With no training at all, skydiving could be considered as kind of risky. However – with just a small amount of the appropriate information and some practice on the ground beforehand – going to jump is perfectly sensible and everyone should do it. There are a few things it will help you to know before embarking on your very first jump, such as how the day will go or what to remember to bring with you to the dropzone – but people are often primarily wondering about exactly what it is they actually have to do on the first go.
Let’s focus here on what your role is on your very first jump…
The tandem skydiving process has been refined over many decades to be very efficient and to make jumping from an aircraft accessible to very nearly everyone. Tandem students are referred to and treated as ‘students’ rather than ‘passengers’ for a good reason – we want people to become skydivers and your learning starts now.
During a tandem briefing, you are given the most basic level of information required to go and jump – but always there is more available to you from the second you turn up at the dropzone. Your tandem instructor will very happily talk your ears off about anything that pops into your head about skydiving – it is why they do what they do. Sure, they have probably answered the same questions a lot of times before but will gladly do so again. Tandem instructors often state that introducing people to their world is hugely rewarding. Remember – there is no such thing a dumb question, in fact, the seemingly more wacky and obscure questions often turn out to be really good ones. Speak up!
The briefing will likely happen as a group, but during the jump, you get a whole instructor to yourself, who will walk you through every step of the way.
Learning to be a skydiver is about sponging up as much information as possible. The Accelerated Freefall (AFF) program is very well designed to give you the right information in the right order, and enough of it but not too much. The rest of the time it is up to you to dive into connecting with the various aspects and disciplines in the sport.
For your first jump, you will have two instructors with you in the air. Their job is to help out if you need it with stability via their grips on you or some hand signals – but if you do things correctly they are basically just along for the ride. After you have deployed your parachute you are on your own, but the same rules apply – your instructor will be able to speak to you over the radio but if you are doing things correctly they will stay quiet. You will have been trained in all the correct procedures. If you require a little guidance you will get it. If you are all good then, well – you are all good.
For both tandem skydiving and starting on the path to becoming licensed some of the most important information you will definitely be given is to do with your body position for freefall. Arching your body from the hips creates a nice stable platform for freefall on which to develop your skills. Think of shuttlecock and how it always turns to fall with the round bit going towards the ground. This is what arching does.
For a tandem student, a good arch means the instructor does not have to do anything much during freefall. An unstable student means the instructor has to work some to ensure a smooth and enjoyable ride. For solo skydiving, a good arch and stable neutral body position is a very important goal before any other progression will be allowed. You can only learn to move around once you know how to stay still.
Above all else, landing successfully in the right place and in the right way is key. All the other intentions and goals you might have for the jump are secondary to simply performing a skydive and a landing. If you have fun (you will) then great. If you learn something (you probably will), even greater.
When jumping tandem, your instructor will be the one steering to the landing area (they might let you have a go while still up high though). Your job is to pick your legs up high out in front so as a pair you can slide in on your bums. Super easy! If you are landing a parachute on your own for the first time then you are in control of where you will touch down. Your goal will, of course, be to land standing up and make it look all graceful, but remember – everyone falls over sooner or later and it is an important part of the fun.
It is easy to wish that you were not a newbie. Whether you are a new tandem student or already embarking on becoming a full licensed jumper, it is important to remember to never feel awkward or uncomfortable about being at the beginning. All the godlike creatures swaggering around on the dropzone were once exactly where you are now and are generally thrilled to get you involved. If you ask around, you will very likely find that the start of their aerial careers is considered by many to be their very best experiences in the sport. Skydiving stays great forever, but few things are as sweet as that very first jump.
There are many, many things to learn across a skydiving career – and it is important to embrace that in a lot of ways you will always be a student. This is just one of the reasons that jumping out of airplanes is so awesome. Get involved!