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Nine Signs of Obsession

It’s been a hectic month, with two vacations and lots of travel. I’ve spent countless hours on airplanes, but sadly, not the kind you can jump out of.  The end result: I’ve only logged six jumps in the past 30 days. Bummer.

These are the signs of my increasingly obsessive behavior and its sad consequences:

1) I know exactly how many jumps I’ve accrued in the past 30 days. (Well, I guess that’s pretty normal for a newbie like me.)

2) I spent ten days in a tropical and exotic place (Okinawa, Japan) where I climbed a waterfall, camped on the beach, rode a Ferris wheel, and went snorkling, yet feel the trip was missing something because there was no sky jump. (There is no DZ on the island or I would have gone!)

3) I was yapping endlessly about skydiving to people around the world. People feigned interest. I didn’t care. I yapped away.

4) Every time I flew in a commercial plane I wanted to click my seat belt through my (non-existent) harness.

5) My dropzone friends barely recognize me. I think they might be calling me a whuffo behind my back.

6) I kept nearly driving off the road because I wanted to see all the cloud formations and then daydream about my plans to fly around them.

7) 46.3 % of my vacation photos feature cloud formations. Really.

8) I brought a copy of Parachutist with me everywhere in case there would be a good location to shoot a “I took my Parachutist to…” pic to submit for publication. (And yes, I do have some fun potential submissions.)

9) I checked this blog obsessively to see what you all were up to. Look at how we’ve grown! Awww. So sweet.

So, I’m back. My A License is complete. The DZ beckons. The Mary stories will resume.

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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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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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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.

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AFF Primer = Ground school

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.)


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Why I Do It: Mar’s Story

When it comes to skydiving, I believe there are three kinds of people.

The first kind hears the word “skydiving” and thinks: “The best. Idea. Ever!” These are people who enjoy rock climbing and rappelling upside-down, snowboarding, bungee-jumping, and eating strange foods for fun. For these people, life is a relentless Mountain Dew commercial, with all their experiences flickering by in jump cuts as they endlessly quest for the next big rush. Or so I imagine.

The second kind of person thinks skydiving sounds stupid and horrifying. This person is likely to say something like, “Why on earth would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” The idea of skydiving is entirely alien and goes against all instincts to this person.

The third kind of person has an instinctual fear of skydiving but also knows deep down that if they could find a way to break through that fear, they would really enjoy it. Hopefully. That is, if they are alive at the end.

I am the third kind of person. I have never been deeply afraid of heights, but I’ve never been real keen on heights either. When I’m pushed to an uncomfortably high place my body begins to war with my mind. My mind says “Hey, it’s alright…this is perfectly safe,” while my body enlists my stomach to climb up my throat in a futile attempt to throttle my senseless brain. The net result: nausea, vertigo, racing pulse, flop sweat…a clear message from my body that death is indeed immanent, so pretty please, with sugar on top, return to safer ground, NOW!

I went on my first skydive as a tandem student in November of 2008. I have a video and everything, which I’ll be happy to post sometime for giggles. The most surprising thing for me about my first skydive was that I never had a moment in which I was really freaked out and had to overcome the terror I described above. I was more afraid of being afraid then the actual thing, which was pretty easy peasy. But, unlike Adam, I didn’t go from one tandem to full-on addiction. I eased in.

My home drop zone is Skydive the Farm in Rockmart, Georgia. I did my first jump because my friend Sandy is married to the DZO (drop zone owner) and she’s pretty cool. So, because I was still friends with Sandy, I jumped again (another tandem) a year later. But I STILL wasn’t hooked.

This winter I went through a personal crisis. My marriage of 15 years fell apart. I was hanging in there okay emotionally and keeping busy (I have three kids. Don’t run away and think you’re too cool to hear this old chick’s story: I’m also a MILF!) with my kids and new solo life but I was freaking out deep down because, the end of a 15 year marriage is a pretty big deal. One weekend in March I went out to the drop zone just to hang out and did yet another tandem (I was starting to figure out how cool drop zone life and community can be), and Sandy started asking me when I was going to do AFF. I just shrugged, totally not getting it.

My breakthrough came about a month later, the day I broke down in sniveling tears as I realized that right now my biggest fear is being alone. While I am a fiercely independent and accomplished person, I am also very social and very much need to be connected. I had found myself in a vortex of dis-connect. My support system of 15 years had evaporated. Everything I knew about who I was, how I defined myself, had been obliterated. I felt bereft in a way that I imagine is similar to experiencing the death of a loved one. I HAD lost my loved one, my other, my soft place to land. I felt naked and vulnerable and terrified.

In that moment of realizing how raw and afraid I was of being on my own, my mind immediately jumped to the image of me, jumping alone from the door of an airplane. The idea terrified me. But with that fear was a clear knowledge that people face that fear and jump alone into the open sky on purpose, for a reason.

The outcome of being afraid and jumping anyway is something not many people can do, but when it is faced head-on, it is for many the purest form of joy. In that moment I knew that I would jump alone and I knew without a single doubt that I would not only be okay and that I would experience something so valuable to me that it couldn’t even be named.

Within two weeks I had sat my training course, spent hours in the drop zone (many of them grounded by winds too high for a novice like me), and many hours pouring over a training manual (SIM). On Sunday, May 9th, the weather cooperated and my instructors (the AFF course trains you by jumping with instructors who coach you throughout your jump with hand signals and reminders of all you have learned) went up to 14,000 feet so I could finally confront the door of the plane and see what I was made of. That was the day I became a skydiver.

The door of the plane has come to represent many important things to me. Even now, at a grand total of 25 jumps, each ride to altitude finds me in the grip of a numbing fear. My monkey brain begins to gibber that I am not capable enough, that I am not smart enough, that I am not coordinated enough, that I will look dumb, that I will fail, that I am not enough. I fight back. I breathe deeply and tell that monkey, “I can do it. I am enough!” Sometimes I believe myself and sometimes I don’t, but the most important thing is what I do next. Every single time, I keep breathing. I keep focused on the task at hand. And I keep moving.

In my profession (I am a chiropractor), movement is life. Life is movement. I keep moving. I do the next thing I have been trained to do, and the next, right up until I am in the door of the plane, looking over the most heart wrenching sight: the bluest of skies and the arch of our planet. And then, heart pounding and shaking, I remember that I am enough, I am more than the monkey voices, and I always will be, and then I keep moving until I have leaped from the plane and I am flying once again.

And oh, the flying!!! I could jabber on for ages about the thrill of flying. It is nothing like falling, or roller coasters, or anything you have ever done, except leaping from an airplane. There is nothing like it or ever will be. In the moment you leave the door, not only does the monkey voice stop, it becomes a joke. Freefall is the most perfect release and the most perfect form of “nowness” I have ever encountered. It is more than zen, more than fun, more than beauty. Flying allows me access to the place where all the BS drops away and I am left with only that which is real and good.

Skydiving has allowed me to redefine myself, to release myself, to trust myself, and to be myself in a way I haven’t in years. I have laughed harder, drank more (Oooh. That’s a story you’d love to hear soon), and made more true friends than I knew I could.

I can’t wait to share more details of my new addiction, and even more importantly I can’t wait to hear from you. All my posts won’t be this long and soul searching. Sometimes it’s just fun jumps and sunset loads and owing beer again.Speaking of which… (first post. crap).

Please post comments!

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Welcome to our newest blogger, Mary =)

So as I had mentioned the other day in one of my posts:
We’ve been looking for more people to write up their stories, opinions, reviews, and just plain fun stuff about skydiving…
Mary’s gotten the bug and hopefully will be writing the story of her addiction soon too 😀

I just wanted to welcome her to the community, and to her first post, I say: BEEEEEEEEEEEER!!!!!!!!!!!

Blue Skies!