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Let’s face it: Most people don’t understand skydiving. Just thinking about it makes their heart race; makes their palms sweat; makes them sputter rash statements like “Oh my god, I could never do that.” What they’re missing in all of that is that they can do that — and, in fact, they very much should. Facing your fears head-on makes for a richer, more rewarding life; skydiving, as a measured, calculated, intelligently-accepted risk, is an enriching first step forward into a less timid life.
To get there, though, we have to name and square up to those vague-but-intense fears of skydiving. What are those fears? How do you overcome them? Here are our best bits of advice.
The first hurdle to clear is the most basic human fear of all: Fear of the unknown. From the moment you set foot through the door of the skydiving center, it’s all unfamiliar: the new environment; the skydiving equipment; the chatter of the sport skydivers around you (who will all seem to be speaking a different language than you do, full of excitement and acronyms)…and, of course, the feeling of freefall. The way the skydiving aviation system operates will be unfamiliar territory, too. (Some students we meet have never been in a plane before–or have only flown in big, commercial aircraft and never seen a small prop plane up close!)
You might instinctively know that, and you might try to pull together an education on the subject from YouTube videos. Where that strategy might work for learning languages and algebra, it falls short in skydiving to the point of uselessness. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, besides. What’s a wanna-be jumper to do?
It’s simple, if not easy: Step away from the viral videos and into an in-person learner’s mindset. When you arrive at the dropzone, don’t be shy: ask the instructor–or any experienced skydiver–your questions! Everyone on the dropzone, from the person with 200 jumps to the person with 20,000, will be more than happy to take the time to answer them.
Being worried that the parachute won’t open on your skydive is an absolutely common fear–so you’re not the first to walk that nail biting road. We’re here to tell you, however, that the statistics are overwhelmingly on the side of your healthy and oh-so-happy return to terra firma.
First, know that skydiving containers (the backpack-style harness that your instructor will be wearing and that you’re locked firmly to at multiple attachment points) carry not one, but two parachutes. If by chance the first one doesn’t work (which is a very uncommon happenstance indeed), there are emergency procedures in place to deploy the reserve parachute. Your professional tandem instructor has, of course, learned these emergency procedures and how to handle them as a solo jumper–and has gone through intensive training to reinforce them as an instructor. As a failsafe, there’s even a device installed in the container which will open the reserve parachute even if nobody takes any action to deploy it.
A lot of folks think they can’t skydive because they’re afraid of heights. We’re here to tell you that–as weird as it may sound–fear of heights doesn’t actually matter at all on a skydive.
That strange fact owes to a difference in perspective. Y’know how it feels different to look over the edge of a high-up balcony or the top of a tall ladder than it does to look out an airplane window? That’s the heart of it–your brain can’t obtain enough detail up there to start ringing the alarm bells.
On a related topic: It might also surprise you that skydiving will do nothing to directly cure your fear of heights (though skydiving will help you to healthfully address all kinds of fears in the more holistic sense of practice and confidence).
The United States Parachute Association faithfully publishes its statistics year after year, and the numbers state unequivocally that skydiving is safer than driving a car. That said, skydiving is an extreme sport, and it is dangerous. It would be a fallacy to say nothing ever goes wrong. That said, we at the Wisconsin Skydiving Center pride ourselves on our sterling safety record, which we credit to the fact that we steadfastly ensure student safety with training and rigorous adherence to FAA and USPA best-practices. Nothing matters more to us than our students’ safety, and every choice we make reflects that pledge.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of loving yourself enough to slay your fears in the interest of your best self. Fear of death is really a fear of the rapid expansion of your life once you’re willing to charge past the mental block. We know you’re brave enough; we see people demonstrate that courage every day.
Come and show us yours!
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch