I recently completed my A license for skydiving with the USPA (United States Parachute Organization). I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about what it takes to be a skydiver and what it means to have an A license. Skydiving isn’t something you encounter often. Unless you happen to have a local dropzone (DZ) or know some skydivers, it can seem pretty mystifying. But having sought it out on my own, I thought I’d give you some information about the course and what it takes. Having my A license now allows me to pack my own main parachute, do basic skydiving formations with others, and means I have a minimum of 25 skydives (I have 44 now). My B license is coming up real quick at 50 jumps but involves canopy control skills and in water skills. With a C license and 200 jumps you can start working towards your Instructor Rating, which upon completion would put you at a D license.
I started my skydiving journey at Skydive Mex in Playa del Carmen in April of 2016. They had recently moved their location from the Pacific side in Puerta Vallarta a few months before so I jumped on my chance once the season slowed down to start my AFF course (Accelerated Free Fall). AFF starts you off with a tandem and then gets more difficult as you go through all 8 levels (8 jumps). Once you complete the tandem jump with your AFF instructor, you progress to your own rig on jump 2 and have 2 instructors holding onto you as you exit the plane. After you pass your first 4 levels you progress down to only 1 instructor who eventually, towards the end, isn’t even holding onto you at all but flying next to you in the air. If you complete all these levels without failing (most people fail at least 1), then you are graduated from AFF and on student status, jumping by yourself and slowly ticking off other skills in the process that involve coach jumps, parachute packing, and exams. Once you get all this signed off and get to 25 skydives, BOOM you have an A license!
If you really must know, I failed level 4 by failing to locate and pull my own canopy… the first rule of skydiving and the most important rule is “always pull” so you can imagine how I felt after my instructor had to fly in when I couldn’t seem to make contact with my hand and the small golf ball I needed to pull out of the back of my rig. He pulled for me, which means I failed. He felt terrible and I remember being like, “um… honestly, I think it’s pretty important I have the confidence to do that myself, so let’s do it again!” Yea, you loose about 200+ dollars on that jump but it’s a small price to pay for your own piece of mind. After that I did have a small panic attack about locating the hackey… but I’ve gotten over that now and can reach it with ease every time.
I got through my AFF last year with Skydive Mex here in PDC but after that they lost coaches, didn’t have a plane, and had some other complications which kept me out of the air for some time. Since I was still in student status, it is necessary you jump at least once every 30 days to stay current. I went out of currency multiple times which costs you more money in the end because the DZ will ask you to do a coach jump to check your skills before they’ll let you jump solo again. Understandably so, but a huge bummer none the less. Last spring I was in Florida and found out about a DZ called Skydive Sebastian in Sebastian, so I drove there and did 2 jumps in 1 day. One of which I landed on a golf course near by due to winds that changed while we were in the air. I was safe, and no, I didn’t yell “four”! After that I went out of currency again before I jumped with Skydive San Diego and surprised my AFF Instructor, Tom, who works there. He signed me off for a coach jump and that day I learned how important it is to keep your head on a swivel around other jumpers who sometimes do unpredictable things, like fuck up the whole landing pattern and almost collide with your canopy. Another valuable lesson.
After 11 months out of the air I flew back to Skydive Sebastian last month for almost 3 weeks to complete my license. Their DZ is huge, there are hammocks, tiki bars, the local Zoo Bar next door, camping behind, an amazing family of skydivers and a great view of the Indian River inlet and the ocean while you fly. I wanted the support and encouragement from a skydiving family like that and found it with them. From the women in manifest, to the instructors with 15,000-23,000 jumps, to the packers and everyone in between, the whole community absolutely blew me away. I learned so much from these people and was at the DZ every day I could be. I cried, I laughed, I made mistakes and I had triumphs. I learned to fly smaller canopies and I learned that I could trust myself and trust my knees to run out the canopy upon landing if need be. My landings had always been my most anxious part of the whole skydive because I’ve gone through 2 knee surgeries and still have a lack of confidence in my knees and landings. I was a notorious butt sitter upon landing… I got over this while I was there.
Skydive Sebastian was the ultimate “sky fam”. I’ve been fortunate to jump at 3 DZ’s during my student status and found a community and a quality of instructors that was definitely unique. I cannot wait to continue the search and keep finding more places like this with killer people. The first weekend I was there was a “boogie” which is a festival for skydivers. It was called Splash Bash and came with slip and slides, water slides, inflatable pools, a crawfish broil, a helicopter and an accuracy competition. I stayed out of the sky mostly, that weekend, due to the high volume of jumpers and a need to play it safe, but I still had the opportunity to sit at Zoo Bar, make friends, watch the landings, and participate in general. Thank you Skydive Seb, I miss you all and I’ll be back!
So how did I know I wanted to be a skydiver? I did my first tandem skydive at Skydive Hawaii in 2014 with my father and brother who had both done them before. Upon landing I started crying uncontrollably because I was literally the happiest I’d ever been. I remember having this rush of adrenaline the whole day. At that moment, I knew I’d do it again, and I knew I was going to do it solo. It was the coolest thing, hands down. When I got back to Thailand the only DZ was in the north and I never managed to make it out. I camped across from Burning Sky, the skydiving camp at Burning Man, the last 3 years and got to talk with a lot of the jumpers deciding that at some point in my career, I’d jump out of a plane at BM. When I arrived in PDC the only skydiving company didn’t teach courses, but only tandems. So when Skydive Mex opened, I went in and signed up for my course.
Skydiving has become my favorite thing. There’s something about being up there and solving your problems in the sky. I feel like I really can “leave it all up there” and land with a clearer focus and purpose in life. I know that sounds extreme, but it’s true. People always ask, “why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” to which I reply, “there’s no such thing as a perfectly good airplane”. Or, “why would you want to fall towards the Earth that fast?” and I say, “you’re not falling, you’re flying”. We all have different things that make us feel alive, and skydiving and scuba diving and cave diving are my things. When I’m falling, nothing else matters, when I’m under water, it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the surface. It’s a way to escape the pain and the confusion of this world and remember what it feels like to truly live in the moment. These sports have taught me to trust myself. I know that I can think clearly and logically in highly stressful situations and I’m capable of problem solving my way out. Anyone that has chosen these things as passions knows what I’m talking about. For those of you that don’t, go out and find something that makes you feel this way! Please! I’m not saying it has to be extreme, but it should make you forget about life for a while.
Lastly, if you’re thinking about doing your course I have some tips for you:
1.) Make sure you have the time! Literally, you will spend more time waiting on the ground and waiting for the weather then you will jumping. For sure. So make sure you have a few weeks off to get through your license and fully commit. If you spread it out like I did, you cost yourself significantly more money. This course isn’t cheap.
2.) Find a DZ with people that make you feel comfortable and are supportive and involved throughout your whole course. A lot of DZ’s will get you through AFF and then put you on the back-burner because fun jumpers don’t make DZ’s a lot of money. Find a DZ that will see you through your A license and encourage you the whole way. Find a sky fam that makes you feel comfortable and whom you don’t feel intimidated asking questions to, even stupid ones.
3.) Cheapest doesn’t mean best. If you’re looking for cheap, you’re in the wrong sport. I’ll tell you that now. I say the same things to people asking me about “cheap” and
“good” scuba courses- they don’t exist. Typically the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You get what you pay for! This is a sport that involves high tech, expensive equipment, and airplanes, there is no such thing as cheap. Get that out of your head and pay for your own safety.
4.) Skydiving takes money. The first 8 jumps or your AFF course typically costs around 2,000 USD, then you’ll be paying about 50 USD a jump after that until you get your A license. If you plan on buying gear it’ll run you 2,500-10,000 so it definitely isn’t cheap. That’s why we always joke that skydivers have no money! You’ll want to make sure you dedicate time to the sport to stay current and safe. It is a lifestyle and a gear intensive sport. The upside is that most rigs are easy to sell if in good shape so if you have gear and skydiving won’t be a part of your life for awhile, you can always sell then buy again when you’re ready. Once you have your own gear, you pay 20-30 USD per jump.
Check out my gallery of photos and stay tuned for my first group skydive and our attempt at a train, which more closely resembled a rollercoaster!! Keep up to date on my Instagram (theramblingmermaid) for more adventures! If you’re a skydiver and have any DZ’s that hold your heart, please comment below! Also, any other skydiving stories you’d like to share, I’m always down to discuss skydiving! Thank ya’ll for reading! Blue skies!
One thought on “So, what does it take to be a skydiver?”
I am a skydiver too and I love your post! You are amazing at words!!!!!! Such a skill set you have for blogging! I agree nothing like flying!!! Absolutely nothing! I like you always look for extreme sports that allow you to enjoy the present moment . Leave problem, complicated issues and drama behind and go enjoy yourself is what I always say! You totally rock it in your gear and I’m sure you’re having a blast in the sky ! Thank you for sharing your stories and enjoy enjoy and continue to enjoy the present moment as you always have !!! You’re awesome Lauren!