Wednesday, September 19, 2007


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.