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34 and counting: Part I – The Tandem

“It’s the closest you’ll ever get to God.” I guess my story begins with this quote from the movie Point Break, a film my friend and I watched incessantly and memorized line for line when we weren’t slingin’ drinks behind the bar together back in the early 90’s. In our early 20’s at the time, with an abundance of adrenaline and a deficit of good sense, we’d reaffirm our commitment to jump together one day each time we’d watch the exciting but (as I now realize) unrealistic skydiving scene from the movie. At the time, it seemed as sure to happen as the sun rising each day.

Fast forward to Fall of 2009. Guess what? Life happened. My buddy was living his and I was living mine, and our joint skydive had not occurred in either during the 16+ years since we’d gone our separate ways. The friendship was still solid and we’d usually talk several times a year, but the skydiving promise was rarely mentioned. My birthday was coming up in November, and I wanted to do a little something different for this one. After striking up a conversation with a friend at my favorite cigar bar one afternoon, the topic came up. She’d done a tandem. Twice! Absolutely loved it both times. I told her I’d always wanted to, but just never got around to it. By the time I left that evening, I was seriously considering it. As wonderful as the idea of jumping with my buddy seemed, I realized that if it hadn’t happened in over 16 years, it probably wasn’t going to, so this was something I was going to have to do on my own. Looking back, I must also admit that there may have been a bit of midlife crisis at play here too…..a small epiphany of sorts. “I’m not getting any younger. I’m in good shape for my age, and most of my friends are in a different place in life right now. Carpe Diem motherfucker. It’s now or never” I’d tell myself. So over the next week, I made peace with the fact that I may actually be able to do it. I researched the specifics and began to wonder if I really had the balls to jump out of a plane. After wrestling with myself for a bit longer, I decided that my 42nd birthday would be like no other. I was going to do it. Now….how to tell those near and dear to me! Freda, my significant other, reacted with a great deal of concern, but to her credit, never discouraged me. She explained that her concern was out of love and for my safety, but if that’s what I wanted to do, go for it. My parents both reacted in a much calmer way than I thought. My mother even stated, “Well, I always thought you’d do something like that.” My father was actually quite intrigued by the idea. I was shocked….but in a pleasant way, knowing I wouldn’t have to carry the additional burdens of disapproval of loved ones up and then down with me. So it was decided. I called Skydive The Farm in Rockmart, Ga., and set up a tandem on my birthday, a Saturday in November. I was really going to do it!

The next 5 or 6 weeks seemed to drag out. I continued reading and learning about what I was about to experience. My heart would race when I’d watch videos and think of how it must be to fall from 14000 feet. One weekend, two weeks before I was scheduled to jump, we were at a Halloween party and I mentioned what I was planning to do. A friend, upon hearing what I was planning to do, immediately said he would do it with me. I called bullshit, and he said “No really, I’m serious. I’ve always wanted to do it.” I looked at his wife, who nodded in agreement. So he committed, and we were set to do it together. Now I didn’t have to go it alone! There were daily texts between us. 10 days….6 days….3 days. Finally, it was time!

My Dad and I arrived at the DZ bright and early on the Saturday morning of my birthday. My friend and his wife met us there. Freda opted to not come and watch, but did choose to receive a phone call upon my landing safely! We were pretty much the first ones there and didn’t really know where to go, but a regular got there about the same time and directed us to the office. We walked in and found someone sleeping on the couch. Immediately the thoughts began to race through my mind. “I don’t know about this. What kind of place lets people sleep on the couch? This doesn’t look very professional to me. Is the guy sleeping going to be the one I jump with?” All sorts of other thoughts raced through my mind as I looked around. I now realize that this is just a part of life at most dropzones, but at the time it was a little unnerving when mixed with all my other thoughts and feelings. Nevertheless, things started coming to life. We read and signed the waiver forms, which as most of you know, can be quite an experience in itself. We then watched a video of what we were getting ready to do. Soon after, we were led into the hangar and given our choice of who we could jump with. They asked me first, and pointed around to a few people. One of the guys was sleeved out in tattoos, had hoop pierced ears, etc. I saw him and said “That’s my guy.” His name was Ryan…..a 23-year-old skydiving badass that completely looked the part for what I wanted to associate with my skydiving experience. We met, and he began telling me all the specifics about what to do during the skydive. We got all rigged up, took a few pictures, and it was off to the bus to head to the airport, only about 10 minutes away. It was starting to get real now!

The 10 minute ride to the airport was pretty quiet and uneventful. I asked Ryan a few questions, and while friendly enough, he wasn’t overly chatty. Others were talking, joking and whatnot. I particularly remember several people commenting on the fact that one of the other tandem instructors had recently lost a good bit of weight. “Yeah, that meth’s a helluva a drug,” he said. It was obviously a joke, and brought out a good chuckle among everyone. It was a nice way to ease the tension, but before I knew it, we were pulling up to the plane. My heart began to beat faster, my mouth got dry, and my palms got sweaty. We departed the bus and my video guy did another quick little piece before we boarded. We filed into the plane and took our seats. The pilot started the engines and the fumes filled the cabin. They were really strong… much that they had to open the door so everyone could breathe! We took off and began the climb to altitude. There was one hop ‘n’ pop, so at about 5000, the red light came on and the door slid up. When I felt that cold air and looked out into the sky, that’s when it really started to hit me. Next thing I knew, a guy took his position in the door, faced forward, and just hopped out. There one second, gone the next. Holy Shit!!! It was shockingly surreal. In my head, for the first time I was saying “What the fuck are you doing?” The video guy was filming and turned to me to get my reaction. “Hey Allan! What do think about that? Did you see that guy get sucked out of here?” I commented, and he then said “Okay, next time that door opens, it’s your turn. Skydiving baby.” So we got to 14000 and the door opened. People, and groups of people, started jumping out. We were towards the end, and my buddy went just before me. We got to the door and I looked down. It was literally breathtaking in the truest sense of the word. I have never had such clarity of life as I did at that moment. I couldn’t believe what I was about to do. Before I knew it, we rolled out of the plane doing forward flips…..two to be exact. We got belly down and stable, and the drogue was deployed. I immediately began screaming. Not a terrifying scream, but more of an “I just jumped out of a plane and am having a fuckin’ blast” scream. Dave, the video guy, appeared in front of me and extended his hand, which I grabbed. We were spinning, high-fiving, and everything else. Then, before I knew it, freefall ended as Ryan deployed the main. This is when things got really interesting.

The deployment was a bit more violent than I was expecting. Not a neck-breaker or anything, but pretty substantial nonetheless. I looked up and saw the parachute over our heads, but noticed we were spinning. I thought “Hmmm…..this doesn’t seem right.” Ryan didn’t say anything initially and I could tell he was working to try and fix something. We continued to spin. I asked “Are we cool?” He said, “We will be if I can get this worked out,” or something to that effect. Then he asked me to help him kick. I’m like “Kick how?” This isn’t something we’d covered before the jump, so I had no idea what he wanted me to do. Nevertheless, I tried to do what he asked, to no avail. He then calmly announced “Okay….we’re gonna have to chop.” Now I didn’t know exactly what “chop” meant in skydiving lingo, but I had a pretty good idea based on the root meaning of the word. The next thing I know, he says “3…2…1.” The trap door opened, and we fell for a few more seconds. I then look up and see the most beautiful fully inflated grey canopy. No spins this time either. All the lines were extending to the chute in a straight, proportional and unobstructed way. Almost immediately, he announced “Well, that was #8 for me.” I said “Let me get this straight. Did we just have a main parachute failure?” “Yep, he said. “And out of the thousands of jumps you’ve done, that’s only the 8th time you’ve had to go to reserve on a tandem?” “Yep,” he said. We came in and made a perfect slide-in landing. Dave was there to greet us with the camera. “What do think of that Allan? You got a 2 for 1! Not everybody gets one of those!” My buddy and I met, slapped high-fives and gave each other a big hug. On the walk back to the hangar, a very nice and supportive guy approached me, put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to worry about it. “It’s about a 1 in 1000 chance, but it does happen, and that’s why there are reserves,” he stated. Although things were still going at warp speed in my mind, I really appreciated such a kind and comforting gesture from a total stranger. That was when all the misconceptions and stereotypes about skydivers began to melt away in my mind. The magnitude of what had just happened didn’t really sink in for quite some time. I had waited 42 years and finally grown the balls to jump out of a plane, only to have a main chute malfunction of severe line twists that resulted in a cutaway. Un…Fucking…Believable!!!!! As I tried to absorb and make sense of it, a weird feeling came over me: the malfunction and cutaway, in a strange and sick sort of way, had only added to the experience. I couldn’t believe I was actually feeling this way about it. “I really must be certifiable,” I thought to myself. I left the dropzone that day supercharged with adrenaline and with a whirlwind of thoughts, but one thing was clear: I knew I’d be back.

The four of us left the Farm and decided to grab some lunch. As we talked about the experience, my buddy and I decided that we wanted to get licensed together. As we talked about what we’d just done, I could hardly get my beer up to my mouth without spilling it. I couldn’t believe it. I’d just survived a main malfunction, and wanted to go back for more! We agreed that we’d get through the holidays, and would start the process sometime after the first of the year. So that’s what happened. I got through the holidays, saved some money and started my journey in earnest around the end of February this year. My buddy had other priorities to pursue and opted not to do it yet. He still wants to, so we’ll see. For me, the pull was undeniable. And it continues to be just that….undeniable.

So as you may have gathered from the title of this, I’m at 34 jumps and counting. I’d planned to try and summarize everything I’ve felt and done up to this point in one writing, but as you can see ended up getting a little long-winded! For now, let me just say that this has been an incredibly defining experience for me. This will now be a multi-part memoir, so there will be plenty more thoughts and stories in the future. I hope you’ll continue the journey with me in part II, which will be coming soon. Until then, enjoy the pic of me and my buddy after our tandem.

Blue Skies my friends!!!

We did it!!!
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Adrenaline Addiction

“Adrenaline addiction is very common. Type-A personalities become addicted to their excessive activity by the stimulation and arousal of adrenaline. People who are constantly angry, fearful, guilty, or worrisome arouse their adrenaline hormone even though they may sit around doing nothing else. People who are excessive in their participation in jogging, exercise, bodybuilding, aerobics, sports, skiing, mountain climbing, car racing or flying…airplanes become addicted because of the adrenaline rush from their activity. They describe the ‘rush’ they get from their activity and feel depressed when they can’t participate for some unexpected reason.”
Bible Life Ministries: Absolute Scientific Proof Carbohydrates are Pathogenic (Disease Causing)

Yep, sounds about right..


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The agonizing truth about skydiving…

The title sounds painful doesn’t it?

It is!

The most painful thing about skydiving is

Wait for it

Keep waiting

It’s coming soon, I promise

For those of you who already are skydivers, you probably already knew what I was getting at

For those of you who aren’t

Getting annoyed yet?

Fine, I’ll tell you. The most painful and agonizing part of the sport is the fact that 95% of your time is spent waiting for something.

Waiting on the weather to improve so that you can jump.

Waiting on the plane to gas up so that the next load can board.

Waiting on your load to board so you can get up in the air.

Waiting on the plane to get into altitude so that you can open the door.

Waiting for the door to open so that people can start jumping out.

Waiting on that dude who’s spending 3 hours looking out the door for obstacles and for the “perfect spot” to jump out.

Waiting on your turn to finally jump off the plane.


Waiting to get to the right altitude to open your canape.

Waiting to get to the point where you start your landing pattern.


Waiting on the rigger to pack your parachute (If you’re lazy that is)

Waiting on the next load to go in the air.

Oh and I almost forgot
Waiting on your new gear to arrive, which is usually on back order, so you get a LONG wait.
I’ve been waiting 2 weeks so far, and I was just told that it’ll be another month at least before I get my new helmet :'(
Here’s to hoping that I get it in time for my birthday. (July 31st)



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What NOT To Do

Let’s say you’re a newbie and you are trying to learn all the things you need to know to survive your first few months of drop zone life. Skydiving is all about understanding what is expected of you and doing exactly that. Here are  a few VERY CRITICAL rules that you will not find in the SIM that will make your newbie status go more smoothly. I hope. (Please send pictures.)

1) Do not leave your log book unattended.

Why? Because an unattended/unsecured logbook is an OPEN INVITATION for f**kery. You might as well leave it with a glowing post-it note on top saying: “Please add crudely drawn pictorals of penises and random cursewords. And please try to count out the pages so you can make your maverick artwork land right on jump number 69!!! Cuz that would be wicked awesome!!!”

On a side note:  Don’t leave your logbook with me, even if you SWEAR you DID ask me if I’d watch your logbook, because I will not remember any such promise and I will find my colored markers and draw eyeballs on all the penises after I have enlisted others to help me deface your priceless property. Or maybe you LIKE my colored markers and “folk art” genitalia. In which case, leave your log books anywhere around the hangar.

2) Do not leave your camera unattended.

Guess what? Leaving your camera unattended is also an invitation for f**kery! (Dee.) And guess what you’ll have pictures of (lots and lots of pictures)? Penises, scrotums (what’s the plural of scrotum? Scroti?) and cleavage. And also, close-ups of dogs.

You can make a game of it. Once you’ve recovered your valuable equipment whose memory card is now completely filled with super high quality hangar porn and dog parts, you can spend the rest of the night drinking beer while checking your photo files against the usual suspects in the drop zone. It could be fun. You’ll know some of ’em right off. I suspect every drop zone has that Naked Guy, right?

3) Do not fall asleep in the hangar with your shoes on.

Why? Apparently wearing your shoes while sleeping is drop zone code for: Please don’t JUST f**k with me. I’d really much prefer you find a sharpie and f**k with my FACE.

Usually some alcohol is involved, so you would quite likely wake up the next morning, a little hungover and head to the Waffle House for breakfast before first load and you might not notice the giggles right away until you head to the restroom and finally notice someone has written “DOUCHE BAG” across your forehead. Except you’re not even sure what it says because you slept all night on the floor of the hangar in your shoes and you cannot read backwards just yet. So, you kinda deserve it.

4) Do not dilly dally in the door of the plane

Why? I’m not sure what terrible fate will befall you, but you’d prolly rather someone just drew on your forehead, bacause you will never be admired or respected if you cannot man up and jump your damn ass out the door when it’s your turn.

(Note: Sometimes women get a pass in this area, which is total crap. Nobody should linger in the door. Check your dang spot and jump already, bitches! Show those boys what a skybabe is made of!)

I should never have written this. Now if I pause for any reason, legitimate or otherwise, I will be scorned. Writing a blog is dangerous.

5) Do not drink Jagermeister straight from the bottle


Why? Just trust me on this one. It doesn’t end well. This is one video which will never be posted.

That is all for now. Work on those.

What unspoken rules did I miss? I’m sure there are plenty, and I’ll admit it. I’m afraid.

And also, don’t let your mom read this blog. You can just print the occasional article that might be helpful and black out the url. Got it?


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The One Where Mar “Lands Off”

A few weeks ago I took a day off work just to go skydiving. (Yes, I know that means that my addiction is completely in “full-on” mode. Especially if you had seen what a mess my house was and how much laundry and other stuff I needed to be doing instead. But I digress. Again.)

After a lengthy conversation with the pilot about how he calculates the “spot” (the place where he turns on the green light to indicate it is the right time and place to exit the plane) and how the jumper should confirm the spot, I went up on the first load of the day. The jumpers on this load are called “wind dummies” because everyone likes to watch how they land and how well the forecasted/report winds match the real experience.

As we took off and climbed to altitude, I had a conversation with Sandy about landing off (quick reminder: landing off or and off landing means you do not land in the designated landing area, but off the drop zone property) and what to do and how to get back and all this stuff and I was thinking: “Uh oh. Is this foreshadowing?” (I really did think that.) And since you’ve already been spoiled by the title: guess what happened?

Sandy and I were jumpers 3 and 4 out the door and we did some tracking coaching (my track is still a mess). I deployed at 4,500 feet and faced into the wind, toward the landing zone and looked between my feet. I was about two tenths of a mile behind the hangar and over a half a mile downwind from where I should start the downwind leg on my landing pattern.

So I held my heading and did no turns to burn altitude and began calculating. My internal calculating sounded a little like this: “Dang! I’m not moving. Be patient, Mar. Hmmm. I have lots of time. Once I get a little lower, the winds will die down and  I will start to move . I still have 3,500 feet to go. Just chill….. Crap! Crap! Be calm. Stay on heading. Umm. Okay, 3,000 feet. Lots of time…. F**k. Still in THE EXACT SAME SPOT. My friggin’ canopy is NOT penetrating at all. Steady girl. Don’t be an ass. Uhhh. 2,000 Feet. (kicking legs in futility). Why am I kicking my legs? Hans (DZO) is probably watching me. He is totally going to make fun of me. He will tease me if I land off. Hans will make EVEN MORE fun of me if I land in the woods behind the hangar tho’. Or be pissed. Stop thinking about Hans. Be calm. Any minute now I will start to move…. WHY WON’T I MOVE? Every one else is making it in! Oh look! Someone else is landing off in the field behind the woods. Yes! I’m NOT the only one! And I’m gonna make it! I’ll just do a single leg and make it in. Right? Right! RIGHT? …….  DAAAAANG! 1,000 feet. Am I moving at all???!!! (Checking) Nope. Crap! Decision time: LAAAAANDING OOOFFFFFFFF!”

So I wheeled around downwind, soared over the half mile of woods in five seconds and almost overshot the field I had picked as my alternate target. I got situated, again headed down wind and slowly sank into a field of briars/pickers, about 50 feet from the other person who had landed off. I was very glad I had my jumpsuit on because it was slide in landing.  And glad I had company.

Within five minutes Sam had arrived in the bus to pick us up. When I got back to the hangar, Hans did indeed give me some shit (he said if I had opened on heading and tracked toward the LZ in freefall I probably would have been okay), but that I made the right call given where I was and my skill set. He did know EXACTLY what I had done (including almost overshooting my second landing site. He has a freakish talent at knowing exactly what people are doing in the air, miles away from the DZ. ) and did not make me feel like an ass at all. Which was nice.

Then I packed the main and jumped my own pack job on the next available load. I figured I’d already had my drama for the day, so I might as well face the next scary thing right off.  It opened smooth as can be and soft as downy chick, so yaaay me. And I got to have  a story which involves me repetitively telling people I couldn’t “penetrate”, which is always fun.

So, I landed off. Not sure exactly what I learned except: safety before saving face is good, it’s nice to have company when you land off, the spot is always your own responsibility, not just the pilots, newbies maybe shouldn’t volunteer to be wind dummies, and track toward the drop zone if possible.

More boring than you thought, right?

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Just a quick note to…

Welcome another addict to our midst =D

I always love hearing about how people got into this. It’s interesting to see where people originally came from and how they came to try this for the first time.
Some just did it because their friends dragged them, others because they’ve always wanted to, and some just did it to simply say “I did it”.

I’m not really sure where Allan comes from, but I’m quite looking forward to hearing his story, and I just wanted to welcome him to Skydive Addiction.

Can’t wait to read about your story Allan.


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AFF Level 2-7: With Videographic Evidence

I was thinking about all these jumps and reading my SIM (Skydivers Instruction Manual) and considering/reviewing all the tiny little critical things that I learned and experienced and then all those little details just begin to swirl around and blur together and all I can remember is that I went up in the Otter  a bunch of times and jumped out and some people were with me and they were nice and fun and nobody died and I passed each level and then I was done.

I do have video of two of them, so I’ll throw them up. Maybe you’ll be able to figure out what the heck happened ‘cuz I’m not really sure anymore.


That’s Level 4 (above). I just had to do some basic maneuvers to show my ability to control and direct my body in the air. It’s so much harder than you might think. (Unless you’ve been doing this a while. Then you’ll get to laugh at me, because my attempts are pretty laughable.)


This was Level 7. This was my third jump that day and also my 38th 29th birthday and a pre-cursor to the Mar gets crazy after hours in the DZ story, which will have to wait for another time.

Immediately following my Level 7, I went up on my first solo jump which was also my first sunset load and was pretty spectacular. All in all, a great birthday!

Highlights of AFF: First jump was so empowering! Figuring out how to make my body start cooperating with my mind. The first time the instructors let go and I flew alone. Hard turns under canopy (wheeee!)! Front flips out the door! And by far my favorite; the 30 or so (and growing) new members of my “family”. I love all my newdrop zone friends.

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Skydiving Slang Glossary

All my posts so far have been lengthy stories which are generally peppered with profanities. Maybe you’re getting tired of that?

Or maybe I’m going awry simply by assuming that anyone is reading this. Helloooooo (hello, hello, hello)!? It’s possible that only Adam and Mike read this, and they only do so make sure the crazy new American blogger isn’t endangering their reputation or otherwise destroying the whole project.

(Also: Am I cursing too much? Heightened emotion makes me curse and skydiving really pushes those buttons. And also, I like to curse. It’s how I express my subversive side. Sorry. As a writer, I know I should be more of a wordsmith and find other ways to express myself. But sometimes a good f-bomb is the most pithy form of expression. It’s a crutch. I got it.)

So, to break things up from a blow by blow account of every jump I have ever made, I though I’d share a little skydiving vernacular with you. If you jump, you prolly already know all this, but you might want to use it as a training manual for friend and family who never know what the heck you’re talking about anymore.

This is only a slang glossary (and some may be slang they only use at my home drop zone for all I know) and I will give you a more technical glossary later. There are a lot of new terms and the last thing you want to be is the moron who doesn’t know the difference between a hop ‘n pop and the love sac (which kinda could be the same thing, depending on interpretation). Just don’t hop ‘n pop in the love sac, whatever you do, because that’s nasty.

Blue Skies: Blue skies is the quintessential skydiving greeting and salutation. It’s like the word “aloha” in Hawaii; it can be used both in greeting and in departure. I think of it as a benediction. It is both practical (yes, we want the skies of blue so we can jump, jump, jump) and spiritual. It is sacred phrase. Use it often and mean it.

First: If you are beginning to skydive, try to forget that you even know this word. If you utter it, you owe a case of beer. You will be tempted to utter it several times a day for while. Do not be lulled into false security. They will get you to say it. They are very tricksy and they know you are a beer bringing machine and they are very thirsty. Learn to play dumb and you might only have to bring 10-20 cases of beer in your first months rather than the 40 or so you really owe.


Veteran Skydiver: (to me as we load the bus) “Hey Mar! Wow! Great jumpsuit! How many times have you jumped it?”

Me: (moronically excited) “It’s my first jump in this one! Isn’t it great?!!!”

Veteran: “Muaaahhh hah hah hah! BEEER!!! Everyone! Look! Mar owes beer! Gotcha!”

Me: (calculating in my head) “So that’s like five cases I need to bring next weekend. Crap. I’ve never owed more than three before.”

Veteran: “Oh, really? How many times?”

Me: (getting wiser) “Uh. Nothing. Nevermind.” (I am now afraid to speak around the veterans).

In fact, come to think of it, you owe me beer for reading this post the first time. I like Stella or Leinenkugels. Thanks.


Whuffo: (alternate spelling = Wuffo) A whuffo is a derogatory word for a non-jumper. It is specifically reserved for those who don’t get it. It is derived from the classic response “What for you gonna jump out of perfectly good airplane”. Generally someone who says this to you doesn’t even deserve a response. You now know that  their narrow narrow mind cannot conceive of what we do. (This is different than those who are afraid to do what we do, or even those who really don’t want to do it, but still support us in our passions anyway.)

Here are  a few suggested responses if you ever feel like taking on a whuffo. (Remember: this is futile, but can be fun. Especially when drinking.)

Dumbass: “Why would you jump out of  a perfectly good airplane?” (when they say this, they will be preening, because they think for unknown reasons that they have said something clever or original, rather than understanding that they have just tossed off the lamest bon mot in the history of mankind after “I carried a watermelon”)

Option One

You: You have never seen our airplanes. (This is a pretty truthful response. But don’t tell my mom.)

Option Two

You: There is no such thing as a perfectly good airplane. (The philosophical approach)

Option Three

You: Because the door was open. (My favorite. You can’t argue with this one.)

100 Jump Wonder: This is a derogatory term for a new jumper who thinks they know it all. It is short hand for egotistical, self centered, cocky and pathologically clueless.

It comes up in sentences like “I also remember watching a self-proclaimed 100-jump wonder pound into the ground and break his femur, because he thought he knew more than he actually did.”

Just don’t be that guy. Or girl. At best you will be very annoying. At worst, you will bounce.

SkyGod: Don’t let this one confuse you. It is not a good thing. It means your ego has run away from you. (SkyGod is also a delightful facebook friend. Check him out. His antics amuse and inspire.)

Land off: You did not land in the designated landing area. This could happen for a variety of reasons.

1) You screwed up. You didn’t go where you were supposed to go. You weren’t paying attention. You tracked the wrong way or too far.

2) You were too far downwind of the landing zone. This can happen to students because your canopy is huge and you cannot penetrate (another nice piece of suggestive slang. Try to ignore it) and make forward momentum. If you look between your feet aloft as you head into the wind and the ground doesn’t move under you, you cannot penetrate the wind. You’re screwed.

3) You had a bad “spot”. This means when you jumped, you thought you were in a good place and you could get where you need to, but you were wrong. A bad spot is always your own fault, no matter what other jumpers did.

Outcome: You land somewhere else. You avoid power lines and trees and Farmer McNasty. You wait for someone to find you and pick you up or else you walk a long way. You probably owe beer.

Bounce: This is bad. It means you landed at a speed which literally causes you to bounce. It implies fatality. Don’t do it. You will not owe beer after this one.

Hop ‘N Pop: This means you jump out of the plane at a lower altitude and deploy your canopy as soon as you get stable, usually within a few seconds. Classic hop ‘n pop altitude as 3,500 feet. Why would you do this, you ask. It is something you must do once as part of your A license because this is how you would exit the plane in case of an emergency. Lots of high performance sport jumper (like swoopers) do this on purpose all day long because they are all about the canopy work and landing.

Hop ‘n pops often make tandem students freak out, which is pretty entertaining. It is disconcerting to watch people jump so early and then have to wait another 15 minutes for your turn. I was totally freaked when I did mine. At my drop zone, we hop and pop at 5,000 feet and it still made me very nervous, even though I had loads of time to get stable and deploy. It is a different psychological game. You think about different things.

Stupid Hurts: This is self explanatory. When you do dumb things in skydiving, you can hurt yourself. Prolly will hurt yourself. You’ll hear the phrase around. Take it seriously.

Sunset Load: This is the last load of the day, which unsurprisingly happens at sunset. This is a fun load for a number of reasons. The tandems are usually done and it’s mostly all fun jumpers and regulars. It is beautiful! Skydivers love the sky and really appreciate the beauty of a sunset. It has a more relaxed and playful atmosphere. People do interesting things like jump naked.

There is also the Sun Done Set Load, which is when the sun actually sets as you go up (due to bad timing) and then you jump in the dusk. It’s also pretty, and pretty dark. I was on this load recently (by accident). I jump in sunglasses and once you get under canopy it is waaay dark. So, you take off your glasses for the rest of the ride.

Target practice: I think this is unique to my drop zone. This means that a dog (or occasionally a child) is not where they are supposed to be and in danger of getting tagged by the DZO’s BB gun. We have an extremely dog friendly drop zone and there are usually five or more dogs wandering around on any given day. They are not allowed in the hangar because that is where we pack the chutes. My dog is golden retriever so she LOVES to go in the hangar and meet all the nice people. She also loves to swim in the pond and then wander around wetly, looking for someone to shake off near. She might as well have a bulls-eye painted on her butt. As much as she loves it there, I try to only bring her when I really need to because of a super long day or an overnight.

Love Sac: The love sac is a giant, very soft, very comfortable, bean bag thingy. It sits in the hangar all day and many naps are taken there. It is extra nice because it is so big, two to three people can fit in comfortably. The brand name is lovesac. That is not why it is referred to as the love sac though. It has earned the name “love sac” after hours. Enough said.

There. We ended on a “up” note.  (HA! I crack myself up) Hope you learned something. Let me know if there is something else you’d like me to define. If I don’t know, I’ll make it up, just like I did here.

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I passed my A license exam!

So after all that stress, the annoyance of having to read boring books, and people telling me that I had a 3 hour long exam ahead of me… I spent 2 hours answering multiple choice questions, and finally, I got my A license 😀
There were a lot of trick questions, as well as stuff that aren’t even inside the damn PIM (Parachute Instruction Manual)
But whatever, I passed, it’s over and done with, and now I begin studying for my B 😛


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AFF Level 1: Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Q: How cool am I?

A: Not so cool as I think I am. I failed Level 1.

Nobody fails AFF Level 1. (Well, some people do, but it not typical). Not type A die-hard nut-balls like me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how it went down.

As I previously mentioned, I had a long two week lag time (due to winds and weather holds) between my ground school training and my first AFF jump. All that waiting had a certain value but it also served to get me pretty jacked up (that’s a technical term for you noobs out there) and spazzy.

There were a few elements that led me to be extra spazzy. I had done all my planning and training with Sandy and Mike and now I was jumping with A and R, who I had barely met. There was a last minute decision by the DZO that put me on the load and they were holding the bus for me while a packer hurriedly packed my rig and threw it on me at the last possible moment. I ran to the bus and faked calm aplomb. (This is my go-to expression while hanging out in the drop zone. I fool no one.)

For unknown reasons, I had decided that I would be pretty good at free fall. Maybe “good” isn’t the right word. More accurately, that I wouldn’t make an ass of myself or become a target of worldwide drop zone ridicule as the first person who ever curled up in the fetal position for the duration of their jump. I knew I wouldn’t do that.

What I was pretty danged freaked about was the canopy work and landing. I was pretty sure there was a possibility I would completely misjudge the landing pattern and land off, or end up in a tree, or flare at 50 feet and hit the ground like a giant yellow brick (my student jump suit was yellow. A very bright, non-sexy, say hello to the clown girl, yellow). It was possible I could become the target of worldwide drop zone ridicule for the first human banana to ever drive herself into the ground, even with clear instructions given over a walky-talky. These are the thoughts I tormented myself with on the ride to altitude.

The AFF Level 1 dive flow (sequence) is as follows:

1) Exit plane smoothly into the relative wind and in sequence with instructors gripping you on either side (holding your leg strap and shoulder docking grip on each side).

2) Level off in belly down position (arch. relax. legs out. lather. rinse. repeat).

3) Circle of awareness (check horizon/heading, check altimeter, check reserve side instructor for signals, check main side instructor for signals).

4) Three practice touches to hacky of pilot chute with smooth counter movement of left hand.

5) Mini circles of awareness until time to wave off and deploy at 6,000 ft.

Simple, right? I’d been practicing this thing for two full weeks. Literally practicing it. Lying on my floor and going through the motions like a good good little type A dork. I was only obsessing/freaking about the landing.

It was a pretty full load on the otter, with maybe 20 people; a few tandems and the usually motley assortment of fun jumpers (hey! who you calling motley?). I was on the load with one other AFF student, Sara, who was doing her AFF Level 5. As we reached altitude (14,000 ft), we were skirting a cloud. The light turned green and everyone began exiting the plane. The tandems pushed past us to exit, which is unusual since tandems usually go last, but I didn’t really know that yet so I just waited for the signal from my instructors. Then someone closed the door and the plane started diving!

I was completely perplexed, freaked out, confused, and jacked up out of mind. WTF? We have to go back down?! Finally, an instructor told me that we couldn’t exit AFF into a cloud like that and it was raining in the cloud so we had to go below it to exit. Sara made it clear that she no longer wanted to jump on that run. Really!? I thought, she has done this four times and she doesn’t want to go. What should I do? I was still in stubborn bi-aach mode so when they turned to me to ask if I still wanted to jump I didn’t hesitate: hell yes!

In all the confusion of switching places, lurching dives and turns, final gear check and a once again open door, I only remember one moment. As I knelt in the door, one instructor on either side, my outside instructor yelled: “Are you ready to Skydive?!” I remember thinking: what the F**K am I doing! (I curse even more in my head, believe it or not). But I hollered back a “yes!” and took my position in the door. Then I jumped like the badass I am.

Except maybe not so badass, ‘cuz this is what happened:

As we exited, I lost my instructor on the left side. After a bit he came back into my line of sight in front of me. I checked for signals: none. I checked my right side instructor (thankfully still attached): no signals. “Aha! I AM a badass,” I thought moronically, “No signals. I’m a natural.

Then I checked my altitude like a good girl. Ooh getting closer. Any new signals? None. I still rock.

I look at my instructor ahead of me. He gives me the signal to pull (see above). I reach back.

All hell breaks lose.

If you recall, I have previously done four (count ’em: four!) tandem jumps. In the last three, the tandem master let me pull. I think I am very cool. In fact, I have trained myself to be really good at pulling a golf ball located well behind me. On the back of the person behind me. A whole adult person’s body behind me! This is NOT where my hacky is. Not even close. I am officially a dumbass. Let’s count the ways:

Dumbass Thing Number One: I reach for my hacky. I am scrambling at the edge of my container, probably about two feet from the loction of my actual hacky, which is right up against my butt. I am WAAAAY off.

Dumbass Thing Number Two: I suddenly realize I never did any of my three practice touches in my dive flow. Completely spaced it. In fact, the first time I have ever reached for my hacky, the thing that will save my life, is now, at approximately 5,500 feet.  I think vile things about myself.

Dumbass Thing Number Three: I recover from my self flagellation and am determined to find the flippin’ hacky. I scramble; reach and feel around. I am so determined to find it that I forget that my instructor is there to help me with this very thing. He is trying to put my hand on the hacky but I am alternating between swatting him away and gripping his altimeter in a death grip of studipidity. I am thinking (I swear to god): “I don’t want my instructor to pull for me! (which he will do if we drop too far) I want to pull it myselllllllfffffff!!!” Like a two year old. We’re at 5,000 feet.

Dumbass Thing Number Four: I find the hacky!!!! I am thrilled! I rip it out of the BOC. I wait for the lurch of inflation. I wait. There is nothing.

I look down at my right hand. I am holding the pilot chute in my right hand, right in front of me. I am officially a ginormous moron.

To explain for those who cannot understand the magnitude of my error: The pilot chute is a very small parachute with a hacky sack attached to it that you pull out of a little elastic pocket on the bottom of your rig. When it catches the wind it inflates and yanks a cord (called a bridle) which pulls the pin that holds your bag closed and releases your parachute (see appropriate use above, mid-opening). You’re trained to pull out your hacky and throw it away (like you hate it!). There is a very important reason for this. First, if you do not let it catch the wind and inflate, it cannot release your main. You need that. More importantly, holding on to the PC can cause the worst of all possible malfunctions: the horseshoe malfunction.

A horseshoe is when your chute is attached to you in more than one point of contact. The second (unintended) point of contact will keep it from inflating properly. Furthermore, it can really really injure you depending on where that second point of contact is (your neck, your arm, etc).

But that’s not even the worst of it. A horseshoe is much more tricky to recover from. Most malfunctions allow a nice clean Plan B:  cut away the bad main chute and deploy your reserve. A horseshoe cannot always released when you cut away because part of it is stuck on something, so it’s flapping all over and hurting stuff. Then, if you deploy your reserve, the reserve can easily be fouled by the first unreleased chute.

That’s bad kids. Bad.

So, by holding the pilot chute I was not only not deploying my main, but also endangering myself and everyone around me. Get it?

I am smart enough that I computed this in approximately .06 seconds as I looked at my right hand and then I threw that hacky away like I hated it after all.

And then: whooosh! Up I went. Good canopy. Good spot. Drove that bad boy canopy like nobody’s business. Stood up the landing and walked it out like a Sunday stroll.

So, I failed my Level 1. My instructors were very apologetic but understandably felt I needed to do it again and not almost kill everyone this time.

I went up next load, did it again and nailed it. They said my performance was text book perfect.

Lessons learned:

1) Do NOT hold onto the hacky. Ever.

2) Do practice touches on the ground, in the plane, in the rig you are actually going to wear.

3) Don’t forget to do your dive flow.

4) If something changes about your exit, get re-focused before you jump.

5) Just because your instructors are not giving you signals doesn’t mean you are doing everything right. (Side note: my instructor was too busy stabilizing me to give me signals during free fall because I was unstable and creating a spin he was trying to control.) Think. Review your body position mentally and check yourself.

6) If you think you are badass, remember, dumbass is just seconds away. And stupid hurts.

7) If you fuck up and don’t die: do it again and do it better the next time. Learn from your mistakes.