Falling, for You
by Alex Knight
“Birds do it, bees do it… let’s fall in love… ”
What does this catchy Cole Porter tune have to do with skydiving? Adventurous individuals from 18 years of age to 70 and beyond are ‘flying’ through the air with the aid of a parachute, and falling in love with it. Everyone I spoke with, regardless of his or her age, agreed on one thing, ‘it’s like nothing else.’ When asked if they would do it again, first time skydivers answered with a unanimous, resounding ‘yes!’
If you think skydiving is a modern sport, it might surprise you to learn that in 852, Armen Firman performed one of the first recorded ‘parachute’ jumps in history. Armen attempted to fly off a tower in Cordoba using a cloak on a wooden frame. And, in the late 1400s, Leonardo Da Vinci designed a pyramid shaped parachute that had features similar to those used in modern day parachutes.
Man’s fascination with parachutes continued and before they jumped from airplanes, men used parachutes to jump from towers and hot air balloons. Jean Pierre Blanchard, a famous balloonist, made several parachute tests involving animals and his own dog in the late 1700s, before he himself jumped. Jean Pierre also made the first foldable, silk parachute.
Eventually parachutes evolved from round to the rectangular, canopy style used today. Parachutes are now available in a variety of sizes and colors; making the visual experience doubly enjoyable for those of us on the ground.
What makes them jump? According to several members of Ontario Canada’s only skydiving club, Skydive SWOOP (SOUTH WESTERN ONTARIO ORGANIZATION of PARACHUTISTS), it’s that feeling of freedom as they float through the air.
“It’s a calm, peaceful feeling, very surreal,” said James M., a Tandem Instructor and Videographer, who has over 650 jumps to his credit.
Andrew W. agrees and says it’s 100% freedom. When asked what he would say to inspire others to jump, Andrew offered the following, “Many people say that they have skydiving on their bucket list. Don’t wait until it’s too late.” Certain that you’ll enjoy it; he doesn’t think you should wait and waste all those years you could have been jumping.
“Follow your dream.” That bit of sage advice comes from Harvey T., an instructor. Harvey dreamed of flying when he was a young child, as do most children. Unlike most children, he found a way to follow his dream by skydiving. A few minutes into a conversation, you quickly learn that Harvey certainly knows what he’s talking about. He has approximately 5,300 jumps to his credit and holds two World Records for Sequential Formation (performing multiple formations.) The first record was completed with 129 skydivers and the second with 139.
Harvey states that one of his most prized possessions is a framed photograph of him stepping out of the plane for his first jump. Harvey not-quite-jokingly admitted that should the worst ever happen, after making sure that his wife and cat were safe, the only reason he would re-enter their home would be to rescue that photo.
If you wonder what Harvey’s wife, Janet thinks about skydiving, she prefers to be grounded these days. However, that wasn’t always the case; Janet has over 1,100 jumps behind her. In fact, Harvey and Janet were married in a DC3. Harvey wore a tuxedo and Janet a cream-colored silk jumpsuit. After the vows were exchanged the bride and groom, along with a wedding party of approximately 20 other skydivers jumped out of the aircraft to form a diamond ring, in a maneuver known as relative work. (Aerial maneuvers by two or more freefalling skydivers, with each other, usually to form geometric patterns – also referred to as Formation Skydiving.)
Alexis W., a young woman with nine jumps to her credit, offers the following, “Every jump is a new experience when you are starting out. I enjoy the freefall more than anything else. Once you’re out of the plane flying through the sky, you’re experiencing something that few people will ever understand.”
Who jumps? According to recent membership statistics from USPA (The United States Parachute Association), approximately 13.2% of their members are female. This percentage has varied from 13% to 15.1% over a period of 12 years.
Regardless of which Country you reside in, there are rules and regulations regarding skydiving. Equipment goes through several safety checks, both on the ground and in the air.
After a brief lesson, you can do a tandem jump. A harness connects you to an experienced Tandem Master, who does all the work while you enjoy that feeling of floating on air. Be sure to keep your eyes wide open; the view will be amazing!
There is also the option of an Instructor-Assisted Deployment. As you make your initial jump, the Instructor releases your pilot parachute, which in turn releases the main parachute.
Whichever method you feel is right for you; remember that you are in the hands of professionals who are responsible for your safety as well as their own. If they feel that safety is at risk, they will call off a jump. The phrase I heard repeatedly was, “Safety first!”
Whether you want to be a history-maker like Bill Cole (the 2nd person in history to make a chuteless jump, which he did twice – a parachute was handed over to him, while he was in free fall), or Felix Baumgartner (who broke the sound barrier by jumping a record 128,000 feet), it all starts with that first jump.
When you’re ready to take that first step, contact one of the following websites for more information:
http://www.swoop.on.ca/ Southwestern Ontario (Canada)
http://www.uspa.org/ United States
An Internet search for a ‘parachute association’ will provide links to associations in other countries.
Thanks go out to Skydive SWOOP and its members for their generous hospitality.