My 6 tandem jumps were at these skydiving locations:
- Carolina Sky Sports – Louisberg, NC (1994)
- Skydive Michigan – Marshall, MI (1995 and 1997)
- Skydive Space Center – Titusville, FL (1998)
- Start Skydiving – Lebanon, OH (2007)
- Skydive Greensburg – Greensburg, IN (2010)
I can tell that in the 9 years between my jumps in 1998 and 2007, tandem skydiving has become much more popular, accessible, probably safe — and less personal.
My Skydiving Experiences Prior To 2007
The preparation for my first 4 jumps was much more extensive than the more recent 2 jumps.
All the different instructors took quite a bit of time talking with me — asking about my previous jumps, telling me about themselves, describing in detail how my jump would go, teaching me skydiving terms and techniques, and answering any questions I had.
We practiced our exit from the plane and my body posture during free fall. I was able to learn and progress through different skydiving skills including free fall turns, landmark spotting, altitude checks with my altimeter, free fall forward dive, and ripcord pull.
Yep, I got to pull the ripcord!
I also learned the importance of canopy control (or driving the parachute). My first 4 jumps had 4 canopy toggles — 2 front and 2 back. I was in charge of the front 2!! That was an awesome and frightening responsibility. We practiced how the landing would go while still in the air. You have to pull all 4 corners straight down, essentially closing the parachute like an upside down water drop. This was a lot of fun, because you kind of come to a full stop while still falling. It’s hard to describe!
The landings I had were all different — from a perfect landing on my feet to how it might feel if you jumped off a standard ladder to scooting along on my butt and finally landing on my knees. All of them were thrilling and exhilarating… and safe!
My 2 most recent jumps were very different experiences…
My 2007 Skydiving Experience Was Very Different
In Ohio (2007), I was walking to the airplane, almost in tears and ready to not jump! I was so put off by my instructor, I was questioning if I trusted him to get me safely to the ground.
He threw me into a jumpsuit and harness and told me to meet him at the plane. And that – is – it. I’m sure he didn’t know my name, and I didn’t know anything about him. After he suited me up, he was running around trying to coordinate flight times with the pilots. He gave me no instructions, asked me no questions, and he certainly didn’t teach me anything new about skydiving.
Oh, he did make sure I knew he had been the jump master for Paris Hilton when she went skydiving in Las Vegas for her birthday. And his nickname was Crash. (I’m not making this up.)
As I was walking to the plane, I seriously wanted to leave. But the friend I had with me was super-excited with her jump master, and no way was I leaving her.
Once we were flying up, he started talking and giving me instructions about the jump. Because of everything I knew from all my other jumps, I felt fairly confident and more excited. The jump was fine and fun and safe. I got to do my fun spins!.
I learned that the parachutes now have only 2 control toggles, and the instructor does all the driving. This is one way I believe tandem skydiving is a little safer, taking away the risk of people like me having any responsibility.
My Most Recent Skydiving Experience In 2010
My most recent jump (2010 in Indiana) was much like that one, but I was more prepared for it this time.
My instructor this time thought it was fun to buckle me into my harness in silence. I asked some questions:
Q: How long have you worked here?
A: “Oh, about a week.”
Q: Hmm, you’re wearing a t-shirt that says “ground staff.” How many tandem jumps have you done?
A: “As the instructor, this will be about my 10th.”
Q: No, really, how many?
A: “About 10. Really.”
As he walked away, he said to another instructor, “Hey, check her harness, okay? I’m not sure I got it all.”
The next time I saw him, was walking to the plane. He was still acting very blase about the whole thing, and not answering my questions. I stopped walking and said, “Look, I need to know a few things. I’ve done this before and I want to know how long you’ve done this and how many jumps you’ve done.” He finally told me 8 years and over 5,500 jumps.
Overall, my jump experience was ok. It was still fun and safe, and I got to make flips out of the plane! But it was very disappointing in terms of how I was treated. The environment of that drop zone was chaotic, and the instructors all appeared cocky and crass.
I was with a friend who was making his first jump, and his instructor treated him the same way as mine did. He had a great experience, and I think he was more satisfied since he had nothing to compare it to. He had a video made of his jump and has talked about going again. I asked what advice he would give to those considering a tandem skydive: “Just do it, man!”
Other Ways That Tandem Jumps Have Changed
The Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) training program for solo skydiving often includes a tandem jump as the first step. I think that’s why I was given so much more training on my earlier jumps.
It wasn’t set up that way, and I’ve always made it clear that I wasn’t planning to do the AFF training. I was given a Sport Parachutist’s log book for my first jump, which is typically used to track the student status during AFF.
I love that I have a good record of all my jumps. But now – the tandem jumps are clearly designed as a one-time jump. Drop zones are designed for volume, and the instructors are paid per jump, so the more the merrier.
Safety does not appear to have been sacrificed, but quality of experience definitely has been. I am so glad I’ve had it both ways, because I like knowing more about my death-defying experiences!
Ready to go skydiving?…
Here are some helpful tips to prepare you for your first tandem skydive.