Why do people skydive? When most people think of skydivers, they think of adrenaline junkies. They think of daredevil types with a penchant for danger, maybe even crazies with a death wish. After all, we do jump out of ‘perfectly good airplanes,’ seemingly just for the thrill of it. Well, maybe not seemingly, it is for the thrill of it. But there is so much more to skydiving. Something draws all different personalities to the sport and creates a skydiving family.
The general public sees people purposefully hurtling through the air, with nothing but a little rectangle of fabric strapped to their backs to stop them from hitting the ground at 120 mph. Throwing themselves out of the door of an airplane that’s flying along just fine, no fire, no missing wings, no red flashing lights and alarms warning of impending impact. And they don’t even look scared! They just smile and flash weird outdated 90s hand signs to each other while standing on the outside of an aircraft, miles above the earth!
What people don’t see are the bonfires at the end of the day, old skydivers sharing stories about their times past, building the sport into what it is now and learning things the hard way – so younger generations don’t have to. Fourth of July picnics, everyone bringing a dish and getting together for a family style dinner at a long table in a hangar, as the sounds of planes landing and taking off echo outside. Watching all the fireworks for miles around from the plane that night, excited calls from each person as they find a better show out a different window.
They don’t know what it feels like to be the new skydiver who wants to learn a new skill. So a seasoned jumper who has thousands of jumps and a million other things to do, puts time aside to make some free coach jumps with the newbie. Because that’s what someone else did for him when he started. When you finally reach 500 jumps and the entire drop zone comes out to throw pies in your face. All of these people who taught you how to skydive help celebrate your most recent milestone. And record it all to laugh at later, of course.
Last night’s news report doesn’t talk about the familial culture at drop zones. It isn’t talked about when people wonder why anyone would do something so unnatural to humans, at such a risk to themselves. Many drop zones are made up of extremely tightknit groups of people, bonds forged 10,000 feet above ground. They say that back in the 60s and 70s, you’d see military vets and hippies at the same drop zone, jumping together, packing together, and enjoying beers around the campfire together at night like there was nothing different between them. It’s no different today.
At WNY Skydiving, not only do our jumpers act like family, many of them are quite literally related. Matt and Jenny got married on the very same airport where we jump today. An adventurous young couple decided to incorporate tandem skydives into their big day. They now have several hundred jumps each. For their ten year anniversary, they renewed their vows at the drop zone. This time around, not only were their blood families invited, but the skydiving family they found over the years celebrated the big day with them as well. Their son is a big hit around the drop zone as well. Calvin’s Snack Stand is the premium choice for midday munchies between skydives. He even has 7 jumps himself, in utero.
Many families find their way into the sport either together or successively. Mike Maly and his wife Lisa helped coach AJ through his license. Their kids enjoy days at the drop zone, watching parachutes land and running around with other DZ kids. Brian McDonough has jumped with WNY Skydiving since the very beginning. When his son, Eamon, finally turned 18, he became a part of the family as well and is now working on learning to freefly like his dad. All of our tandem instructors have taken members of their family on tandem jumps at some point. What better way to make a drop zone feel like home than to show our real family members why we love this place so much?
Perhaps our most prominent family connection at WNY Skydiving is Tim and Kristen Allen. Tim took Kristen on one of her first tandems, and then helped get her through AFF and her student program. Our DZO met his wonderful wife through skydiving. As their relationship grew, so did the dream of opening a drop zone. Because of this, family, all kinds of family, is a huge focus at WNY Skydiving. Jumpers’ children spend the days playing games together on the ground while their parents play games two miles above. The next generation of skydivers are already forming friendships that will maybe someday follow their parents into the sky.
WNY Skydiving was founded on family, and family is what keeps us flying. Come be part of our family!