platform. And I thought Fuck. This is really high.

‘Want to take a look over the edge?’ the attendant asked. I looked, and instantly knew that was a bad idea.

‘OK,’ the attendant said. ‘Hang onto the handrails and lean out over the edge. You’ll feel everything tighten up, I’ll count to three, and on three, let go of the handrails and step off.’

My right leg was shaking and all I could think was Jesus, I hope I can let go of the handrails on the first try.

That seemed to be the worst part of it, that I would have to push myself off the edge. The city and the harbour were spread out before me, and I could see with complete clarity that it was a long, long way down.

I grabbed the rails and leaned out, trying to maintain self-control. Suddenly I felt the harness tighten, and the guy behind me started to count. And on three, I forced myself to simply let go and step forward.

Zara: I saw Simon fall. I hoped that I hadn’t just sent my friend to his plummeting death. I mean, what if the whole system fucked up on his jump? It could happen, right? The wires looked strong, but even the thickest cables can snap sometimes. The harness looked good, but what if it was nearing its use-by date?

I held my breath as I saw him drop and then pull up suddenly. His tiny blue and yellow clad body was dangling in mid-air and he started to swing wildly from side to side. This meant that the cable was strong enough to hold him, but another worry quickly jumped into my mind. What if he got stuck there? How would they rescue him? Would it make the six o’clock news?

Simon: The SkyJump is divided into two parts – first, you dangle a couple of metres down like a hooked fish and the staff take a picture of you hanging in mid-air. Then they send you on the drop proper. So there’s a stomach-lurching second of absolute terror until the harness first catches and they call out, as you’re suspended high over Auckland, and say ‘Hey! Wave to the camera!’

It was as I was waving up at them when a little voice in the back of my head said As soon as they take that picture, you’re on your way down, buddy.

And, sure enough, a heartbeat later gravity kicked back in.

As soon as I fell, my fear vanished completely, replaced by wild exhilaration. I remember bursting into laughter on the way down as my body went into adrenaline overdrive. Apparently people can reach speeds of 85 km/hr; I think I must have hit a speed close to it. The landing pad was a tiny square that got closer and closer at an incredible rate, and the sheer excitement of speeding straight at the bullseye was overwhelming.

I remembered the instructor telling me to bend my knees on landing, and I pulled them in as I came crashing back to earth.

Zara: Mel and I were lying on our backs next to the giant orange bullseye watching Simon’s plunge through the safety of our camera lenses. Reality is so much better when viewed on a screen. The only sound we could hear was the screaming whistle of the steel cables that signaled his descent.

Despite my prediction, no screams escaped Simon’s lips.

In fact, he was pretty much lost for words. He could only find two to sum up his eleven-second fall:

‘Aww dude.”

His shit-eating grin said more than any sound could convey.

Simon: I was buzzing for hours afterwards – even now, I can’t see the Sky Tower dominating Auckland’s cityscape without saying ‘I’m so glad I did that.’ I can remember how scared I was waiting up at the top of the tower, the resolve it took to step away from the tower, and the sheer exultancy of coming back down.

And the best part is, having done it once… I now have a discount ticket to do it again.

(Photos by Zara Potts and Melanie Sheridan)





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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

117 responses to “Laughing All the Way Down”

  1. Megan DiLullo says:

    YESSSSSS! Simon, I said it once, and I’ll say it again. You look like a Bay City Roller/Evil Kinevel hybrid in that suit.

    Good for you for taking the plunge. And Zara, I dig your commentary and appreciate how very crafty you are at getting out of situations.

    It sounds like it’s been a great trip so far.

    • Ha. I think that’s the best possible comment anyone will ever be able to make about that suit.

      It was nerve-wracking, but I’m so very glad that I went through with it. It has been a fantastic trip. I take back everything I ever said about New Zealand, and half the things I ever said about New Zealanders.

      • Megan DiLullo says:

        Thanks, Simon. It was a toss up between the Evil Knievel comment and something about Fat Elvis doing karate kicks in Vegas across a stage. But your ass didn’t look fat enough.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    I was going to compliment you on your jumpsuit Simon,but then I read your comment above and have decided only to compliment you on half of it.
    I thought you looked really good in the yellow bit.
    Oh and I AM crafty at getting out of things, Megan. But not Pussy Stardust! I’m in for life with that!!!

  3. Matt says:

    Man walks around in a jumpsuit like that, people know he’s not afraid of anything. Way to face your fears and leap–okay, drop–into them, feet first. Tienes juevos mas grandes, amigo.

    Next time you’re in the States (or when I make it down under–whichever happens first) we’ll have to see about doing a tandem skydive. I’d love to do that again.

  4. Brin Friesen says:

    How can you not wear that jumpsuit as a uniform forever?

    Loved this.

    • Thanks Brin!

      Unless you only loved the parts by Zara…

      I think I’d need to have a faster car if I was going to wear that jumpsuit forever. I couldn’t possibly do things by halves.

  5. Lenore says:

    you know, sometimes anxiety is actually survival instinct.

  6. Megan says:

    “Reality is so much better when viewed on a screen” Why IS this?

    Next, you two need to dive the great barrier reef. Please make this a serial thing. And now it’s Zara’s turn.

  7. Simone says:

    Sure as hell looks like fun!

    Your jumpsuit reminded me of Flash Gordon in a way.

    “I’m going to work very hard on building my ass now. Should we ever meet, that thing’s going to be like two bean-bags in a lycra condom.”

    Simon, the above quote is gold! Had me laughing so much my colleague asked if everything was ok due to the tears in my eyes.

  8. Weird… Look at my Facebook photos and you’ll see me doing the SkyJump, too. Except the one I did was only 123 metres.

  9. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    That costume had a superhero vibe. Maybe you could pick a name for your next feat.

    I get woozy if I have to get on the roof of our house. I’d die on the elevator ride up to a jump. Kudos to you for conquering the fear.

    Zara is a crafty one, isn’t she.

  10. Sarah says:

    Congrats on summoning your intestinal fortitude, Simon. Congrats on avoiding your possible death without looking wimpish, Zara. And great pictures Zara and Mel.

    In regards to the suit, I think the first photo, the one of you suiting up, makes you look a bit like Keanu Reeves – Johnny Utah about ready to chase Bodhi into the monster wave. “I am an F… B… I… agent!”

    • Thanks, Sarah! I appreciate it. It was when I saw the photos of teenagers doing it that I thought I can’t back out without looking really bad.

      “Are you angry? Feel good, doesn’t it!”

  11. Simon and Zara, you two are quite the adventurous duo. Wish I could’ve been there to take part in the proceedings. Maybe I would’ve made my own jump in my Target bathing suit. Or heck, maybe even in nothing at all.

    • Rich:

      If you were a Bond Girl/you’d soar above the streets of Auckland/naked and defusing a bomb with only seven seconds to spare. If you were a Bond Girl/you’d drop from above like furious death/and land with your legs around the neck of the world’s newest want-to-be dictator.

  12. Becky says:

    Oh, lord. This is bungee jump, not a base jump.

    I thought there was a parachute involved.

    And my God. No worries if the bungee broke anyway; as long as you landed on that huge ass of yours, I’m sure you’d’ve been just fine.

    Way to go, crazy person. I salute you.

  13. Richard Cox says:

    This is awesome. I would love to do this. I skydived (skydove?) once, and even though you jump from much higher up, you’re out in the countryside and it’s all very abstract. I think jumping from a building would feel much more like real falling.

    Though I think it would also be cool to simply step off the platform and fall. To get more of a realistic sense of what it would be like to jump off a building.

    In any case, congratulations! And thanks to Zara for talking you into it.

    • It was so mcuh fun. I highly recommend it.

      And yes, that was one of the things that originally drew me to it – none of this floating business. Just a big gravity milkshake.

      The stepping part was really hard. You lean out before stepping, and try not to think of the word ‘down’.

  14. Ducky says:

    I want to go! I want to go!!! I’d probably piss my pants, but who cares?
    I’m with you, Simon. Face those fears.

  15. Greg Olear says:

    I love the way this was told — really fun, like a transcript of you guys in the news.

    Personally, I think it’d be fun to jump off a building and not have to worry about dying. Kundera has a line about it that goes something like this: “Vertigo is not the fear of falling, but the desire to fall, and the conscious mind stopping that desire.”

    There’s a great skydiving place in Gardiner, right near our house. Skybox The Ranch. Something to think about if you make it up here…

    • Thanks Greg! It was fun to write, too – with Zara and I stepping in and out like a wrestling tag team.

      And my conscious mind can suck it! So can my subconscious. Those jerks have held me back for long enough.

      Skybox, eh?

  16. Jude says:

    “His shit-eating grin said more than any sound could convey.”
    Does this mean Simon’s body was severely rearranged?

    Simon and Zara – you make a great duo.The fearless and the fearful…!

  17. Marni Grossman says:

    Congrats, Simon, on surviving and conquering your fear. And congrats, Zara, on capturing it all with admirable elan and joie de vivre.

    So jealous I wasn’t there in person.

  18. We’ll have to have a TNB event in Auckland. Writer after writer, jumping off the Sky Tower.

  19. I’ve said it before and will say it again: nobody is getting me anywhere near New Zealand because it seems to be a national requirement that people jump off shit while they are there. I don’t care how freaking gorgeous it is, evidenced by Lord of the Rings films and yadda yadda, I am not jumping off anything. Fuck you crazy Kiwis. You people are out of your minds!
    Okay, now that that’s off my chest . . . wow, that sounds like an awesomely fun day. While I would not jump off that monstrosity in order to hang out with you two for the day, it would be a close call. Please come to the United States again and we can hook up here and indulge in sane American pastimes like getting stupidly drunk and eating fried food in the middle of the night, and trying to spot famous people so we can make fun of them.
    I love you guys! This was a great mini-vacation. Fabulous photos.

    • It really, really was. And yeah, I know? What’s with Kiwis and jumping off shit?

      Oh, man. I miss America so much. You guys are all right.

    • Zara Potts says:

      That’s us. Jumping off as much shit as we can. Tall shit, small shit, pretty shit, ugly shit. We like to jump. I think it has something to do with our innate insecurity. We want to prove that we are fearless and brave and not at all like our national emblem – the bird that can’t fly.
      I am so looking forward to getting stupidly drunk and eating bad food with you! That’s the next vacation plan. Simon and I are already looking for American shit he can jump off while I photograph it!

  20. i actually found myself reading faster and faster almost like i wanted to get your jump over with
    when you started to describe it – ahhhhhh – can’t believe you did that!!
    But good for you to just do it. Wow. Wow.
    Ok – well, when you guys come visit, we’ll have to vicariously live through you again when you go skydiving at the Sky Ranch! – right?? It’s supposed to be gorgeous and amazing. We watch on Sundays with our kids (as totally killer greg mentioned earlier). So if you come here and do this, our kids will think you’re absolutely the coolest ever. They’ll also think you’re cool if bring them a book or chocolate – so you could just do that.

    • Oh, I really wanted to get it over and done with too, believe me.

      Oh, I love it when people think I’m cool! Here, watch how many cigarettes I can smoke!

      I’ll have to bring them some books from Australia. I like giving people Australian books.

  21. Reality is so much better when viewed on a screen.

    As much as I loved this ride down with you Simon, it’s Zara’s line right here that’s gonna stick with me, and which I’m going to steal (blatantly) for the rest of my days.

    In fact, every time I say it in an interview from here on out, I’ll buy a round. 🙂

  22. jmblaine says:

    I needed to read this today
    I need a little buzz and thrill
    I’m going to jump off of something

  23. When I first saw that suit picture, I thought it was of Wil Wheaton. I double-took. You truly are a dude of a thousand faces, Simon.

    Nice piece, too. I loved the back and forth. And I totally envy that jump. Man. I did a skycoaster once at a Great Adventure, but it just doesn’t compare.

    • Ha. All of them terrified on the ride up.

      Thanks, Will. It was a lot of fun to tag Zara in and out as we were writing it. Next time I’m in the States, let’s go jumping off something together.

  24. Tom Hansen says:

    Bravo Simon. Not sure if I could do that. I know I couldn’t do the jumpsuit

    • Irene Zion says:

      Simon,
      I think you look quite astronaut-like and dapper in the jumpsuit. Tom is just chicken, don’t listen to him.
      There is nothing on the face of the earth that would entice me to even go UP that tower, let alone JUMP OFF OF IT! Were you nuts?

      • Ha. Thanks Tom. I prefer to think of it as a kind of preliminary jumpsuit. When I’m back to the States I’ll get the best American technology I can find working on it.

        Thanks Irene! I wish I’d had a brief bout of temporary insanity to shield me from the emotional rollercoaster of going up and the start of coming down.

  25. James D. Irwin says:

    Going down a fast elevator in a tall building is good enough for me.

    Fuck man, you’d never see me jumping out of/off anything taller than I am.

    i would, however, gladly wear the jumpsuit…

    • Given the response I’ve had to the jumpsuit, I’m now thinking that we should lobby Brad for an official TNB jumpsuit.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I’m still waiting on the TNB t-shirt.

        I want to impress people with it.

        I’ve already prepared by arrogant and obnoxious speech for next semesters Creative Non-Fiction course.

        I really need the t-shirt to add to the pomp and arrogance to the whole ”Well… I write for…”

        except of course, I haven’t for a while… soon though. I hope.

  26. Amanda says:

    Goodness, that is quite an efficient jumpsuit! Imagine the things you could accomplish in a day, if you were permitted to wear that thing home…

  27. Erika Rae says:

    I once heard a story of a Native American squaw who was fleeing a warring tribe with her people. They were walking precariously along the edge of a cliff in silence so that the attackers would not hear them. She was holding a baby on her back. Suddenly, she lost her footing and fell through the air hundreds of feet to her death. She did not make a peep. Her tribe escaped.

    You are that squaw, Simon.

    Respect.

  28. kristen says:

    This is awesome! Great collaboration, you guys.

    • Thanks Kristen! When the Zara and Simon travelling show hits the States next time, we’ll have to see what other suckers we can rope in. The best part is, you only have to do half the work!

  29. Joi Brozek says:

    HOLY. EFFING. CANNOLI.

    See, I was right! You people down under are so brave, you’re effing nuts!!!

    My heart was in my stomach the entire time I was reading this.

    Well done, you guys!

  30. D.R. Haney says:

    There are things I can handle and things I can’t, and height is definitely one of the latter. Once, when I was a kid, I had to cross a deep ravine over a swaying bridge that could only accommodate one person at a time, and I was paralyzed with fear at the halfway point, white-knuckling the ropes on either side of me, sure the bridge was about to give way and deliver me to death.

    So consider this leap something done for me as well, brew. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, made foolhardy with enough alcohol, I might don a jumpsuit and face down my fears personally when I’m Down Under. Which I’m bound to be at some point, don’t you think?

    • Ha – there’s a big sign saying that people under the influence of alcohol may NOT do the SkyJump. It’s OK. We’ll get some peyote for you instead.

      I’m actually very bad with heights myself. Or at least, I was. I think I may have conquered that one.

      You are completely bound to be. Meat pies, cold beers, snobby cafes… we’ll give you the works.

      • Zara Potts says:

        Oh man. Can you imagine doing the jump while drunk? uuurrgh.
        I wouldn’t want to be standing below looking up that’s for sure.
        Oh yes, meat pies. Duke is going to love them. They’re the best, brew.

  31. I just crapped myself. My hands are clammy. Jesus. I can’t even READ this post again. I can’t even look over the bathtub edge without nausea setting in, let alone think of Simon hurtling through the universe like a smurf-and-canary-colored spaceship. Zara and Simon: You’re both assholes for writing this post.

  32. Slade says:

    I couldn’t read this posting without feelings of intense jealousy. Rock on, brother, rock on.

  33. […] She once watched Simon Smithson plummet off a building in downtown Auckland. […]

  34. […] humiliated by his poor showing on Australian reality television that he jumped off the highest building in Auckland.  (OK, fine, the two are not […]

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