Photo by Jeff Agard
Just moved across the country? Heading out to boogie in a strange new land? Impromptu road trip? If you’re not used to jumping at new-to-you DZs, reorienting yourself to a new conveyor-belt-to-the-sky is a bit daunting. But never fear, brave adventurer: if you walk in knowing what you need to do, you’ll be golden. Here’s a checklist to help make the process a little easier on you.
Before you arrive:
1. Do a preliminary scan for unpleasant surprises. Find out as early as possible if the dropzone (or the specific event you’re planning to jump) has special requirements that could keep you on the ground.
2. Budget. Get pricing on jump tickets, DZ accommodation and registration fees. This is a good time to check the jump-ticket refund policy and find out if there are extra charges for credit cards.
3. Ask about facilities. If you’re going to be squaring up to swampy summertime port-o-lets, miles-off RV hookups, co-ed showers (rawr) or anything else outside your comfort zone, you’ll want to know as early as possible so you can make a battle plan.
4. Make sure you’ve packed all your documentation. At the very least, you’ll need an in-date reserve repack card, your parachuting organization ID and your logbook. In some cases, you’ll also need your AAD travel documents and proof of medical insurance, too. Travel insurance is never a bad idea, either.
When you arrive:
1.Get the lay of the land. You’ll be spending a lot of time in the hangar and in the waiting areas, so get oriented. Pick a prime spot for your gear (hopefully, near an electrical outlet). Find the bathrooms and the fridge. Identify the load monitors, if there are any. Find out if there’s a separate window for manifest, or if the main office does it all.
2. Rock up to the office. Fill out the waiver, get a gear-and-paperwork check and buy your tickets.
3. Get briefed. You’ll likely be pounced on when you land in the office, but just in case: Pin somebody down to give you a complete briefing of the dropzone’s map and rules. Do not get on the plane without a briefing.
- Get clear on the manifest procedure. It seems like every DZ on the planet does this differently, and it can really get in the way if you’re not on board. Are you going to have to pay in advance, pay as you go, or pay at the end of the day? How does the ticket system work?
- Learn the exit order and separation rules. Many drop zones have very specific procedures in place, while others assume you should know where you belong. Watch how the local jumpers organize themselves, and ask lots of questions if you don’t get clear instruction.
- Check out the satellite map. You can expect a dropzone representative to use an overhead map of the dropzone and its surrounds to brief you. The rep will describe how to use recognizable landmarks to spot the dropzone from the air and review landing area obstacles, power lines, bodies of water, nasty neighbors, turbulence, the “beer line” and uneven terrain. Use this time to memorize your outs.
- Find out if there’s a special hard deck for this DZ. If there is one, it might be (way) higher than your personal hard deck.
- Check out the wind indicators. Find them on the overhead map, then peek at them in person while you take yourself on a tour of the main (and alternate, if applicable) landing areas. If there are tetrahedrons, ask if they’re trustable or if they’re “sticky.”
- Know the landing pattern. Landing patterns are not the same across dropzones, ranging from first-one-down-sets-it to a regular Busby Berkeley choreography of established patterns that never, ever change. Until you’ve internalized the unique rhythm, it’s best to give the main landing area a wide berth for your first handful of jumps at a new DZ. Make sure you know the rules and areas for swooping and hook turns, whether or not you plan to do them. (Don’t be the big canopy that tugboats lamely across the zoomy canopies’ path.)
- Figure out the loading procedure. Find out how the calls are announced and where you need to be to hear them. If there are shuttles to the plane, you’ll need to know what the call is to be on the shuttle. If there’s a retrieval from the landing area, make sure you know where it is (and hoof it over there right after touchdown).
4. Get on a load! Make an organizer friend (or be your own organizer friend) and keep an open mind about what jumps you want to do.
5. Buy the good beer to share at greenlight. It’s basically, like, a housewarming that you throw for yourself. You’ll feel at home before you know it.