Photo credit (above): Dennis Sattler
It’s not easy to be new in this sport. I know. I’ve been there. And guess what? So have all of the rest of us, from the dudemanbro whose wingsuit videos you gawk over to the tandem master who told jokes to the back of your head as you were getting ready to face that door for the first time. You’re far from alone.
If you want to continue on this journey into the heart of skydiving, you’re going to have to get past this steep uphill section when it would be far easier to turn around and roll back down to “normal life.” There are a few things I wish I’d been told right at the beginning, so here’s my best pep talk, dear friend. Pull up a chair and pour yourself a drink.
#1. You’ve Got To Give It Time.
Here’s the first thing I’ll tell you: You need to not give up.
Skydiving is an easy towel to throw in, after all, and you’ll have plenty of moments you’ll be tempted to. You’ll screw up landings and come plowing into the dirt in front of people you really wanted to impress. You’ll exit the aircraft textbook-perfectly on some jumps and embarrass yourself thoroughly on others. You’ll be inexplicably terrified some days, waking up in the bunkhouse in a cloud of AV gas fumes and dread.
You’ll feel like you’re boring the more experienced people who make the effort to jump with you. You’ll feel graceless and awkward. You’ll feel slow. You’ll feel as far as you could possibly be from “cool.”
It’s okay to feel all of those feelings. The one feeling that you should diligently keep off the menu is despair. After all: The fun is coming! With every jump, you’re moving ever closer to the moment you feel at home in the sky. Celebrate every little victory with everything you’ve got. Accept the compliments when they’re presented to you. (They’re not disingenuous.) Pay the beer fines.
#2. You’ve Got To Keep Showing Up.
The fear and the frustration are bound to come after you. Every time you let them chase you off the dropzone, you’re one step closer to walking away from the sport. Startlingly high numbers of people only make a couple dozen skydives before hanging up their A-licenses. Don’t be one of them. Be ready for the inevitable face-offs.
Fear and frustration are tricky; they hide behind “logical, responsible choices.” There are errands to be done and financial obligations to be met and important social happenings to be attended, after all, all of which stand in the way of a weekend at the dropzone. Guilt trips will likely rain down on you from family and friends who don’t understand your new obsession. Then, of course, there’ll be the skydiving accident videos folks not-so-helpfully share to your social networks; the injured friends; the near misses that get you to freshen up on your emergency procedures at the same time as they get you thinking about your choice in hobbies.
You know, in your heart, what’s a “reason” and what’s an “excuse.” You know, in your heart, what’s a brave choice and what’s a weak one. Allow the excuses to fall away from you; envision them as leaves, flowing briskly by you across a rushing river.
#3. Be The Smartest Skydiver You Know.
There’s a reason that most new skydivers focus all their time and financial resources on freefall skills. It’s freefall skills, after all, that make for the sexiest videos, n’est-ce pas? It’s freefall skills that get you on the jumps with the hometown heroes at your dropzone; that get you the biggest group hugs; that impress your Facebook friends.
I’m here to tell you it’s a trap! Try not to fall in. Right now, when you’re more overwhelmed by the basic components of a skydive than you will ever be again, you need to focus what cognitive wherewithal you have left directly on the most important part of your jump: The landing. Now is the time to get canopy coaching; to rigorously workshop your accuracy; to learn every minute idiosyncrasy of your canopy and KO your gear fear. The time to do this is now, in these early moments when you’re still actively programming the subconscious responses that might later save your femurs. The best advice: Don’t end up one of those D-licensed jumpers who can stick a slot in a world record but still semi-secretly hates the nylon overhead afterward.
#4. Be Part Of The Community.
YOU ARE WELCOME HERE. If you have to write it on your arm in Sharpie, do it. Stop worrying that everybody thinks you’re a fraud; stop worrying that you aren’t cool enough to hang around; stop worrying that they don’t really like you. They do. That love you feel is real. You’re part of the family now, and we want you here. And we really, really want you to stay.