Skydiving is actually one of the safest so-called “extreme” sports. Let’s be honest: it’s not bowling. You are, after all, jumping out of an airplane and hurtling 12,000 feet towards the ground at 120 miles per hour, so there is risk involved. But it’s not Russian roulette either. Each year, about 35 people die skydiving, and that’s out of about 2 million parachute jumps.
It should also be said that mistakes in judgment and procedure are the cause of 92% of skydiving fatalities. What does that mean? It means that if you do everything you’re supposed to do during that exhilarating 60 second drop to the ground, you’ll be fine.
There are some health concerns that can limit one’s ability to skydive. You need to weigh less than 250 pounds and not have a heart condition. Someone who has had fainting spells, blackouts or respiratory problems should probably not be jumping and should definitely discuss this with the drop zone staff.
But where do you start?
You can’t just take a parachute up to the top of the the tallest building and take a big leap. That is called “base-jumping,” which stands for jumping off fixed objects, including Buildings, Antennas, Spans (bridges), or Earth (cliffs). But don’t even think about doing it – it’s illegal almost everywhere.
So where can you go? There are about 400 skydiving centers across the U.S. To find the drop zone nearest you, you can call 1-800-SKY-DIVE, which will automatically connect you with a parachute center in your area or call the United States Parachute Association at 703-836-3495 to get the name of an affiliated drop zone in your area. Alternatively check out the yellow pages or ask your friends. If you’re in college, most universities have skydiving clubs. This offers a cheaper and easier way to get into the sport. Plus, nothing brings people together better than absolute terror. You may even make some friends!
Other countries will most certainly have similar organisations.
Most skydiving courses work the same way. First, you will get trained by a certified instructor. This instructor will try to scare you into not jumping (the last thing an instructor wants to deal with is a panicker in mid-drop). Then you will fill out all kinds of legal documents saying that if you get hurt, the skydiving company is not responsible. Again, these documents are very scary, and you will see words like “injuries” and “die.” But if you want to jump, you have to sign these documents.
Most extreme sports have similar documentation. I know that when I did my 5-day BSAC course for scuba diving, they spent the first 3 days terrifying us – telling us how easy it would be to kill yourself in such an unnatural environment for the human body, and only after that did they allow us to experience the pure thrill of diving to 30 metres.
Depending on 1) how much time you have, 2) how much cash you’ve got to spend, and 3) how brave you are, you have three options for what method of skydiving you’ll use for your first jump: tandem, static line, and accelerated freefall (AFF). These offer varying levels of airborne freedom and varying levels of training time. You want to fly freely? Go AFF. Just along for the ride? Try tandem. Want to make it quick? Do static line. You decide.
It takes about 10 to 15 jumps, each of increased level, until the student is competent enough to jump without instructor supervision. However, if you learn with the AFF method, you can start jumping on your own after seven jumps. Each successive jump costs a little less, and once you’re licensed, what was once $350 Saturday afternoon becomes only a $20 one. As long as they bring their own parachutes (and most prefer to), certified skydivers only pay for the space on the airplane.
There are four skydiving licenses: basic, intermediate, advanced and master. To get a basic license, you need to:
- Complete 20 freefall jumps.
- At least 3 of these freefall jumps must be controlled freefalls of 40 seconds or longer.
- Have had a total of at least 5 minutes of freefall time.
- Prove that you know how to 1) pack your own main parachute, 2) know what to do in an emergency, and 3) know other general skydiving information.
Many skydivers get licensed so they can work toward being skydiving instructors, which is really just a way to quench their own skydiving desires without having to pay for every jump.
So have fun, and let us know if you make it.