As the most popular and often talked about – and, well, least likely to be crossed off – bucket list item, skydiving remains the one activity that everyone is dying (I know, I know…I couldn’t help it) to cross off his or her bucket list; and I’m certainly no exception. I’ve gone canyoning and canyoning swinging in Interlaken, caving in Budapest, white water rafting in Peru, trekking in Patagonia, and running with the bulls in Pamplona – but, skydiving? So, spurred by my recent thirtieth birthday, as well as an opportunity to help uplift the spirits of Jetset Times former contributor Schuyler Arakawa, I decided rather spontaneously that now is the moment!
So, after (finally) getting it done and loving every second of it, here are ten tips every first-time skydiver should know before making the jump!
1. Get your Body Right!
You don’t need to be physically fit to go skydiving, but it can be really helpful to do a few warm up exercises and stretches to get your body and muscles feeling loose. Remember, you’ll be freefalling at more than 120mph (190kph), so it’s important that your body is completely relaxed while in the air. Do some jumping jacks or run in place on the morning of your jump; and don’t forget to do some simple stretches, especially for your neck (take my word on it). If you have any medical conditions, consult with your physician before attempting any skydive.
2. It’s All in the Mind
You’re jumping OUT of a plane! Okay, now that the elephant has been addressed, feel free to relax now. I know it’s easier said than done, but you’re paying for an unforgettable experience, so you should definitely enjoy every penny of it. It’s always a good idea to educate yourself on skydiving by watching videos or reading articles about it, but try not to focus and overreact to any negative headlines and psyche yourself out in the process (see point 5 below). If you still feel uneasy on the day of your jump, try some meditation to help rest and relax your emotions and steady your mind.
3. Take it Easy and Breathe
This may sound unusual, but knowing how to breathe correctly is important when you’re up in the air. Avoid hyperventilation by taking deep, slow breaths instead of short, quick successive breathes. Stay calm, relax and listen to your instructor who shall no doubt walk you through this like a pro; and if you feel the slightest bit uneasy, be sure to let him or her know about it. Despite what you may think, breathing is not difficult and should be able to breathe like normal, as if you were on the ground. If you do experience any difficulty in breathing, it’s probably because you’re head is tilted too low causing the wind to rush at your face and into your nose at an odd angle. But there’s no need to panic, just tilt your head back, keep your eyes aimed towards the horizon and breathe through your mouth if necessary.
4. Be Like the Banana, My Friend
As I was being fitted for my harness, my instructor calmly pointed to an adjacent wall, where a photo of a banana, juxtaposed next to a skydiver, could be found. “Today, my friend,” he coolly remarked. “You’re favorite fruit will be a banana.” In other words, your body should mimic the shape of a banana when you’re in mid-air, which means that your head should be tilted back, eyes looking straight ahead towards the horizon, back arched, arms comfortably extended to the sides, and legs relaxed with the soles of your feet aimed up towards the sky.
5. Don’t Believe the Hype!
More than likely you’ll be jumping at around 13,000 feet (3,962 meters), and understandably it can look and feel terrifying to peer through the airplane window to the ground below. But despite the sensational headlines you may have read, skydiving is actually very safe. According to the United States Parachute Association (USPA), out of the estimated 3.2 million annual skydive jumps that occurred in the United States in 2014, there have been 24 fatalities reported (that’s eight deaths per one million jumps). Now compared to automotive deaths in the U.S. for the same year, 32,675 deaths were reported for every 100 million miles driven, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Furthermore, in 2014, according to Aviation Safety Network, of 12 worldwide commercial flights, 761 deaths have been reported, which happens to be one of the safest years to date since 1945 when official records were kept.
In other words, if you can accept the risk of driving your car to work every day or taking a flight to that long-awaited vacation spot, then why shouldn’t you go skydiving?
6. Enjoy the Morbid (and Hilarious) Sense of Humor of Skydivers
“What’s the hardest part about skydiving?” (The ground.)
No one has ever complained of a parachute not opening.
You don’t need a parachute to skydive. You need a parachute to skydive twice.
What’s Hemingway’s favorite bedtime story? (For sale: Parachute rig. Never used.)
You know, there’s something oddly reassuring about a group of skydivers who are only half-joking about death. But, to be honest, I feel that’s a good thing, since I’m sure many first-time jumpers will naturally feel a tinge of anxiety before a jump. And there’s no better way to offset the potential angst of a nerve-wracking experience than with a healthy dose of laughter.
7. Safety is Paramount
Don’t ever mistake the relaxed personality of your instructor or his slew of witty jokes (though you should admit it’s a great ice breaker) as a sign of carelessness, because safety is absolutely paramount above all else. These guys and girls are consummate professionals who do this as their JOB every single day (In fact, my instructor was scheduled to do seven jumps that day!) All skydiving instructors must be certified with a class D license and have completed at least 500 total jumps. Go online and check to see if the credentials of your skydiving company and instructor are properly certified.
8. What to Bring
Wear loose, but comfortable clothing, such as a T-shirt, pants and sneakers. It may feel a slight chilly up there but when you leap out of the plane your adrenaline will no doubt kick in and the cold won’t affect you, so a jacket or hoodie won’t be necessary. Bring cash to buy some food or drink, photo/video package (you’ll definitely want to remember you’re first jump with a video, trust me), and some money to leave a tip for your instructor. The earlier in the day you arrive the less time you’ll need to wait around, but feel free to bring some playing cards or chat with your fellow skydivers to occupy your time.
9. Location, location, location?
Of course it would be incredible if you had spectacular views of pristine cerulean ocean waves and crisp white sandy beach coastline beneath you for your first skydiving experience. But it goes without saying that a picturesque setting will certainly cost you a pretty penny, more than likely 2-4 times the normal rate for a typical jump (my jump, for example, cost $100). Unless you have money to burn, it’s better to go to a nearby skydiving school and jump with them, just to see if you really like it, which you no doubt will. That’s why I’m really glad I went to Skydive Lodi Parachute Center, just an hour-and-a-half drive east of San Francisco. If you’re located anywhere close to the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend this place, regardless if it’s your first or 100th jump! Check out their details below.
10. How Does it Really Feel to Fall Through the Sky?
Absolutely amazing! That’s the short answer, but nothing can quite prepare you for the moment when you finally muster the courage to peer over edge of the opened fuselage door, leap out of a plane at 13,000 feet and free fall at more than 120mph through the sky. It’s terrifying yet exciting at the same time, especially knowing that the only thing stopping you from attempting a second jump is the singular hope that your instructor properly packed your parachute that morning (by the way, all instructors, and obviously mine included, are required to inspect each pack before going up).
For those brief 60 seconds that you’re in free fall, it oddly feels that you’re suspended in mid-air because there’s nothing in your immediate surroundings to help properly gauge just how fast you’re truly falling. It almost feels like you’ve fallen in a gigantic pool of quicksand, filled only with high-speed wind and slowly sinking towards the ground (albeit at 176 feet per second!).
Try to absorb and remember every second of it because it will go by fast. And after a minute of free fall, the parachute cord is pulled and you’re yanked back to reality by the pleasant lift of a fully deployed parachute (phew!). At this point, guys get ready because you’ll probably experience an abrupt and very uncomfortable tug of the harness at your groin area. So, for the next four to five minutes as you slowly descend through the air, try to enjoy the scenery as much as possible despite the understandable urge to unbuckle your harness for some much needed relief.
BONUS: You Did It! You Can Finally Cross Skydiving off Your Bucket List. Now What?
Go back and do it again, of course! As soon as I landed I was already making plans to go back (but, first, I needed to take off that damn harness!). There’s a reason why you see so many people grinning and high-fiving one another after landing from a jump; it’s a rush like no other. If you want to take the next step and keep the adrenaline pumping, look to get certified and licensed by your local skydiving company to do solo jumps.
Be sure to check out Skydive Lodi Parachute Center for a great skydiving experience!
Hours: Mon-Sun 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Call: +1 209-369-1128
Photos: Jerry Leon
Got any tips about skydiving? Let us know in the comments below!