Steve Mattelini admits he's no daredevil. He doesn't even like to get on a roller coaster.
"So everyone said to me, 'Why the hell are you going skydiving?,' " says the 45-year-old maintenance mechanic from Astoria who decided to take plunge for the first time earlier this month at Skydive Long Island in Calverton.
"It was a midlife crisis thing," he jokes.
Rick Collins, 53, an attorney and fitness-book author from Westbury, was facing a different kind of crisis when he made his first leap in 2009 out of Calverton. "I developed a fear of heights as I got older. I decided I was going to overcome it, and the best way was to hurtle myself out of a plane."
Both had one thing in common after their first skydive: their initial fears morphed into a desire to do it all over again.
"Anybody tells me they're not afraid, I tell them they're either lying or they're not very smart," says Ray Maynard, owner of Skydive Long Island.
Are you ready to make that big leap? There are two local drop zones -- Long Island Skydiving Center in East Moriches is the other -- that specialize in tandem jumps for beginners. If you'd like to look before you leap, experienced skydivers can fill you in on what to expect.
THE DAY BEGINS
Birds of a feather flock together and it's good advice for skydivers on their first flight as well, says Gary Welch, a physical therapist from Bellport who jumped for the first time in September out of Calverton. "You have your friends around and it drops a lot of the apprehension and fear down," he says.
Having that support also helps during the first step: signing several legal documents, which basically spell out that the drop zone is not responsible for any injuries -- or worse.
"Driving there I was nervous," says Christopher Rosario, 24, a building maintenance engineer whose girlfriend talked him into diving for the first time at East Moriches two weeks ago. "I was getting calm and then read the contract. All these warnings like you can't sue us. And I kept looking at the word die, die, die."
After that, prospective jumpers watch a video that details the dangers as well as the thrills of skydiving and includes a lesson in correct free fall position.
"It's not unusual for someone to change their mind when they get there. We've had people walk out during the paperwork and the video," says Brent Coltharp, manager of Long Island Skydiving Center.
At Long Island Skydiving Center, jumpers leap from 10,000 feet; at Skydive Long Island, it's 13,500 feet.
Upon boarding, jumpers get hooked up and into position. When it's time to go, "you're inching up to the door. Your pulse is pounding in your ears, your heart is racing and that moment of leaving the plane is terrifying," says Collins.
Jumpers often exit standing, but for taller people, sitting on the edge of the floor is preferred. And then it's time to jump. For most skydivers, like Jack Lahey, a 19, a student from Rye, the minute-long free fall was the most exciting part.
"There's such an adrenaline rush. It feels like you're on top of the world. Invincible," he says.
"It's like having a giant fan in your face,"says Rosario. "It's freeing, exhilarating. You're like Superman, you know what flying is like now."
Sergio Turci, 46, a beverage distributor from Locust Valley who had his first dive two weeks ago, said it didn't even feel like he was falling when it came time to bail. "I thought it was going to be like a roller-coaster thrill, but it was serene just looking at this beautiful view of Long Island."
Even days afterward, skydivers like Welch still hadn't come down to earth from the experience. "That adrenaline rush lasts several days," he says. "Now that the fear's gone away, I have so much confidence I feel like I can do anything."
WHERE TO GO
Skydive Long Island, 400 David Ct., Calverton
INFO 631-208-3900, skydivelongisland.com
HOURS 9 a.m.-sunset weekdays, 7:30 a.m.-sunset weekends through September
HOW MUCH $230 weekdays, $245 weekends
INFO 631-235-9968, longislandskydiving.com
HOURS 8 a.m.-sunset daily through November
HOW MUCH $209 weekdays, $219 weekends