Becoming a Skydiving Instructor: What does it mean?

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Becoming a skydiving instructor… The thought alone has so many different meanings, emotions, reasons. The list can go on and on. 

Maybe you went on your first tandem skydive and you knew instantly so you signed up for a ground school THAT day to begin your journey. Or maybe you didn’t know until you went on your 500th jump. Then something shifted from just a hobby to realizing maybe you want to take on a bigger responsibility… And that’s the most important part to remind yourself when becoming an instructor: responsibility. But, that’s for a later time. Right now let’s focus on what else it means to look out of a perfectly good airplane, right before hurling yourself out of it and think to yourself, or maybe even say to your student, “Welcome to my office.” The meaning might be different than you think.

What words come to mind when you look around the dropzone and see tandem instructors, AFF instructors, even coaches working towards an instructional rating? Fun? Exhilarating? The coolest people you've ever laid eyes on? Do they look passionate, exhausted, sweaty, a little insane? All of these are probably accurate. And let me tell you, exhausted can be an understatement. The days can be long, the weather holds even longer, flying a 340 sq ft. tandem canopy with a passenger in 23+ knot winds can be the biggest mental game you’ve ever played and talking with first-time tandem students on a Saturday for eight hours can drive you a little on the crazy-eyed-wandering-in-circles side, but it is very fulfilling.

As a skydiving instructor, you’ve made the decision to open yourself up to complete strangers from around the world and to teach them to do something that goes completely against human instinct, something that requires a healthy dose of fear, a truck load of trust, raw adrenaline, and the most fun you’ve ever had all within about a 60 second time frame. And that’s just the freefall part! As an instructor you’ve decided to take a person’s life into your hands. All of their courage, excitement, and nerves and give them a part of yours in return. Showing them what skydiving really means, why we do it, how to face those fears and inviting them into a safe, supportive community. It’s pretty amazing watching someone fall in love with this sport and be a part of how it all plays out. 

Being a part of it… it’s important. It means the world to that person to have someone with the knowledge and expertise to be a beginning fragment of their sky journey. Being a guide in someone else’s dream and experience, but understanding it’s not about you - it’s about them, their time, their path and taking pride in that is just a small part of that big R-word mentioned earlier. As a skydiving instructor, you’re working with someone, usually a stranger, who has opened themselves up with absolute vulnerability and trust in you! How amazing is that? But don’t forget that it comes with a serious responsibility that can, if you let it, be overlooked, taken advantage of and forgotten. 

It all boils down to this: remember what it was like when you made your first skydive, your first AFF jump, the beginning of your own journey walking around a dropzone for the first time. All of the fear and excitement and intimidation. Thinking everyone looked really cool in those really weird swoop shorts and colorful jerseys, but not really knowing yet that it’s just a big group of nylon nerds. Remind yourself and then treat your student the way you would have liked to be treated in those moments, or hopefully better yet, the way you were treated!

We all became skydiving instructors for different reasons and let me tell you right now, it wasn’t because of the six-figure salary income or the dependable, consistent career. But I think it goes without saying, a good instructor chose this job because of one main goal: Passion. 

As a fully-rated, full-time instructor, if there is something I learned through my journey it’s to enjoy being new and fresh in the sport. I would do a lot of things to experience that first step out of an airplane again or the feeling of getting that stamp on my forehead. Take your time, learn as much as you can, find your mentors and people to look up to, be a safe skydiver and HAVE FUN! There’s no rush… But when you do make the decision to become an instructor, enjoy the ride and take it seriously, but not too seriously. You still get to skydive for a job, after all!



Haley started her skydiving journey in 2011, when her older brother gifted her first tandem jump shortly after her 18th birthday in Moab, Utah. In 2017, skydiving still wouldn't leave her thoughts, so she moved to Moab to start jumping and it's been the main theme ever since, taking her around the world. Haley is an AFF-I, Videographer and Tandem Instructor at Chicagoland Skydiving Center. Her main focus in skydiving, other than the passion for working in the sport, is freeflying and canopy work. When she's not skydiving, you can find her cooking, petting dogs and spending time outside.

Topics: Skydiving Industry, Tandem, Chicagoland Skydiving, safety, Instructor