The 5 Things Every New Skydiver Must Know (But No One Will Tell You)

What I Wish I Knew About Skydiving at the Beginning

In the plane at Langar
The author in the plane at the Langar dropzone. Image by Joel Strickland, varialfreefly.com

It's not easy to be a new skydiver, with your A-license stamp ink still drying in your logbook and your skydiving identity still as blank as the rest of the pages. It's a vulnerable moment.

I want to help.

This is a list of five things I wish I'd been told right at the beginning, in the acute aloneness of those first solo jumps, as I was at the crossroads of wanting so badly to be a skydiver and, sometimes, wanting so badly not to have to skydive to do it.

That contradictory, profoundly conflicted moment is shared by most new skydivers, whether or not they admit it. If you want to continue on this incredible journey of human flight, you'll need to move past it. The good news is that you can.

#1. Learning to skydive will take time.

You'll land poorly in front of people you really want to impress. You'll land outside the drop zone and have to be trundled back in a beat-up pickup truck by a staff member who may or may not be smiling. Your perfect aircraft exits will be maddeningly interspersed with miserable ones. You'll be horrified at how slowly you're "getting it." You'll be inexplicably terrified some days, waking up in the bunkhouse in a cloud of AV gas fumes and dread.

You'll feel boring. You'll feel clumsy. You'll feel gut-wrenchingly uncool.

There is only one thing it's not okay to feel: hopeless. This will get better. The fun is coming. Each time you step on the plane, you're closer to the inevitable awesomeness.

Relish every little victory. Try to remember the tiny, brilliant details of those victories when you're sitting in a corner with ice on your ankle.

#2. Choose skydiving.

Every day at the drop zone (and you must get to the DZ as often as you can, long before it's fun), your choice is clear:

A. to take a deep breath, do the gear checks and get on the plane, or
B. to join the ranks of ex-skydivers

Each day you let your fear push you away from the jump is a step closer to choice B. The statistics speak clearly, describing startlingly high numbers of people who only make a couple dozen skydives before fading out of the sport.

Seemingly thousands of chores and errands and financial obligations and social engagements will clamor to give your fear the "logical" foothold it craves. Your friends and family may, intentionally or unintentionally, surprise you with guilt trips. (Just remember: the word "selfish" can be viewed from many different perspectives.) A grim parade of skydiving accident videos and tragic news stories will find their way to your social network wall at the most inopportune times. Your own malfunctions will profoundly spook you. Your AFF buddies will call you from the hospital.

Don't allow negative thoughts to take root. Let excuses sail over and past you. Choose skydiving, over and over and over, until the fun takes hold.

Don't worry. It will take hold.

#3. Gather your tools.

There's a good chance you'll need a helping hand to pull you into the mental (and spiritual) "zone." I know a skydiver who chews a special flavor of gum when manifest announces that her load is on a 15-minute call.

I know another jumper who always eats the same ritualized breakfast on a morning he intends to jump. For you, maybe the trick will be a certain scent, a recited poem or a lucky pair of socks.

Whatever it is, find it. And use it.

#4. Be the smart one.

It's tempting, especially at the beginning, to focus your efforts on refining freefall skills. Try not to fall into that trap. Right now, your energies are stretched uniquely thin; use them to learn about the canopy that gets you safely to the ground. Work tirelessly on your accuracy, refine your inputs and put your "gear-fear" to rest. Do this now, while you're first building your physical responses to the sport. Don't be one of the ranks of 500+-jump skydivers who can fly a head-down formation but still hate piloting their canopies.

  • Canopy control courses help. If you have the cash, or if you're especially shy, private canopy coaching helps even more.
  • Ask questions. (Experienced skydivers love answering questions.) Evaluate the answers carefully, always considering the source.
  • Don't let anyone pressure you to do something you're not comfortable with. If your gut tells you to stop, always stop. Teach yourself to recognize the difference between pride and confidence.
  • Before the point of no return, always ask yourself one question: "Would a smart person do this?" If the answer is no, pause and reevaluate your plan.

#5. Tell everyone you're a skydiver.

Wear your new identity on your sleeve. Not only does it feel wonderful to say the words -- it'll keep you accountable.