Falling With Style

It’s been a while! Life has, needless to say, been a little crazy over here. Between work, grad school, and traveling, I’ve barely had time to breathe. And then on top of that, I decided it would be a good idea to go for my skydiving A-license too. 

Skydiving has been on my mind for a little while, mainly because Dave is so passionate about it. He has been jumping for years and has told me multiple times how much he would like to share the experience with me. So once he found a good drop zone here, I decided to give it a try.

I started off with a tandem (I had done a tandem with him back on our first date, but it was so long ago I didn’t really remember it). My tandem instructor on my recent jump was really cool and fun, and I liked the jump — but didn’t love it. I decided I wouldn’t do it again. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe I would like skydiving solo more than tandem. So I decided to give it a go.

I completed ground school last week and did my category-A AFF (Accelerated Freefall) jump, where two instructors jump out with you to make sure you can pull the parachute, then you fly yourself to the ground and land. And…I loved it! As soon as I was under canopy, I knew I wanted to do more. So I went back two days later for my category B, and am anxiously awaiting a day off + good weather to go for Cat C.

Rather than sitting here staring at the sky and talking through my dive flow for the thousandth time, I figured I could write down a few thoughts about my experience for anyone who has been considering skydiving.

  1. The emotional rollercoaster is intense.

And I do mean intense. On Monday, before getting in my gear, I was literally in the bathroom sobbing. Once we were in the staging area, I was shaking so hard from nerves I could barely walk. Once on the plane, I felt this sense of dread and doom. As soon as I got into the door to jump, I felt completely calm and focused on my dive flow and all the maneuvers I had to do. I stayed calm and focused during the freefall, and then was relaxed and happy under canopy, back to concentrating on my landing sequence, then elated once I safely touched down — and ready to get back up ASAP. It’s crazy to think that over 20 minutes I could go from hysterical to panicked to calm to elated. Still, the extreme lows actually make the highs higher. And as weird as it sounds, it’s worth the rollercoaster.

2. It’s physically taxing (if you’re out of shape like me).

No, not physically taxing like running a marathon or anything. But there is definitely more of a physical element than I had anticipated. Staying arched correctly in the air, maneuvering under canopy and using the breaks, landing (especially when you fly into the ground instead of to it, which I did the first time), etc. After my tandem and AFF jumps, I was stiff and sore the following days like I had gone too hard at the gym — lots of pulled muscles, and a stiff neck, back, and joints. I also got bruises where my harness goes — shoulders, chest, and thighs. But the bruises and stiffness actually make me happy because I got them doing something so thrilling.

3. The wind is preeetty painful. 

Somehow between tandem 1 and tandem 2 (there were almost 9 years between them), I completely forgot how hard the wind slaps when you’re falling from 13,500’ AGL at 120 MPH. It took me completely by surprise on my most recent tandem, and I lost posture and ended up choking and unable to breathe. Since then, I have learned to keep my head arched up, breathe through my mouth and not my nose, grit my teeth together, and smile. It helps a LOT. I still don’t love the wind in freefall, and I am counting down the jumps until I am allowed to wear a full face shield. But I can handle it a lot better now.

4. It’s actually really safe.

Despite how terrifying skydiving is, there’s minimal risk. Yes, bumps and bruises and broken bones are common, but fatalities and serious injuries are rare. In fact, for every 1 million jumps, there is usually less than 5 fatalities. Those are better odds than getting into a car to drive down the street. Part of the reason it is so safe is because of the AAD – the Automatic Activation Device. It’s a precise microprocessor computer located within the skydiving container. This safety system is responsible for deploying a skydivers reserve parachute if a jumper cannot do so. So if you lose consciousness or freeze up and don’t pull, the reserve will pull for you. 

5. There’s a supportive female community.

When I first went to the drop zone, I was a little nervous, thinking it would be a total boys club. Or worse, that the girls would be unfriendly towards someone crossing into “their turf.” It was actually a bit of a boys club, but that just makes the girls even more welcoming of female jumpers. I felt welcomed right away and got to make some cool friends. I was also able to link up with some other female student divers and manifest on loads with them. There is something about jumping out of airplanes that just really bonds you to someone! It’s incredible to have a group of women rooting you on and celebrating your successes with you (and clutching your hand on the plane ride up).

So there you have it. I am completely obsessed. If anyone is interested in jumping with me, there is always room for one more!

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