If you’re toying with the idea of dipping a toe into the sky for the first time, one thing is certain: you’re going to be shocked by your range of options. As of publication, there are 1,241 skydiving centers worldwide — a number that’s growing nearly every day — and pretty much every single one of them offers tandem rides for curious new skydivers. Known colloquially as “DZs” (short for “drop zones”), these facilities range surprisingly vastly in the amenities they offer, the comfort level of the experience and the quality of the equipment they use for the jump.
Here’s how to do your homework before you strap on your gear and head for the plane for your first time skydiving.
Skydiving is a uniquely accessible sport, especially for one so generally hailed as “extreme.” We know of blind skydivers; of skydivers missing limbs; of wheelchair-bound skydivers; of deaf skydivers. Physical limitations on the ground aren’t necessarily a dealbreaker in the sky.
That said, there are legal and equipment-related hardline rules that must be followed. First of all, no one under the age of 18 may make any kind of skydive–tandem included–in the USA. This is even true if the person’s parent or legal guardian arrives with them to the dropzone and insists that they’ll sign off on all the necessary paperwork; unfortunately, due to the laws in place, it’s not gonna happen.
Secondly, there are weight restrictions. Any equipment meant to fly through the air–parachutes included–has a weight limit above which it will not fly safely. Therefore, our tandem skydiving guests may weigh 230 pounds or less. Guests weighing over 230 pounds will be handled on a case by case basis.
A quick visit to the DZ listing maintained by the United States Parachute Association (USPA) is the first place to look when you’re trying to find a place to skydive. The USPA has been around for 70 years now–the dawn of the sport, really–and has, since the early days, set about regulating high standards for parachuting safety, regulating the licensing process, setting the bar for education and interfacing with the governmental bodies that oversee the skies. All USPA Group Member DZs (of which we are a proud member) have agreed to follow the USPA’s list of Basic Safety Requirements (BSRs).
It’s vital to call first. Skydiving is a weather- and season-contingent sport, after all, and most certainly requires a reservation.
Before you leave for the dropzone, make sure that you’ve taken a moment to read the FAQ. (It’s really, really helpful.) You should also eat a nutritious meal of moderate size, and make sure that you’re hydrated.
It’ll only be a few minutes from the time you board the plane to the time your instructor lands with you under that great big, beautiful parachute. However, you should plan for your tandem skydive to be the pinnacle of a full-day affair. Before you jump, you’ll need to receive ground-school training, wait for other “loads” and, perhaps, pause for a safety hold for wind or other weather. If you’re prepared, waiting at the DZ no big deal at all. In fact, it’s a lot of fun to hang out with the fun, very welcoming community that gathers at dropzones. (We’re biased, but we truly believe that ours is the best one!)
Is skydiving scary? Heck yes. Every first skydive is very scary. But that’s what gives it the extra oomph that makes it great. Nobody expects you to act fearless.
However, in these moments of heightened sensation, remember to enjoy yourself. That’s what you’re here for, after all! Even if you’re really nervous on the ground, chase the feeling of exhilaration. Chase it right up to altitude and out into the sky. I guarantee that, once you’re in freefall, you’ll find it.
And, for heaven’s sakes, get the video! You’re going to want to bear witness to that elated grin over and over and over again…and you’ll almost certainly want an encore performance.