So, you finish your last jump as a student and all those days of watching the more qualified skydivers jumping when you’re on the ground are at an end! You are now a qualified, ‘A’ licensed skydiver. Sweet! You are at such an exciting time, as all that lays before you will be new, exciting and challenging, usually accompanied by traditional beer fines for each ‘First’ in your skydiving career.
Let’s take a look at one of the scariest moments in our young skydiving careers, the moment you go to another drop zone for the first time. This might be a strange thought, turning up to a drop zone (DZ) where you don’t know the jumpers, the facilities, the aircraft, the people and so on. It can all add up to the idea that 'I’ll just stay at my home DZ', ‘It won’t be the same somewhere else'. But at some point, you need to step out of your comfort zone. Travelling to other DZs is part of skydiving, your personal progression, being a part of the community and becoming a grown-up skydiver.
All DZs are different but they all operate to the same end goal, providing a safe facility for you to skydive, under whichever parachuting association they are part of. There are a number of things to consider, so here are 10 points of advice…
Visit websites, do research, find videos or even chat online to the drop zone you want to visit. Contact the DZ to provide answers to any questions, especially if you don’t have your own gear. Do they have rental gear suitable for your
experience? What documentation/memberships do they require? (see, 2)
Talk to any experienced jumpers who have been there and can help you plan ahead. They can give you an idea of what to expect or even contact with skydivers there. Like anything in skydiving that you’re not 100% sure about, just ask.
This is a lesson that catches even veteran skydivers out sometimes – forgetting to have your admin in order can mean the difference between a hassle-free weekend, having to do a lot of running around, or driving home with a sulk on. Here is what you need:
Membership of your parachute association – If you’re going abroad the DZ may need you to join another parachuting association. Most DZs can sort this out for you, but it helps and shows you’ve done your homework if you get it sorted beforehand.
FAI licence – proving your current license and capabilities. If you have qualified as an ‘A’ license skydiver you should have a little red book (used to be blue), signed and endorsed by you and your qualifying parachute association.
Logbook – describing your jump numbers, currency, coached jumps, basically everything about your experience level.
Medical form – Some parachuting associations need a ‘self declaration of fitness’ or you may need a signed medical if you are over 40 in some countries. If you have any underlying medical issues, ensure your doctor signeds say that you are capable of skydiving.
Reserve repack docs – make sure your reserve is in date and you have correct documentation for your equipment. Your rig should have a packing card, confirming its last repack and detailing the rig, canopies and AAD. If you’re in the UK, you’ll also have the Record of Inspection (ROI) sheet, signed by the BPA advanced packer. When you get your rig back from a repack, immediately check that the paperwork is correct, to avoid possible hassle later.
Gear – Do you have everything you need and spares? Bungees, batteries and closing loops for example. Not all DZs supply them for free, you may have to buy them.
For your comfort and safety, a DZ brief is normally a requirement before you jump. This is to get to know the DZ layout, facilities, procedures, etc. It can also give you a familiar face to approach, as you might not know anyone, so get to know the briefing instructor, if time and group size allows.
This brief will involve an introduction to the parachute landing area (PLA). If it’s a a split landing area, with more than one place to land, you will be shown the landing zone most suited to your experience. If it’s not close and requires a bus ride out, make sure you visit, so you see the landing area for the first time from the ground, not the air. Take this opportunity to learn about the area; the surroundings are very important. Note the locations of the wind direction indicators (windsocks, windblades, tetrahedron), the landing arrow and any near-by hazards and areas to avoid for your personal safety (roads, hedges, chickens etc.). Are there any 'no-go' areas, due to unfriendly local residents (‘Farmer McNasty’)?
Take a bit of time to have a coffee and explore the DZ yourself (with respect to restricted areas); look for noticeboards of local operating procedures, landing patterns, use of cameras, tracking jumps, exit procedures, where people pack, contact details for local riggers, etc. Get a feel for the DZ.
So, what to do for your first jump? The skies will always be waiting for you, there is no rush for jump numbers so take your time and enjoy your progression during this new experience.
Rather than jumping on the very first load, it’s good to observe what you’ve just been told during your DZ brief, put in action by local jumpers. I recommend doing a solo for your first jump, allowing yourself to check out the view and become comfortable with skydiving at this new DZ in your own time. You could also opt for a 2-way coach jump or small load guided by local jumpers before progressing to a bigger group, if you’re qualified to do so. You might like to do a hop and pop, where you will have the skies to yourself and be able to have a good look around, learning your surroundings and the DZ from the air.
Would it be beneficial to manifest saying that you’d like to pull a little high? (4,000 to 5,000 feet). This gives you more time to familiarize yourself with the local area. (But consider, are the conditions suitable, you want to avoid high winds up top, so you’re not blown backwards on a large canopy.)
Turn up early and ready to be checked out in good time, or check yourself out (not all DZs have a checking out policy). Use this time to observe how it’s all organised on flight line, make your last checks like the location of the sun, in relation to the landing direction, the run in, and how the canopies of the previous load are flying. It’s quite normal to be nervous at this stage! Combat this by already having your flight plan in your head. Think about out where you will be at what altitudes; if you’re not sure, run it by one of the instructors.
Know your position in the exit, and remember we board in reverse of the exit order, so you may be first in the aircraft if you are last out. Take personal responsibility for being hooked up (seatbelt), with helmet on until the DZ’s recommended altitude (pay attention, it may be different to the altitude you’re used to). If possible observe the surrounding areas and locate stand-out features, like local towns, motorways, power stations etc, and geographical features such as forests, rivers and lakes. These help your orientation to the DZ, in case you don’t see it immediately during your all-round observations after opening.
DZs use various aircraft from piston power usually climbing to altitudes of 10,000ft in 30 mins, to twin turbine aircraft climbing super fast to 15,000ft, in 12 minutes, something you might not have experienced before. This affects your personal check procedures; know when to get them done so you’re not caught out on run in, so pay attention to altitude.
If you’ve never jumped from 15,000ft, doing a solo allows you time to have a look around, check your altitude and appreciate how much time in free fall you really get, it can feel like forever! It could also be in reverse; you might be going to a DZ with less altitude, so a lot shorter time in free fall, so to avoid going low, be aware of your altitude.
As advised, having informed manifest and the jumpmaster beforehand, pull higher than usual, allowing extra time to get your bearings. Do your all-round observations, be in control and really use all that pre-planning and preparation on the ground and in the aircraft, putting your flight plan into action. Take your time and get a good appreciation for the dz, assessing drift, altering your flight plan accordingly and enjoying your parachute ride, remembering the local DZ rules for landing patterns to your correct area.
Once you’ve landed, get your canopy under control and, while you’re then sorting your gear out, turn and face the landing direction, to observe others coming in. A skydiver coming into land has right of way, so move appropriately, if necessary. Look round and make sure it’s safe to move to the collection point or walk off the landing area.
Once in the packing shed, you can put your gear down and relax. Congratulations! You’ve done your first jump at a new DZ! At this point you start feeling more ‘normal’, as you’ve taken the time to get to know this new place, it starts feeling more like home.
Going with a group of friends to a new DZ is great, it’s a new place hopefully with familiar faces; a great recipe for good times. If you are adventurous enough to take this step by yourself, I take my hat off to you! You will go far in skydiving. I recommend getting involved in whatever is happening on an evening. I have turned up to many DZs by myself, in the middle of the night and because of this, I know so many skydivers around the world now.
For this to work, you’ve got to talk to skydivers, we welcome new faces with open arms, so don’t shy! If you’re there for coaching, a good instructor will introduce you around as well as progress your skydiving skills, so when you’re ready you can jump with others you have already gotten to know.
Remember to take your time, there is no rush, enjoy the experience and settle into this new DZ, skydiving isn’t about doing everything immediately, it’s about enjoying the whole experience. Be safe and considerate of others in your decisions; don’t put yourself in over your head and beyond your experience. Get involved with the local jumpers, skydivers are a welcoming bunch and you’ll enjoy exciting jumps at different DZs around the world for years to come.