There is plenty to think about as a new jumper. The world of skydiving opens up once you earn your A License, and your life really is in your hands. One of the most fun things about having your license is the ability to travel to new dropzones and attend events with other licensed jumpers. Of course, this adds new issues to consider than you may be used to.
The Freefall University Skydiving School aims to turn students into competent, safe skydivers who enjoy long careers in the sport. Part of doing that is providing mentoring long after a jumper has a license in hand. This article contains advice and reminders for new jumpers considering traveling to jump somewhere new or attend one of the many awesome events this season.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT A NEW DROPZONE
Your first time away from "home" and the familiar equipment, people, planes, gear and landing area you're used to can seem stressful. Don't be too intimidated! It is a great chance to meet new people and learn more about skydiving. Accept that there will be a bit of a learning curve, prepare to have fun, and trust in the skills and knowledge that you have acquired in your training.
Traveling to a new drop zone where no one knows you means you will need to show proof that you have been properly trained and licensed as a skydiver, so remember to bring your A-license card and your log book. If you are bringing your own gear, you will need to have it with you at check-in. You'll be asked to fill out a waiver, receive a gear check (including your reserve data card) and show proof with your logbook that you are current.
ASK FOR A BRIEFING
Take some time to acquaint yourself with the dropzone. Ask for a briefing when you fill out your waiver. The dropzone should provide a staff member or instructor to give you the lay of the land and event-specific areas you need to know about. Be sure you learn about landing areas, landing patterns, recommended outs, procedures for landing off the airport, exit order, canopy traffic, aircraft procedures, where/how to manifest and more. All of these things could be done slightly differently than you learned at home. Before you jump, it is your responsibility to know the rules and the information you'll need to keep yourself and fellow jumpers safe.
Ask to see an overhead picture of the dropzone and the landing area so that you have an idea what to look for on that first skydive at the new place. Ask an instructor or fun jumper to point out some easy-to-spot landmarks you'll be able to see under canopy. This is also a good time to note the obstacles and possible alternate landing areas. The more you know before you make a skydive, the more you'll be able to just relax and have fun during the jumps.
Some dropzones use wind socks, some use flags and some use a tetrahedron to determine wind direction. Be sure you understand how each of these tell you which way the wind is blowing, especially if it's a different indicator than you're used to. Dropzones have different rules about how they determine landing directions and some even have specific rules about which directions you are allowed to land in certain landing areas. Be sure to check the ground winds and uppers, just like you would at your home dropzone so you can know what to expect under canopy and plan your pattern accordingly.TIP: Don't rush to the plane. Spend some time watching a few loads land to get more familiar with how people are flying that day. If you have any questions, ask manifest for help. There are no stupid questions when it comes to understanding a new dropzone's procedures.
If you're bringing your own gear to the boogie, make sure your reserve is in date (and will be for the entire length of the boogie) and that you have extra rubber bands, closing loops and pull-up cords handy. Every dropzone does not have a gear store or rigging loft on-site, so these things may not be readily available for purchase. You learned to do thorough gear checks, so don't forget that they are just as important when you are in a completely new environment.
If you plan to rent or use demo gear there, be sure to call ahead and check on availability for gear in the size you need. The last thing you want is to show up at an event and have to wait hours and hours for that one rental rig to free up. It's important to note that many drop zones don't have the same quality of rental gear that you may be used to. An appropriate harness size may not be available for the size canopies you need. Do not sacrifice your safety, no event is more important than having gear that fits and canopies that are safe to fly. Give any rental rig your best gear check and try it on before you pay the rental fee.TIP: If you're attending a larger event, ask if manufacturers will be on site with demo gear for you to try. Visit the vendors' row and ask lots of questions! These representatives are very knowledgeable about skydiving equipment and want to put you in the air to try out their products. If a certain piece of equipment is unfamiliar to you, be sure you get a thorough briefing about it before you jump it or attempt to pack it. At some boogies, you may even be able to demo a reserve canopy packed as a main. This is a great opportunity if you are curious about how your reserve flies and lands...and you don't need to have a cutaway to do it!
UNDERSTAND NEW AIRCRAFT
Many events will offer you the opportunity to log new aircraft. Helicopters, tailgates and even balloons may be options. Remember that you'll need to be B-licensed to jump out of specialty aircraft like helicopters and balloons, but the A-license should suffice for everything else. If you're jumping from an aircraft you're unfamiliar with, be sure to ask about loading and exit procedures, how to work the door, where the seatbelts are and where you can put your hands and feet on climbout. It is always okay to say you don't know how to do something and to ask for help. Pay attention to what the loaders and more experienced folks may have to tell you.TIP: Different dropzones may have different rules about the altitude it's okay to remove your seatbelt, helmet, or open the door for the climb. If the rules aren't posted in the plane, ask someone else on the load before takeoff.
Multiple planes in the air or more licensed jumpers on a load than during typical student operations also means lots of canopies in the air simultaneously. Be prepared to be sharing the sky and landing area with more people than you are used to, especially if you learned at a dropzone that doesn't regularly operate aircraft with more than 4-6 people in it.
Busy events may have multiple jump runs at the same time and stagger them to reduce the chance of in-air collisions. If you know that is the case, be sure to be extra cautious under canopy and fly a predictable pattern to your landing area. This also means that you should NOT be opening higher than about 4000 feet, to avoid having the next planeload of skydivers open right on top of you. Ask manifest what maximum opening altitude is and respect it! In some situations, it is not safer to open higher.
Many large events take place on larger airports with big landing areas, so choose a less congested spot to land if you are at all nervous about traffic. You may have a longer walk back to the packing area, but it's better than finding yourself in a tight situation closer to the hangar. Also, if you are jumping a helicopter or balloon, expect to land somewhere other than the main landing area and plan ahead before you exit.
TIP: You may want to jump with your phone while you get used to a new airport. Be sure you have a secure, zipped pocket to keep it in. Put the dropzone's phone number in your contacts list. Different dropzones have different procedures about locating jumpers who land off, and during busy events it can be hard to tell from the ground that someone didn't make it back to the landing area. Don't be left alone and lost with no way to ask for help.
Jumping with a load organizer at a new dropzone is a great way to meet people. Just because you don't know other people doesn't mean you have to jump alone. Many events have free organizing available to jumpers of all disciplines and skill levels. Take advantage of it to get on some challenging skydives. Be honest about your experience and skill level when talking to the organizers. This will allow them to plan a skydive that will not only be successful for the group, but to assign a slot that can be fun and low-stress for you.
Thinking of trying a new discipline? Freeflying? Wingsuiting? CRW? Talk to the experts and keep the skydives small and simple while you are learning. There may even be free coaching available, so ask at manifest for a list of coaches and organizers.
TIP: All dropzones do not regularly schedule load organizers when special events aren't happening. If you can't find a load organizer, ask manifest to help introduce you to another experienced jumper who can help you get into a group.
The term "boogie" just means "skydiving party." When the sun has gone down and the beer light comes on, it's time to party! For many boogie-goers, the party is just as important as the jumps, and many boogies have built their reputations on the parties that keep people coming back year after year. Enjoy this time to hang out with your friends, meet new skydivers, and hear great stories.
When you're partying hard, remember that you may also want to jump again the following day and consider using the same rule pilots use regarding alcohol: minimum 8 hours, bottle to throttle. A hangover might not seem like that big of a deal, but skydiving with a hangover is not the wisest thing to do. Despite what you may think about how well you can handle your booze (or other party favors), your reaction times and decision-making abilities will be affected in a negative way, especially when altitude is added to the mix. And while you yourself may be sober as a judge, think twice about jumping with that guy you saw who was still partying when the sun came up. Learning to balance the after-hours fun and the daylight fun is all part of the boogie experience...so be safe and smart!
So there you have it, some friendly advice from instructors at Chicagoland Skydiving Center. Stay safe out there in your travels, and don't be afraid to call or message us if you're a new jumper with questions about attending one of our events or visiting our dropzone. Mostly importantly, have fun! Enjoy this wonderful sport and all the interesting people and places that are part of it.