WHY SKYDIVE? JOE POPP TELLS HIS STORY

Saturday, November 1, 2014

1. Tell us about your very first skydive. Why did you decide to jump?

I just turned 18 and loved everything fast and exciting. I raced motocross, liked to go wakeboarding, skiing, and snowboarding, ride quads. anything to go fast and have fun. Skydiving had always been something i wanted to add to that list. The idea of falling from a plane and the fact that no one, except for my cousin, that i knew had done it. I drug my buddy Nathan along to go with me and Sean Kennedy as the photographer. I decided to do the static line because i didn’t have enough money to do the AFF first jump and still wanted to fly the canopy. After the 8 hour class and a cloudy morning we were strapping on our rigs and doing final safety checks and going over the flight plan. It was a calm hot sunset type of day and everything went perfect. I jumped and the static line opened my canopy and did a couple practice flared and 180 degree turns. Good canopy above me i grabbed the toggles and hit my checkpoints. I landed standing in place and was way too excited.

2. Did you know immediately after your first jump that you wanted to continue jumping, or did it take a while before the urge to become a solo skydiver took root?

I knew as soon as I landed that i needed to get back in the air as soon as possible. I had 3 other jumps at a much lesser cost and signed up right away dreading when they were gone I was in high school with less than a skydivers income and the wrong choice of DZ didn’t lend many options for working my way to more jumps. I then waited until I found out my buddy Sean had won a free jump at WSC. I was hesitant to try a new DZ because I knew the other place had gotten me safely to earth. I then saved and signed up for my first AFF class.

3. What do you remember most clearly about your first solo AFF jump?

Time stood still. Well as much as it will well you’re flying at 120 miles per hour. All the previous jumps had so many maneuvers to accomplish and things to remember. I remember jumping and coming off the hill and taking a deep breath and just feeling relaxed and at peace. I checked my altimeter and noticed 11,500 ft. I reset and went limp and enjoyed the view. It was a sunny hazy day and there was a wierd smell of burnt plastic. I then checked my altitude, 10,500 ft. I remember thinking “Holy cow, this is boring.” I was beside myself checking my altitude all too often and noticing 500 to 750 ft. changes over what felt like an entire skydive. It was the most relaxed I felt in the class so far. I then FINALLY hit 6,000ft and tracked perpendicular to jump run, waved off, and deployed. I then proceeded to follow my pattern and and did my first unassisted landing! Time drags on your first solo and I found i was not the only one to notice this.

4. The sport of skydiving can be very demanding on your mind, body, and, let’s be honest, personal life. What’s been the biggest challenge for you on your journey so far?

Balancing time with friends and family on the weekends. You make time for them, but you want to be jumping. Mentally when in AFF your mind is focused on the tasks at hand and if you mess up, say pull low and get a more than deserved Bo talk, it actually feels like your world is over. This is a sport that is very dangerous if not treated with respect and you hold YOUR life in YOUR hands each and every jump.This is one of the few moments in life you take your life in your hands and determine your outcome. Mentally this can be a taxing concept. I went two weeks feeling like i failed because i pulled 750 ft. too low. When starting you will notice you are sore and if you get a hard opening, maybe a little more. With all this said mentally, always having to do it right and win, i would say at times it was the hardest to get myself out of an off day and refocus on the positives. The AFF program has taught me how to better manage my mind and feelings, however. It wasn’t something that just happened, I had to work at it.

5. How do your family and friends feel about your decision to become a skydiver?

My friends thought i was awesome for doing it and my family worries but respects my decision. They were really set at ease after watching a couple of my jumps and meeting my grade A instructor. I never tell my parents when I’m going, but I ALWAYS call when I’m finished. They are proud of me and I even convinced my buddy Sean to sell his dirtbike and follow through on the AFF class. My parents trust my judgement and my mom knows i have the skill set to safely continue the sport for years to come.

6. People tend to think of skydivers as adrenaline junkies or adventure seekers. Do you think you fit that description or are people generally surprised when they learn that you’re a skydiver?

My friends and family know i like my fair share of what society labels as “Dangerous”activities that just so happen to make me feel like I’m on top of the world. I’m not a junkie, I just enjoy living my life and the feeling that comes with it. Random people and my customers are generally shocked or think I’m crazy because they only see my professional side. So it all depends on who you are.

7. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting AFF, but can’t quite bring him/herself to commit?

Gear up and I’ll see you at the DZ! What more is there to say. Don’t live your life living in regret. There are plenty of opportunities to get into this sport and once you start, there is no other feeling like it. It’s a romance all in itself. It’s a relationship where you look forward to the downs as much as the ups. You will discover the true meaning of the universe (okay that may be a bit too far). But there’s few things and people in life that get me as amped, they know who they are, and they are the reason I am where I am, and who I am today.

8. Why did you choose Wisconsin Skydiving Center for your AFF training?

Impressing the girl, now my beautiful girlfriend, Amber. She had jumped prior to that with Charlie and was now going with our group again. As mentioned before I was nervous to try a new place. After talking with her I felt assured that the staff was friendly and this was a safe environment, I was however still hesitant, that i could have fun at. Dear lord she was right. Safety is paramount, but you also need to have a smile on or you fail your jump. (Not really, but there is some truth to that statement) I now have another family that I love dearly. Everyone is always learning and teaching and it never ends. It truly works and no one is above anyone else. This DZ truly is filled with people that have traits not found these days in society, but from a past era of respect chivalry and the occasional goofball.

9. When you’re not skydiving, how do you spend your time?

Working as a high end appliance technician, relaxing with friends and family, picking pumpkins with my better half, riding my harley, and tinkering with computers and other projects. I like to keep going and will fall asleep if I don’t keep occupied. I like to know how things work and to make broken things whole again. I like to build and create things, I enjoy the all day ride down backroads with no place in particular to be. I enjoy the small thing in life and am easily amused. Those who know me know I also have a short attention span.

10. If you could skydive anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Everywhere possible. I want to meet new people and see new places. To pick one place would be to belittle the beauty of the rest of the world that surrounds us. There are so many different places with so much to offer, it would be narrow minded to only pick one. As I was taught, look at the whole picture, your sight picture and horizon. Dubai, Italy, Sweden, Alaska, South America, Hawaii, there are so many more places to name. I’m all about the sappy in life. If it puts me in awe I need to have it.

A lady smiles while in free fall during a tandem skydive at Wisconsin Skydiving Center near Milwaukee, WI

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