Fear of Skydiving: The Straight Story

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Fear of Skydiving: The Straight Story

Fear of skydiving is a very misrepresented thing. Let me tell you why.

I’m going to write this directly from my skydiving experience. Today, I have about a thousand parachute jumps–which, as it may or may not surprise you to find out, isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a large number of jumps to have logged in nearly ten years, if you’re going by the averages I regularly see around me.

I made my first tandem skydive in 2009, in South Africa. As most skydivers do, I remember that first-time skydiving experience as clearly as if it happened last week. I didn’t really know what to expect. (How the heck could you?) But, based on that and the nothing-to-sniff-at personal history I have in the sport, I can tell you a couple of things in absolute honesty:

  • There is no such thing as someone who is not afraid of skydiving.
  • It follows that you do not have to be “unafraid of skydiving” in order to make a jump.
  • Being scared of heights has, in functional terms, nothing at all to do with any of this.

fear of skydiving | skydive san marcos

Right. So. Point number one.

Non-skydivers generally make the assumption that people who skydive are not afraid of skydiving. Mattafact: Nope. People who skydive–especially on the sport side, but also regular or semi-regular tandem skydiving students–are far from “cured” of a “skydiving fear” problem. What has actually happened is that they have, by dint of simple familiarity, attenuated the incredible sensory stimulation of skydiving to the point where they are readily able to do it.

If that sounds like a worse deal than getting entirely rid of your fear, you’re 100% wrong. What skydivers have learned to do is to use their willpower, their clear-headed approach and their know-how to face a scary situation and re-create it into a situation of exuberant joy. And that’s a lesson that brings benefits to bear in every corner of a well-lived life, n’est-ce pas?

Right, then. Point number two.

If you were truly unafraid of a first-time skydiving experience, you wouldn’t be particularly brave or particularly admirable. In fact, I would argue that you could be seen as particularly dim-witted. It takes imagination and foresight to manifest fear, and it’s only in surmounting actual fear that you can deeply experience the empowering benefits a skydive brings to bear. If you’re unafraid of skydiving, who cares if you do it? You might as well spend your money and your time doing something that actually does get you outside your comfort zone.

And, of course, there’s number three: Acrophobia.

Fear of heights happens at the top of ladders. It happens on bridges and balconies and observation decks. Fear of heights actually happens quite close to the ground. Really! From 10-, 13-, 18,000 feet above the Earth, the planet is a big, flat map with nothing to trigger your brain’s acrophobic red-alerts.

First person perspective shot from a hiker sitting at the edge of a cliff at Angel's Landing in Zion National Park.

Fear of heights on a skydive? Naw, son. The thing that actually is scary about skydiving is the fear of the unknown.

It happens when you’re looking at your feet over the edge of the plane door and you know you’re going to be out there in mere seconds. You can also expect it to happen when you have your skydiving license and you’re actually out there already, hanging on to the bar screwed to the outside of the plane. What happens now? What is this skydive–this particular, unique skydive, different from all the others–going to offer you in terms of learning and growth?

The truth is, there’s a lesson in every jump. And learning is hard. Skydiving anxiety is a perfectly normal thing to experience. I myself was white-knuckled on the plane for about 75-or-so skydives at the start. Depending on the jump, the fear still catches up with me sometimes…and I’m definitely not unusual there.

So here’s the deal, dear reader. If I had any first-time skydiving tips to share about dealing with your fear of skydiving, it would be these:

  • Let yourself be afraid.
  • Ask for help from your instructor (or, if you’re a licensed jumper, your mentors and the skydivers around you).
  • Do it anyway.

You’ll be happy you did.