Advice From Jeff Dawson, The World Record Holder for Birthday Suit Skydives
Milwaukee might seem like an odd place to rack up a truly epic number of naked skydives. You might expect conservatism and bitter winters to, y’know, get in the way. However, that’s exactly what Jeff Dawson--based at Sky Knights, near Milwaukee--has been doing for more than two decades. Of a little under 4,000 skydives, Dawson has done 722 of them naked, which is the world record by a long shot. Along the way, he has founded the Society for the Advancement of Naked Skydiving, or “SANS,” which keeps track of the world’s current naked skydiving records. (See what he did there?)
At any rate, Dawson presents a wealth of hard-earned wisdom for skydivers eager to strip down before they jump out. Whether you’re doing the traditional birthday-suit huck for your hundredth or a way to pass the time while your jumpsuit is at the cleaners, Dawson has you (un)covered. We reached out with our most pressing questions.
Q: Why is it that you love jumping naked so much?
Dawson: It started off it was a naughty thing to do. I am a fairly conservative person, and it was naughty, so it was fun. Then it got to be the thing, and now it has become a creature all its own.
The fact is that I’m not really a group-skydiving guy. I like just to get out of the airplane and enjoy the world around me by myself, just enjoying the awe of the situation. Naked skydiving makes that just so much better. You are just hanging out there. Nobody can see you. There isn’t a care in the world. That, to me, is pure freedom.
I never set out to be the world record holder for naked skydiving. It just happened. I don’t go out to see how many naked skydives I can make; it’s just that I like doing it and the club I belong to is very naked-jumping friendly. I have made naked skydives where nobody has said one word about the fact I was naked. They are just so used to it.
I have made at least one jump in every calendar year for almost 21 years, and I have made at least one naked jump every calendar month for 16 years. I did three naked jumps this past December when it was maybe 20 degrees Fahrenheit. At Sky Knights, they call [a wintertime naked jump] a “Dawson Pop” because I’ll be doing a hop-and-pop naked.
Q: Okay--some basics. Since we all quite obviously have to wear some gear when we jump out of a plane, what is actually considered a “naked jump”?
Dawson: Everybody has their own idea of what qualifies. For the purpose of the Society of the Advancement of Naked Skydiving, we say wrist to wrist and neck to knees. That allows safety equipment: a helmet, goggles, gloves, altimeter, shoes and socks if that’s what you choose to do. I have done only one jump where I was completely, 100% naked (with the rig, of course). No helmet, goggles, shoes, altimeter, socks...they called it a “naked naked” jump.
Q: Did you start doing the naked thing before you started jumping or did you start doing the naked thing after you started jumping? Have you always been into naturalism?
Dawson: Absolutely not. I made my first naked jump on my 100th skydive, but as far as the rest of it goes, no. I don’t even wear shorts in the summertime; always pants. I have nothing to do with nudism, naturalism...anything like that. Except for the naked skydiving.
Q: What was it about that first naked skydive that got you into it?
Dawson: Actually, it wasn’t that first one that got me going. Actually, it wasn’t that first one that got me going. I didn’t do another naked jump for probably 3 or 4 years afterward. A young female jumpmaster who liked to skydive naked put together a 4-way for a jumper’s hundredth jump, and she asked me to be a part. I think that was September 2001.
The same thing happened a month later in October. We decided that we would see if we could make at least a 2-way every month for a year. We did, and of course there were several other people involved at different times. After a couple of years, she moved away, but I just kept going.
Q: If someone is visiting Sky Knights on any given weekend, how likely is it that at least one person is going to be naked at some point?
Dawson: Pretty likely. I do it more than most people, of course. If the conditions are right, I usually do my last jump of the day naked.
Q: What’s the first step to doing a naked skydive right?
Dawson: The first thing you have to do is to see if your dropzone even allows naked skydiving. I travel a lot and have been to a lot of different dropzones and talked to a lot of people about this. You have to understand that there are plenty of dropzones that actually can’t facilitate naked skydiving; where if there is any nakedness going on of any kind, the dropzone will get kicked off the airport because that’s in their contract, or charter, or whatever.
Then you have to decide how public you want to make it. Cameras and social media are out there in such prevalence today that you have to be careful that someone’s livelihood could be endangered if this type of thing got out in the way that things do now. Unless you want the entire dropzone out at the landing area with cameras, you’ll have to have help to keep it quiet and under wraps. I blame social media for the fact that naked jumping isn’t as popular now as it used to be.
Q: How can you set about controlling those variables?
Dawson: If you want to do a naked jump stealthily and not have the whole dropzone watching, you can make that happen by arranging for a separate pass or landing area--or just talking to the people who are on the jump and asking them to turn off their cameras. People should understand that it’s a very legitimate concern.
Q: How do you go about preparing for a naked skydive?
Dawson: First off, I would definitely suggest doing it with someone who has done at least one before.
You will want to decide what you are going to do about clothes. Sure, you’ll have a 200-square-foot toga to wear, but what next? Personally, I have a set of shorts that I wear over my leg straps, and then I have a pocket on one of the leg straps. When I am in the plane, I take the shorts off and put them in my leg pouch to put on after I land. I have seen people tie shorts onto a leg strap with pull-up cords. I knew one person who actually stuffed his shorts in the tail of his canopy. Amazingly, it didn’t affect the opening. You can always stash clothes at the landing area, of course.
When you’re gearing up, make sure that your straps are relatively tight. We have a saying for the guys: Make sure that you have your junk in the right spot, because you can always cut away from a line-over but you can’t cut away from a nut-under.
Nipples can be a problem, too. You can deal with that by either locating the chest strap above the nipples so that they’re out of the way or use band-aids to reduce the snag hazard, especially if you wear jewelry there. I have never seen it myself, but I’ve heard of at least one person who had jewelry ripped out of her nipple.
Q: What’s different about the jump itself?
Dawson: What tends to happen is that, after one person decides they’re going to do a naked jump, a bunch of people get on it. It can easily turn into a big zoo, with a dozen people on the jump who have never jumped naked before. That’s not a good idea.
Naked jumping is entirely different from clothed jumping in that it changes the amount of control you have over your bodyflight. There’s a whole different dynamic: for instance, coming into a formation. If your mode normally is to come in fairly hot and slow down last minute to enter the formation, you’ll soon discover that that doesn’t work as well with a naked jump because you don’t have the drag. People often find they can’t stop. So if you can do it with 2 or 4 people--something like that--it usually works out better.
When you’re in freefall, you’ll feel like the container is falling off of your back--or is not centered--because it’s touching your skin and you can actually feel where it is. Don’t freak out. If you’ve done your straps up nice and tight, it’s not actually coming loose; it just feels different.
Also: You don’t want to get too wrapped up in the naked part of the skydiving and forget about all the other parts, which brings me to probably one of the most important parts about naked skydiving. This goes for any kind of extraordinary skydive. You’re still making a skydive, and you still have to do it safely. You have to make sure your equipment is right, and you do all of your checks. It is really easy to get caught up--especially if we’re talking about a 100-jump person--in the excitement of what’s going on, and forget about the things that are necessary.
One more word to the wise: Choose a day when the conditions are right for a stand-up landing. If you slide in even a little bit, you are going to know it. Even grass acts like sandpaper.
Q: Any final words of wisdom?
Dawson: Do everyone a favor and be cool about it. If you go out and flash unsuspecting tandem students and airport authorities, then you’re crossing the line.
Sky Knights operates a PAC in the summertime and when I’m ready to make a naked skydive, there will usually be tandems on the load. I won’t surprise them with my nakedness. Before they are even manifested, I’ll find out from manifest who they are, introduce myself and ask if they’d mind if I’m on the same load. I’ll also do that with other jumpers I don’t know. Most people are fine, especially when I tell them it’s going to be a world record--because every time I make a naked skydive, it’s a world record.
I try to be sensitive about who is on the load and not make anyone feel embarrassed. Being polite about it has allowed me to do all those jumps.
Got at least one naked jump? Join SANS! It costs a whopping $5 dollars to join, and with that membership fee you get a member number, a certificate for the wall of your cubicle, some stickers and a refrigerator magnet.