Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Skydiving

Skydiving has always struck me as a silly sport: Flop out of a plane, fall for a bit, pull the handle. The last sentence combines arrogance, hubris and ignorance rather nicely, as I recently found out. Due to an on-going film gig I've had to learn how to skydive, it's just simpler than doing some other aerial stunts. I've done three jumps out of a plane previously (instructor holds your pilot chute, jump) and a handful of BASE jumps off a bridge. I did all of these reasonably well, so I signed up for an accelerated free-fall course with Skydive Vancouver, and naively assumed I'd kick ass at it. I was wrong. From the first trip out of the plane with an instructor on either side of me it just didn't go all that well. I simply don't like falling; I've spent my whole life NOT falling, and the rush of wind and spatial disorientation was horrendous for me. I pulled the first skydive off OK, pulled OK, but screwed the second one up pretty good. Nothing all that dangerous thanks to the instructors, but I did a lot wrong and failed the second level of AFF. I haven't "failed" at a sport in a long time, it was humbling. I spent the night thinking about the whole experience and finally decided that I needed to stop thinking I knew what I was doing and start asking more questions, start listening better, and generally get my head around a sport that I find really overwhelming. There's just something wrong about falling. Finally on my third AFF jump I managed to start flying my body, but only after I got past the rush of the wind and the general feeling of, "Oh shit, I'm about to die." I think I would have pulled after about .02 seconds without the goal of passing the AFF program--once the canopy is out I'm totally happy (learner skydive canopies are a lot easier to fly than a paraglider), but that freefall business terrified me...

It's also been a good re-education about being a novice in sport. I don't generally get all that scared flying my paraglider or climbing anymore, I know the systems and have faith in my skills. I'll be a better instructor in those sports having experienced the terror of learning something really overwhelming again. Before my third jump I spent literally hours visualizing how the wind would feel, what I needed to do FIRST, second, third, the motions in the air, etc., and had a much better jump. On the fourth jump the instructor let go of me and I fell stable, turned a bit, and had good altitude awareness throughout. I even enjoyed it a bit, starting to feel my body in the air instead of just the huge siren going off that says, "FALLING, FALLING, FALLING, DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT!"

The whole experience has also been an education for me about how I learn; I need a lot of repetition to get good at something. Usually I can "fake" the opening sequences of a new sport (stand up on surfboard in easy waves, stand up water-skiing first go), but all the sports I've learned recently play off of other sports that I know something about. Water skiing is different than normal skiing, but it's also not all that different than surfing a kayak and skiing combined. Surfing is just like standing up in my kayak while surfing. Skydiving was totally different, I couldn't "fake" it with existing sport movements, and had no mental comfort zone to operate in. In fact, many of my existing sport patterns are negative for skydiving (look at the ground while falling, keep my feet oriented toward the ground, keep my legs together like I did for years as a diver/in the air skiing, etc). Skydiving is also really short, only 30 seconds of freefall per trip at my level, which doesn't allow much time to work on skills. I need time to dial in my movements and get comfortable. I've only ever gotten any real level of skill at any sport through endless days of practice. It's hard to do that with skydiving...

I've spent some more time thinking about falling through the air and running better movies in my mind, I think I'm actually going to enjoy jumping out the door of the plane next time I go. It will be my last AFF level (they way they do it in Canada) so the instructor will huck first and I'll chase him or her out the door. I am really enjoying the instructors and scene at Skydive Vancouver, they're safe and good people, any problems with learning are due to my mind. But I'm heading back for more!

WG, not yet a skydiver.

10 comments:

J.C. Brown said...

I had the exact same experience with AFF. After 30 years of HG and PG, it just felt "wrong" to fall. I failed AFF level 3 several times and then just gave up on SD. About six monhs later, I couldn't stop thinking about skydiving, so I tried again and did OK. Now I have 301 skydives. Stick with it Will, it's so worth it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks J.C.! If someone like you takes time to sort it out that makes my feel better (you're on "on it" sorta guy). I too almost quit after blowing level 2, but the re-take and level 3 went well. Next jump is a diving exit out of the plane, that is going to be WILD!

It's good to get humbled occasionally, and feel the force of something so new and different. Arch baby, ARCH!

WG

P. James Dennedy-Frank said...

Thanks for the great post, Will. It's incredibly interesting to read a bit about your thought process as you break them down into components the new skills you are learning. It provides inspiration as I work at improving my climbing, where I'm pretty certain the biggest hurdles are mental and not physical.

Butch said...

A friend of mine once said "the brain is not your friend" while he was totally baked out of his head, at which time it seemed profound. Then it seemed retarded. Now it seems thoughtful again.

Will Gadd said...

"Fear is the mind-killer."
-Frank Herbert, Dune

"The brain is not your friend" is right up there with that, grin...

I think most of sport is mental, fun to try and figure it out, maybe what makes these sports so engaging in the long run, and even when your physical level isn't at its peak--same mental game.

WG

Pete said...

Hey Will, just dropped by as I saw you're talking at Kendal this year... I'll be working there - a yearly gig for me being a local - doh! Ah well, it's free entry! ;-)

Anyway, this was an interesting thread to happen upon - we learnt to skydive last year in Spain and I had a terrible time with it! :-( "Arch & Relax", huh, all my mind wanted to do was make my body do something about the situation, not "do nothing"... You can see it here. If you get a chance, you'll read I passed in the end - just. :-)

Catch ya later - maybe we'll grab another classic pothole in Yorkshire when you're at KMFF?

Jeffrey Farrell said...

Will, I learned last year and had a similar experience. I couldn't deal with "the hill". I found the first 5 seconds absolutely terrifying. Once I was terminal I was smiling though! Stick with it, unlike me :-)

PJG said...

Do you ever think it's just 'cause we're getting old? NOT! (Where did that come from, I haven't used that useless interjection since probably CC days.) 1st time water skiing did just happen last year. But 1st time surfing was a long, long time ago. Interesting 1st time 'flying' should have been like 1st time 'falling.' What was our precedent? Weird? Even weirder is I would have thought your (thankfully) brief flitation with BASE would have prepped you more. I have never gone thru full AFF but the two times I 'jumped' were quite a while ago. Static line 25 years ago (yikes) and assisted FF little less than 15 years ago. And some free flying work in air tunnel about 8 years ago. Both falls were uneventful, but fairly controlled and limited in terms of varibles that I controlled. But my memory of it when I was that age was it was the acceleration that turned me on the most, not being at terminal or under canopy that seemed kinda boring. Free flying was very cool and when you get to Vegas next definetly find the time to go work on some airtime. The one big varible that's fckn with you is totally absent and you can just work on tech. But really don't discount age as a varible, however slight.

Be safe,

Your main drug, I mean sports pusher.

Laura said...

Just starting my AFF after first tandem jump...

That first instant after disembarking the plane has to be one of the most ...profound moments of my life.

http://web.mac.com/ljjames/homepage/Daily_Minutiae/Entries/2007/12/10_Quite_a_weekend_of_ups_and_downs._.html

viagra online said...

Skydiving is the most awesome sport in the world, i wonder if you have more photos.