So, let’s start at the very beginning. How does one go about becoming a skydiver and jumping all by oneself? It begins with an AFF course.
AFF (Accelerated Free Fall) is a program designed to teach you in baby steps the fundamentals you need to prep for jump, exit the plane, remain aware of altitude, free fall in a stable position, do very basic maneuvers, deploy from a stable position at the right time, assess and react to an emergency, fly your canopy, and land safely. You learn these skills (and a few more I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention) over a series of 7 specific jumps with an instructor (or two) beside you and coaching you every step of the way.
But first, before you ever jump, you train. AFF students first take a course (taught by a certified jump master and badass) in which you spend 6-8 hours learning all the fundamentals of the sport and equipment and emergencies. And it’s pretty flippin’ intense to learn all that crammed into 6 hours, because you kinda gotta KNOW this stuff or risk bouncing, and that’s BAD kids. So take ground school seriously. It’s there for a reason.
Then after they explain everything, they show you. They show you videos. they show you pictures of various malfunctions. They show you all the equipment in great detail. They put you in a harness and flash pictures at you of possible canopies and ask you to react to the scenario. You practice the belly down free fall position. You practice exiting the plane in a mock up. You physically practice everything before anyone will clear your punk ass to go on up and try it for real. And that’s a good thing.
I had the privilege of taking ground school twice. The first time I sat the class, after the classroom and practical training I was unable to jump because of high winds. All weekend I sat in the drop zone and watched other jumpers go up and come down, and I sat in the hangar with the veteran jumpers who had the same idea as my DZO: the winds were iffy, so why risk it. (Note to newbies: you can always tell what the smartest thing to do is by seeing what the veterans do. They live to jump another day for a reason. Take an opportunity like this as a good time to hang around and pick the brains of those much wiser than you. It’s kinda a good time. Some of them are even hotties. Grin.)
After a second straight weekend of being grounded due to winds and weather, I hit upon a clear and un-windy day but at that point I needed a refresher. So I did another two hours of review with another instructor and frankly, it was pretty cool. He taught a few things differently than the first guy. It wasn’t that the information was different, I just understood things better in some cases. Maybe it was just the repetition. Either way, it was worth it.
Skydiving is a sport in which you pretty much can never learn enough. Almost everybody I talk to, from newbies like myself to serious veterans with more than 10,000 jumps, all say the same thing: Learn something every time. Have fun. Relax. Slow is fast. Don’t get cocky. Be a sponge.
So, to be crystal clear: I’m going to tell you all the juicy details of my experiences and what I learned or am learning. BUT please remember – I don’t really know shit. I’m pretty damn new to this sport. I am only one source and definitely NOT an authority. Please always, always consult with and refer to your local jump masters and AFF instructors.
Next post, I’ll tell you how I failed to pass my first jump. (Rut, roh.)