I had completely forgotten how mentally taxing skydiving can be. And I’m not talking about the possibilities of malfunctions or problems on a jump (which should be percolating at the back of the mind, of course), but just what concentration it takes. What focus. The complete and utter awareness of the body and how it feels, as well as how your body feels in relation to the fluid aerodynamics occurring around you.
The only comparison I can really make is yoga, which seems to be the antithesis of skydiving as a sport, yeah? But as someone who does both, there really is a clear connection. The only difference is, I suppose, that you are hurtling through the air at speeds in excess of 120mph (or more, depending on how big you are).
Bear and I gave Saturday, the Fourth of July, a skip at the DZ as his friend Splash claimed to be hosting a Whiffleball with PBR (gross) challenge. It never happened, so Bear and I spent the day watching The Twilight Zone marathon on SciFi SyFy. A good thing too, I suppose, as the DZ never got below a 200+ minimum jump restriction.
Sunday morning we got up bright and early and made it down to the DZ by 9am. We rented our gear for the day, manifested ourselves for a coach jump, and bought lift tickets for a fun jump. For once the weather gods gave me a respite and there were no winds. Huzzah!
Except little to no winds are almost as hard to navigate as high ones. On days with little wind, jump run is curved, which skews with my sense of holding area.
To explain, “jump run” is the line over the dropzone in which skydivers exit their planes. Jump run always runs upwind of the dropzone. The holding area is the patch of space also upwind of the dropzone to stay until 1000ft, at which point you begin your landing pattern.
One days where the winds are variable and practically nonexistent, jump run curves into a circle around the dropzone. First person down establishes the landing pattern. As I’m never the first one to land, I usually follow the example set by others. Except the others weren’t exactly paying attention to the rules established for myself and Bear and other novice skydivers. The windsocks were pointing in all directions with regards to direction, but from what I could tell, the other jumpers were landing crosswind. I was in the holding area I had mapped out for myself, but no one else seemed to care and everyone was ignoring the “don’t cross the runway below 1000ft” rule.
Nevertheless, I had a great skydive. Practiced centerpoint turns (in which one flies with the knees in addition to the arms—it makes for very fast spin) and more unstable maneuvers (my barrel rolls just seem weird to me—what happened?) before throwing my chute at 4000ft. I landed as I saw fit, which was upwind according to the windsocks, but because there was no headwind, it was a really fast landing.
As I was packing, I noticed that the line attaching my pilot chute to the d-bag was frayed. I let the rental store know, because it had also frayed through the kill line (…to long to explain here). This was when Laticia and Nathan decided to come up and tell us that we were manifested for the next load for coach jumps. I had to swap out my entire container and in my haste, accidentally attached my right riser to the container twisted.
The coached jump was fun. Bear/Nathan and Laticia/me went up in the Otter. Bear was doing his first swoop ‘n’ dock coached jump. Laticia and I planned one swoop ‘n’ dock before practicing side sliders. (Flying laterally instead of just “up and down” and around in circles.) Side sliders, like centerpoint turns, involve the knee. We were first out the door: Laticia went out first, I rocked back and forth once and dove out headfirst.
After I got stable, I scanned the skies for her. The most interesting part of skydiving the more I do it, is how my spatial awareness increases. I found her fairly quickly and tracked down to meet her. Swoop ‘n’ dock, a success! The side sliders were less so. I kept wanting to stick my knees out instead of down and there was something screwy about my alignment. So side sliders were a no-go. At 6000ft, we broke off and I tracked away, trying to roll my shoulders forward and flattening my arch. This sort of track is much more difficult than a simple arch ‘n’ dive due to the increased air pressure and I could feel myself wobbling a bit. At 3500ft, I waved off and pulled.
The riser twist? I had to look at it and decide very quickly weather or not I wanted to keep my main. It fulfilled three of the four “S”s: square canopy, straight lines (despite the twisted riser), and slider more than halfway down. Could I steer? I pulled right, then left, and then completed a flare. Yes; somehow, this did not affect my flight at all.
On the ground, I realised that our coaches have advanced me and Bear fairly quickly. Laticia in particular was always keen on me trying new things; I remember my first dive exit out of the Otter was on my fifth AFP jump (jump #8). Side sliders are not on the A license coaching curriculum.
“I don’t see why we should hold you back if you’ve got everything else down,” she said.
Our third jump of the day was interesting. As per usual, my skydive itself was uneventful (trying to practice side sliders, but with no point of reference, it’s hard to tell if I’m doing it right), but after I opened I had some trouble with my landing pattern. Mostly because the windsocks were pointed in every which direction, not to mention, no everyone was landing in the same direction either. I stuck to my original landing pattern, but ended up really far afield. I was about 10ft from the treeline when I landed
After I had gathered my canopy, I saw that other jumpers on the load were rushing toward the trees on the north side of the dropzone. I scanned the field for Bear, but he was nowhere to be found and he always lands before I do.
Uh oh, I thought.
Sure enough, my Teddy Bear was caught up in the first tree on the treeline about 20ft from the ground.
“Bear?” I called. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m fine.”
Once I ascertained he was uninjured, I called beer on him before walking back to drop off my stuff. The dropzone called the fire brigade and he was extracted before long, but not before a dozen people took photos and video. He was unhurt, which is the most important part. I can’t wait until the Williamstown Fire Brigade puts up pictures; they did last year when they had to retrieve another skydiver from a tree.
It did put a damper on the rest of our evening. Bear’s canopy was pretty beat up. I manifested myself for another coach, but ended up being unable to jump as I had to return my own gear by 7:30. I was so freaking close to getting my A license on Sunday. I had 24 jumps. Seeing my glum face, Laticia told me there were A license written tests, if I wanted to take it. Bear and I took the exams and passed. Now all we have left is one coach jump and a checkout dive! Yay! I can’t wait until Bear and I start flying together.
Next weekend, checkout dive. Also, video. And my birthday weekend. Everyone come on down!