I started my skydiving journey just over a year ago — my tandem was August 8, 2020, and my first solo was September 5, 2020. I took the slow and steady approach and earned my license on April 18, 2021, and have been jumping consistently ever since! It was touch and go for a while, especially at the beginning of my training. It was such an intense experience for me, there were a lot of days I didn’t think I would see it through. I honestly didn’t fully believe I would ever get licensed until my friend Kelly stamped that big black “A” on my forehead. But it actually happened!
I try to get out to the drop zone to jump at least once or twice a month, and I even bought my own complete rig! It’s a beautiful creamsicle orange Vector container with a rainbow main canopy. I’ve been able to jump at a few different locations along the East Coast, and I’m excited to check out some new spots here in Ohio. It’s a bit too overcast this weekend to jump, so I figured I would share my thoughts and experiences now that I have a few more jumps under my belt than I did a year ago.
- The emotional rollercoaster is still a thing — but no longer debilitating.
When I first started skydiving, I wouldn’t be able to eat or drink or sleep for days leading up to my jumps. I was petrified all the time, and just looking at photos or videos of jumps would make my hands sweaty and my heart would start to race. I was so worried that the panic would never subside, but fortunately around jump 15 I noticed the terror had started giving way to excitement. Now with a few dozen more jumps, I’m happy to report that the emotional rollercoaster has downgraded to a case of butterflies. I’m just scared and nervous enough to keep me sharp, but now I’m able to really focus on how much fun I am having.
1. Amazingly, it isn’t as physically taxing when you have a rig that fits.
So it turns out that a lot of the body pain I was experience was due to a poorly fitting rental rig and the hard openings that happened as a result. Now that I have my own gear that was custom altered to fit me, I can jump a lot more with way less stiffness the following day. That’s not to say I’m completely pain free — I still tumble in my landings and end up with bruises and scrapes. I still have the occasional hard opening that hurt my neck. But that is just part of the sport, and overall everything feels a lot better and I no longer have to cut myself off after two jumps.
2. Full face helmets are the best thing ever.
I know some people enjoy the feeling of the wind in their face. I am not one of those people. I got more used to the wind the more I jumped, but it was always the least favorite part of any of my jumps. The second I was cleared to go off radio, I bought a full face helmet and never looked back. My jump attire when I first started was actually the complete opposite from what I jump in now. I used to wear thick, heavy jumpsuits, and gloves and tall socks to cover an exposed skin — but an open face helmet. Now I wear a full face helmet, and typically jump in shorts and tank tops to speed up my fall rate. So a bit of a reverse there.
3. Skydiving is still really safe!
Most (if not all) serious skydiving accidents are completely preventable, and anybody who says otherwise has no business being in the sport. Now, I’m not talking about the bumps and bruises and occasional injuries from hard landings. I’m talking about the big ones where you end up in the hospital or worse. Those accidents usually happen because of poor decision making — and decision making always starts before even getting on the plane. Does your gear look good? Are the winds within your personal limits? Are you comfortable on your canopy size? Did you get enough sleep? Do you trust the people you are jumping with to make smart decisions? If you can’t answer “yes” to all of those, just don’t jump. It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the sky, rather than in the sky wishing you’d never left the ground. If you can answer yes to all those and decide to get on the plane, you enter a new realm of decision making on the plane, in the door, while falling, under canopy, and in the pattern. Jumpers need to make smart decisions.
I say all this while admitting my decision making could definitely use some improvement. I’ve jumped when I was tired, dehydrated, and hangry. I’ve jumped gear that was probably slightly too loose for optimal safety. I didn’t check my handles in the plane, then couldn’t pull my own parachute and my instructor had to save my life. I’ve flown over buildings at stupid low altitudes. I’ve lost altitude awareness dealing with canopy malfunctions and didn’t cut away when I should have. I pulled too low in strong winds and ended up landing way, way off. But like I said, those were all preventable had I made smarter decisions every step of the way.
And one exception to this: plane crashes. You know, like when the plane loses an engine on takeoff and you’re below a thousand feet and can’t jump out so you just have to brace for impact and pray…IYKYK. Love to my fellow Load 9 jumpers.
4. Skyfam is the best fam.
I waxed eloquent about how amazing the SIS (Sisters in Skydiving) network is, and that is still so true. But beyond that, the skydiving community as a whole is so special and unique. Regardless of gender, race, political affiliation, career aspirations, educational background, or anything else, we are just a band of misfits who chose to do life together. It actually reminds me a lot of our churches in Virginia and New Mexico — but quite a bit more adrenaline inducing! Most of us would never have met without the common hobby, and certainly wouldn’t have become friends who spend every waking moment together. But as I always say, there is just something about jumping out of planes together that bonds you for life. Leaving my skyfam in Virginia was quite possibly the hardest thing I have ever done, but I know what we have is special and will transcend the distance.