Sky-flyin’ Friday

***I’ve been informed that I must strive to write about something besides not writing. My blogging Sith Master has spoken.***

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I have over 500 skydives…and about 8 cutaways (what you do when your main parachute throws a temper tantrum in the air). To the people who claim that skydivers are reckless adrenaline junkies, I won’t bark at you like a junk yard dog to convince you otherwise, but I will pee in your shoes when you aren’t looking. It’s what I do.

To the average person, with their feet firmly lodged in their mortgage, white picket fence and overpopulation dreams, skydiving is seen as frivolous at the very least and downright insane at the worst. Both assessments are about as fair and reasonable as spinach-oregano cake at a kid’s birthday party, though you likely won’t get punched in the junk for offering a slice of free skydive. The truth is, skydiving is as fun and as safe as any activity that peels asses from couches and puts them more than 50ft from a television.

Me…trying to slow down for the cameraman.

Achebeyo and I met back in 2002 on a canoe trip to the outer banks. Since we were the only two people on that trip not in adult (or child) diapers, we naturally gravitated to each other and hung out extensively while camping on the island. Beginning a trend for our impending relationship, we traveled all over the island together and even discovered the herds of wild ponies…and nearly got trampled when they rallied to protect a foal from the friendly nose-kisses of my dad’s dog. This sort of adventurous outlook on life would set the pace for our leisure activities in the years to come.

Long before we met, Achebeyo had been on a tandem skydive. For those not really savvy on the terminology, that’s the kind of skydive where you are strapped to another biped with a massive parachute that can easily accommodate you both, and that person spooning you in the air controls everything on that skydive except your vomit reflex. It’s kind of like the test-drive for the sport, where you can try it out and possibly decide to make your next jump a 1-parachute 1-person jump, or you can flip the sky a trembling bird as you empty the semi-fluorescent and chunky goo from your innards. Sometimes it’s a little from column A, and a little from column B.

My buddy Barry realizing he’s fallen out of an airplane with someone on his belly.

After we had been together for a while, Achebeyo and I began to notice parachutes landing near the freeway every time we would make our way into areas of civilization with more than a well-known supermarket and a buffet or two as the main attractions. We decided that we would make an effort to find out where they were jumping from and how much it would cost to start jumping ourselves.

We ventured into an area where you’d expect to hear both the sound of banjo music and your sphincter slamming shut permanently, and found a nice little grass-strip dropzone with plenty of non-rapey, helpful people. We learned quite a bit about the sport simply talking and observing. Though the price for starting the Accelerated Free Fall course, the one that eventually leads to you becoming a licensed sky-jumpy-jumper, was a bit steep for us at the time, we vowed we’d find a way to make it happen without selling internal organs or fluids. And we did.

New skydiving student leaving the plane with her two instructors.

We pooled our resources, and with a little help from my unsuspecting father (who likely would have bought me cement shoes and a strait-jacket if he knew what the inheritance money he gave me would be used for), we began our adventures in the air.

Understand that you aren’t just slapped into clothing you wouldn’t even wear for Halloween (unless your family was being held hostage, and then you’d REALLY have to like your family), saddled with a parachute rig and shoved out an open airplane door the moment you pony up the cash. No, there’s a life-saving, but near coma-inducing, 6-7 hour classroom and equipment instruction, where you learn all about the essentials of body position, comprehensive equipment functionality, canopy (parachute) flight, altitude awareness and emergency procedures….that you will promptly forget the moment you step off the aircraft for the first time at 12,000ft. That’s why you leave the plane with two instructors locked onto you like they’re transporting Riddick across the cosmos to face temporary justice.

It’s not that you aren’t smart enough to absorb 6-7 hours worth of data for something you’ve never experienced before that will require you to save your own life. It’s the tunnel vision. Seriously. You can be the best student on the planet, someone the rest of us secretly hate (you teacher’s pet), but once you step off of that plane, everything you learned is reduced to a singularity from information overload. There’s so much to see and take in that new students tend to only see what’s right in front of their face, which hopefully includes instructor hand signals to get you to alter body position, check your wrist-mounted altimeter or deploy your main parachute NOWNOWNOW! Whether or not you pay attention in class and can apply what you learned in ground school in the air determines whether or not your instructors feel you are ready to move forward in your training, but don’t worry, they’ll deploy your parachute for you if you exhibit signs of waking air-coma.

See? They don’t leave until your inflatable wing is out and…inflating.

With a 2-way radio strapped to your chest, and turned on before you leave the plane, it’s now up to you to fly your inflatable wing to safety. The instructor on the ground gives you a few commands to follow so that he or she knows you’re paying attention, then proceeds to direct you into a safe landing pattern that will bring you in comfortably on your butt, or your feet if you’re just that good your first time, show-off. I think I gave myself a grass enema on my first jump, but nothing that required anything more than a quick brush-off. At that point, Achebeyo and I were hooked.

We completed all of our student jumps in a few weeks (we had great instructors who took the time to make sure we weren’t air-tards), and soon moved off of student status and on to exit solo-land solo jumper status. Not long after that, we passed both our written and practical tests for licensing with the United States Parachute Association (USPA), or as I like to call it License to look THAT good…in the air. We’d keep jumping together for a year or so more, until I was lured away by the dark side discipline of freeflying.

Most of what you see in movies and television for skydiving is what Achebeyo once accidentally coined as “belly-w”, or relative work (RW for acronym-nazis). It’s the kind of skydiving where you link up with others and make shapes together as you freefall; all in belly-to-earth orientation. Freeflying is the kind of skydiving that looks like badass aerial ballet…without the tights and tutus. It’s typically in feet-to-earth and head-to-earth orientation, and it’s much faster than RW. It also requires you to have much more minute awareness and control of your body positioning and movements. Back when I started skydiving, these people were the rock stars of the sport. And I’m all about being in proximity to perceived greatness. I was enthralled, but it took time to even be mediocre at it. Didn’t stop me from having a blast and making friends from all over the world.

My brother in law making me look good as the cameraman.

Me and some friends on what is known as a “zoo dive”. (Photo credit to Arvel Shults)

Achebeyo and I have traveled quite a bit, and have made some truly wonderful friends from all walks of life in our skydiving adventures. I was even fortunate enough to help plan, organize and execute an event at our home dropzone, The Raeford Parachute Center, where jumpers from all over the globe come to share air and time. We call these events boogies. They’re a concentrated serving of fun the likes of which you’d be hard pressed to find at home…or anywhere else people are rotting their brains on television and salty carbs. Heck, even the spectators seem to really enjoy sharing in the excitement and fun…from tables, chairs and bleachers, of course.

Whether or not you skydive, whether or not you even view skydiving as something other than people “jumping out of perfectly good airplanes” (which don’t exist anywhere, by the way), you’re likely to be at least a little bit social and sociable. If you ever wanted to meet a wide range of professionals and slackers alike, people from all walks and stages of life who enjoy what they do with their free time and love talking about it, go hang out at a dropzone and politely express interest at the level you are most comfortable with. People will jump (heh) at the chance to tell you all about their experiences and get your own blood pumping at the prospect of flinging yourself across the sky. And who knows, maybe you’ll get all infected with the idea that skydiving isn’t as crazy as, say, wasting away at a desk five days a week so you can afford to spend your weekends gathering tales of couch lint and bed sores to share with everyone on Monday.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Go catch the sun in the sky, like my buddy Joe.

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2 Comments on “Sky-flyin’ Friday”

  1. Meg Says:

    Good blog today!! I like this MUCH better than when you write about not writing!! Also makes me want to watch someone jump – surprise!! 😀

  2. Katie Says:

    Fantastic!!! Justin and I tandem skydived – skydove? – in Hawaii once, our reasoning being that if we ended up dying, at least we’d go out a) after an amazing week spent in paradise, and b) with a really incredible view. I LOVED it! Justin notsomuch.

    But I’ll be honest – the idea of actually doing it on my own sends me into a cold sweat. I’m officially in awe of you both!


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