So, what does it take to be a skydiver?

I recently completed my A license for skydiving with the USPA (United States Parachute Organization). I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about what it takes to be a skydiver and what it means to have an A license. Skydiving isn’t something you encounter often. Unless you happen to have a local dropzone (DZ) or know some skydivers, it can seem pretty mystifying. But having sought it out on my own, I thought I’d give you some information about the course and what it takes. Having my A license now allows me to pack my own main parachute, do basic skydiving formations with others, and means I have a minimum of 25 skydives (I have 44 now). My B license is coming up real quick at 50 jumps but involves canopy control skills and in water skills. With a C license and 200 jumps you can start working towards your Instructor Rating, which upon completion would put you at a D license.

I started my skydiving journey at Skydive Mex in Playa del Carmen in April of 2016. They had recently moved their location from the Pacific side in Puerta Vallarta a few months before so I jumped on my chance once the season slowed down to start my AFF course (Accelerated Free Fall). AFF starts you off with a tandem and then gets more difficult as you go through all 8 levels (8 jumps). Once you complete the tandem jump with your AFF instructor, you progress to your own rig on jump 2 and have 2 instructors holding onto you as you exit the plane. After you pass your first 4 levels you progress down to only 1 instructor who eventually, towards the end, isn’t even holding onto you at all but flying next to you in the air. If you complete all these levels without failing (most people fail at least 1), then you are graduated from AFF and on student status, jumping by yourself and slowly ticking off other skills in the process that involve coach jumps, parachute packing, and exams. Once you get all this signed off and get to 25 skydives, BOOM you have an A license!

If you really must know, I failed level 4 by failing to locate and pull my own canopy… the first rule of skydiving and the most important rule is “always pull” so you can imagine how I felt after my instructor had to fly in when I couldn’t seem to make contact with my hand and the small golf ball I needed to pull out of the back of my rig. He pulled for me, which means I failed. He felt terrible and I remember being like, “um… honestly, I think it’s pretty important I have the confidence to do that myself, so let’s do it again!” Yea, you loose about 200+ dollars on that jump but it’s a small price to pay for your own piece of mind. After that I did have a small panic attack about locating the hackey… but I’ve gotten over that now and can reach it with ease every time.

I got through my AFF last year with Skydive Mex here in PDC but after that they lost coaches, didn’t have a plane, and had some other complications which kept me out of the air for some time. Since I was still in student status, it is necessary you jump at least once every 30 days to stay current. I went out of currency multiple times which costs you more money in the end because the DZ will ask you to do a coach jump to check your skills before they’ll let you jump solo again. Understandably so, but a huge bummer none the less. Last spring I was in Florida and found out about a DZ called Skydive Sebastian in Sebastian, so I drove there and did 2 jumps in 1 day. One of which I landed on a golf course near by due to winds that changed while we were in the air. I was safe, and no, I didn’t yell “four”! After that I went out of currency again before I jumped with Skydive San Diego and surprised my AFF Instructor, Tom, who works there. He signed me off for a coach jump and that day I learned how important it is to keep your head on a swivel around other jumpers who sometimes do unpredictable things, like fuck up the whole landing pattern and almost collide with your canopy. Another valuable lesson.

After 11 months out of the air I flew back to Skydive Sebastian last month for almost 3 weeks to complete my license. Their DZ is huge, there are hammocks, tiki bars, the local Zoo Bar next door, camping behind, an amazing family of skydivers and a great view of the Indian River inlet and the ocean while you fly. I wanted the support and encouragement from a skydiving family like that and found it with them. From the women in manifest, to the instructors with 15,000-23,000 jumps, to the packers and everyone in between, the whole community absolutely blew me away. I learned so much from these people and was at the DZ every day I could be. I cried, I laughed, I made mistakes and I had triumphs. I learned to fly smaller canopies and I learned that I could trust myself and trust my knees to run out the canopy upon landing if need be. My landings had always been my most anxious part of the whole skydive because I’ve gone through 2 knee surgeries and still have a lack of confidence in my knees and landings. I was a notorious butt sitter upon landing… I got over this while I was there.

Skydive Sebastian was the ultimate “sky fam”. I’ve been fortunate to jump at 3 DZ’s during my student status and found a community and a quality of instructors that was definitely unique. I cannot wait to continue the search and keep finding more places like this with killer people. The first weekend I was there was a “boogie” which is a festival for skydivers. It was called Splash Bash and came with slip and slides, water slides, inflatable pools, a crawfish broil, a helicopter and an accuracy competition. I stayed out of the sky mostly, that weekend, due to the high volume of jumpers and a need to play it safe, but I still had the opportunity to sit at Zoo Bar, make friends, watch the landings, and participate in general. Thank you Skydive Seb, I miss you all and I’ll be back!

So how did I know I wanted to be a skydiver? I did my first tandem skydive at Skydive Hawaii in 2014 with my father and brother who had both done them before. Upon landing I started crying uncontrollably because I was literally the happiest I’d ever been. I remember having this rush of adrenaline the whole day. At that moment, I knew I’d do it again, and I knew I was going to do it solo. It was the coolest thing, hands down. When I got back to Thailand the only DZ was in the north and I never managed to make it out. I camped across from Burning Sky, the skydiving camp at Burning Man, the last 3 years and got to talk with a lot of the jumpers deciding that at some point in my career, I’d jump out of a plane at BM. When I arrived in PDC the only skydiving company didn’t teach courses, but only tandems. So when Skydive Mex opened, I went in and signed up for my course.

Skydiving has become my favorite thing. There’s something about being up there and solving your problems in the sky. I feel like I really can “leave it all up there” and land with a clearer focus and purpose in life. I know that sounds extreme, but it’s true. People always ask, “why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” to which I reply, “there’s no such thing as a perfectly good airplane”. Or, “why would you want to fall towards the Earth that fast?” and I say, “you’re not falling, you’re flying”. We all have different things that make us feel alive, and skydiving and scuba diving and cave diving are my things. When I’m falling, nothing else matters, when I’m under water, it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the surface. It’s a way to escape the pain and the confusion of this world and remember what it feels like to truly live in the moment. These sports have taught me to trust myself. I know that I can think clearly and logically in highly stressful situations and I’m capable of problem solving my way out. Anyone that has chosen these things as passions knows what I’m talking about. For those of you that don’t, go out and find something that makes you feel this way! Please! I’m not saying it has to be extreme, but it should make you forget about life for a while.

Lastly, if you’re thinking about doing your course I have some tips for you:

1.) Make sure you have the time! Literally, you will spend more time waiting on the ground and waiting for the weather then you will jumping. For sure. So make sure you have a few weeks off to get through your license and fully commit. If you spread it out like I did, you cost yourself significantly more money. This course isn’t cheap.

2.) Find a DZ with people that make you feel comfortable and are supportive and involved throughout your whole course. A lot of DZ’s will get you through AFF and then put you on the back-burner because fun jumpers don’t make DZ’s a lot of money. Find a DZ that will see you through your A license and encourage you the whole way. Find a sky fam that makes you feel comfortable and whom you don’t feel intimidated asking questions to, even stupid ones.

3.) Cheapest doesn’t mean best. If you’re looking for cheap, you’re in the wrong sport. I’ll tell you that now. I say the same things to people asking me about “cheap” and
“good” scuba courses- they don’t exist. Typically the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You get what you pay for! This is a sport that involves high tech, expensive equipment, and airplanes, there is no such thing as cheap. Get that out of your head and pay for your own safety.

4.) Skydiving takes money. The first 8 jumps or your AFF course typically costs around 2,000 USD, then you’ll be paying about 50 USD a jump after that until you get your A license. If you plan on buying gear it’ll run you 2,500-10,000 so it definitely isn’t cheap. That’s why we always joke that skydivers have no money! You’ll want to make sure you dedicate time to the sport to stay current and safe. It is a lifestyle and a gear intensive sport. The upside is that most rigs are easy to sell if in good shape so if you have gear and skydiving won’t be a part of your life for awhile, you can always sell then buy again when you’re ready. Once you have your own gear, you pay 20-30 USD per jump.

Check out my gallery of photos and stay tuned for my first group skydive and our attempt at a train, which more closely resembled a rollercoaster!! Keep up to date on my Instagram (theramblingmermaid) for more adventures! If you’re a skydiver and have any DZ’s that hold your heart, please comment below! Also, any other skydiving stories you’d like to share, I’m always down to discuss skydiving! Thank ya’ll for reading! Blue skies!

 

Advertisements

To my mother-

My mom taught me what

patience looks like.

That fight or flight isn’t

always an option and

that standing your ground

even quietly

is still honoring yourself.

She always made sure I

valued everything I had

and appreciated still moments

and the company of myself.

She showed me that being

pretty and privileged

deserved my own sense of

modesty but with an assertiveness

and presence that demanded I

knew how to flatter and withdraw

from compliments and advances

simultaneously.

She taught me to be direct

and clear about what I want

otherwise people would only

choose for me.

“Don’t put your elbows on the table”

“Chin up”

“A daisy and I thought of you…”

“The world doesn’t owe you anything.”

When I went through my first

serious “life changing moment”

at 17,

she taught me

not to be a victim.

She showed me vulnerability

wasn’t weakness but in fact,

quite the opposite.

When I would call in tears

asking how to move forward

she’d say, “just do it baby!”

As an adult, I think the

most important lessons

she’s taught me

are about love.

My parents love has never

has never been perfect,

as none is, with a series

of almost crumbling moments.

But she showed me that love

is meant to be fought for,

that falling in love

is the easy part

and that sometimes “fighting”

means giving up,

so that you can take care

of yourself first.

I know how lonely we

all feel sometimes, but I learned

that when lonely,

I was only searching for myself.

I learned that home wasn’t always

a house with 4 walls,

but sometimes,

it’s a person.

My mom has always

been “home”

to my father,

my brother,

and I.

She has kept the balance

in the family

when there was chaos.

She has chose positivity

instead of negativity

while the rest of us

wavered.

And she has snapped

with kindness

and a fire in her eyes

like that of an alpha female

when her pack and cubs

were negligent

with their emotions

love

time

or peace.

I only know the strength and

ferocity and love of a mother

by watching my own.

And although I do not have

the motherly instinct

or desire for motherhood

I am a better damn woman

by learning how to harness

all that is feminine about me

with class but

also with a rage that says,

“don’t fuck with me because

I come from a long line of

women that didn’t shut up

or stand down

or be quiet.”

And I am not here to be ignored,

I am here to be understood.

I thank my mother for that.

7 Things That Happened When I Ditched My Phone for a Week

If you know me at all you’ll know that my track record with cell phones would probably be comparable to a 2 year old constantly losing one shoe. To put it NOT lightly, I suck at holding on to them. But in the last year I’ve “got my shit together” as you’d say and managed to keep the same cell for almost exactly a year. That morning as I’m heading to see the whale sharks with my boyfriend, I’m chatting away about how I was almost at the 1 year mark and so proud of myself. Flash forward to that afternoon when I put it on the back of a toilet seat and then proceeded to walk out the door. Oops! Something I did in Vietnam 4 years before, a mistake I’d already made, and we’re sitting in the van heading back to Playa del Carmen and I realized I didn’t have it on me. I instantly dropped my head and knew exactly where I’d left it- on the back of the damn toilet seat! Women, if you’re reading this, we aren’t dudes, we face the toilet seat once, turn around and pee and then walk out, so stop making this a habit! I know from experience.

Thank buddha I do have insurance on my phone and happened to be heading to the states a week later, so instead of stressing about it I ordered it to be sent to Florida so I could pick it up from the Air BNB I’ve been staying at while skydiving here. It’s pretty obvious that I’m a huge social media buff, although I resisted smart phones for years I finally got one 3 years ago after everyone told me “it’ll change your life”… which it definitely has and although some changes as a traveler are extremely positive and make my life way easier, others are mostly negative and it’s so easy to become addicted to our phones. I’ve tried to find a balance with my smart phone use but I still find myself pulling it out while talking to people or scrolling pointlessly when there’s nothing to be looking at. Habits I’m aware of now and am working on breaking. I read a quote that said, “hang out with people that make you not want to look at your phone” and I’ve realized that my friends and my partner deserve my undivided attention when I’m with them.

I could have gotten a cheap throwaway for the week but I decided to go without and it was honestly such a refreshing reset. There were way more ups than downs and I noticed a few things in particular.

  1. I smiled at people more. Way more. When I wasn’t constantly checking my phone or pulling it out to avoid contact with people I found myself smiling at strangers and actually provoked interesting conversation with people. On the bus, at work, on my flight, everywhere. And you know what happened, people smiled back and it made me happier and more in touch the rest of my day.
  2. I had to become a planner. Gone were the days where I could change or adjust my plans last minute. Without a phone, I didn’t have that option. My mom used to always say how nice it was that people made plans and showed up instead of cancelling, and there’s something to be said about that. It forced me into make commitments and sticking to it, and now I realize how important that is. Not that I didn’t before but because everyone else always got away with it, I became a slacker myself. It made me realize I didn’t want to do that anymore.
  3. I read all the time. I’ve always been a reader, I go nowhere without my kindle and in most situations would rate it over my phone in terms of necessity. But instead of mindlessly scrolling on Facebook, I’d whip the kindle out instead and get 5 minutes of reading done while I waited. Hell, sometimes I’d just sit there and watch the world around me instead.
  4. I felt happier. No shit, seriously! I’m sure it was a combination effect of the above but I honestly felt more grounded and connected to myself, others and the world around me and I can only assume it came from being more present. Because I was less connected to social media I wasn’t absorbing everyone else’s energies all day. This allowed me to fully sit in my body and be aware of how I was feeling.
  5. I was less anxious. Maybe that’s because I didn’t feel the need to check my phone or think I’d missed something. And if someone tried to get ahold of me and I did miss it I had an excuse because I literally couldn’t have answered if I’d wanted. Something about that felt really freeing. I was only obligated to the people I was around and if I needed to sit down in front of the computer for a few hours to get some work done, I actually got work done instead of brainlessly using social media.
  6. I used my computer time wisely. Because I wasn’t constantly connected I had to schedule time in to respond to emails and maintain my own social media accounts. But because I was only checking in and logging off, I was able to keep the rest of my day separate. I made phone calls on Skype (which felt like going back in time) and paid my bills over Skype phone calls as well. It was actually good to schedule that time in instead of being reminded all day of emails and other various things I needed to respond to. I checked it all at once, and was done with it just as quickly.
  7. I didn’t miss it. I really thought it was going to have the opposite effect on me but I was relieved to find myself settling into it with ease and finding that it didn’t stress me out at all. Quite the opposite! Even when I did get my phone back I was hanging at the dropzone and spending all my time jumping and meeting new friends and it took me almost 2 days to get it configured anyways. I was bummed I slacked on photos but I actually don’t regret being fully present at all.

Conclusions? If you do have the opportunity to put your cell phone away, whether it’s on holiday for a few days or a weekend, you name it… take advantage of the opportunity! If you want to use your phone for photos, fine, just turn your data settings off so you won’t be tempted to use it for anything else. Trust me, no one will die if you aren’t Snapchat-ing the awesome weekend you’re having or sending out Instagram posts INSTANTLY, just hashtag #latergram and call it good! Or don’t hashtag at all, who fucking cares 😉

Because of that experience I still find myself rarely checking my phone and if I’m brainlessly scrolling I realize it pretty quickly. It changed the way I view social media and this “instant response” culture we live in. Now, I realize that I don’t need to stop what I’m doing to respond to a message when I can respond later. We need to stop harping people for not responding in “due time” and instead allow everyone else to live their lives presently and call or return our messages when they want.

I’d encourage everyone to be a bit more mindful when it comes to their phone. Try leaving it at home sometimes while you run errands, try charging it at night outside your room or out of reach and set an alarm the old school way. If you’re hanging with friends don’t reach for it unless it’s to take a photo, but then put it away. There are things we can all do differently and I can promise you it’ll make you feel better. This all coming from a girl that is definitely a social media addict! If I can have the awareness and start making small changes and it’s affecting me in such a huge way, I promise it’ll do you some good as well. Try some of these things and let me know what you’ve noticed! I’d like to hear your comments so please post below and let’s chat about it!