All About Skydiving

You may think that skydiving is as simple as leaping from a plane and making your landing, but in reality skydiving is rich in both its culture and history. To better help you understand the world of skydiving, how it evolved, how safe it is and the various facets of the sport we’ve created this page. Below you will find a number of topics to better help you understand a sport that is often misunderstood. If you are looking for answers to frequently asked questions on skydiving you can also find some answers here.

The History of Skydiving

It’s firstly important to differentiate modern skydiving from the history of parachuting, while modern skydiving as we know it today has only been around for decades, the history of parachuting extends as far back as the 12th century. Evidence has pointed historians towards China as the first evidence of jumps that were made under parachute. These early iterations of parachutes were used by the Chinese to float down safety after making a leap from a solid platform object such as a cliff. While this method of jumping is more closely aligned to today’s BASE jumping, it remains a key point in history and the evolution of the parachute.

It would be hundreds of years before the renowned multitalented inventor, Leonardo DaVinci, would sketch what is now considered the first ‘modern’ parachute design. This design was not tested until the 21st century when Adrian Nicholas created an exact replica and attempted to jump it from a height of 10 000 feet. He was forced to cut-away at 7 000 feet and deploy a standard parachute to complete the jump. The replica weighed in at over 180 pounds, making it a less than ideal solution to combat gravity.

The First Manned Parachute Jump

France was leading the world in aeronautic progression in the 18th century with Frenchman Sébastien Lenormand being credited with the creation of the first modern parachute in 1783. In 1797 French aeronaut André-Jacques Garnerin, who was 28 years old at the time, performed what is considered to be the first successful parachute jump. Garnerin was a student of the well respected ballooning pioneer, Jacques Charles. The first parachute, used by Garnerin was made from silk and spanned 23 feet in diameter. The device used rope to connect the parachute to a basket. This parachute system would then connect to a balloon in order to ascend, before being let go and left to float down to earth. In October of 1797 Garnerin performed what is now considered the world’s first parachute jump, successfully landing back down on earth and making history. Also of note is the fact that this jump may have been the one being written into the history books, but years prior Jean Pierre Blanchard had been using the basket and parachute method, but only using dogs and was thus not a manned parachuting exercise.

It is important to remember that this was merely the first successfully record of modern parachuting, and it wasn’t for centuries until the first skydive would take place. What differentiates this initial jump with that of a skydive, is that Gernerin never had any freefall and was always within the basket that was attached to the parachute, so the parachute would open automatically as he descended in the basket without any real freefall taking place.

From Parachuting to Skydiving

Only in the 20th century did we see the progression of parachuting move towards what is now considered skydiving. The first true skydive took place in 1919 by Leslie Leroy Irvin who performed the first premeditated freefall parachute jump, what is now referred to as skydiving. Irvin had grown up with a passion for adventure and looked up to Charles Broadwick. Broadwick would perform similar acts to that of parachuting pioneer Gernerin, by ascending by balloon to a desired height and then releasing from the balloon and descending under parachute.

Irvin was so inspired by these aeronautic adventures that he himself would later create a parachute at the age of 14. In his later teens he would become a stuntman in what was then a newly booming film industry. It was within his stuntman career that he would perform stunts using parachuting methods much like that his hero used. In 1914 he successfully made a parachute jump for the movie Sky High from a distance of 1000 feet.

He would later join the Army Air Services as a member of the parachute research team. Irvin was one of the individuals involved in the creation of the first static line parachute to be used for life saving purposes in war. By 1918 these new advances had helped create what was termed the Airplane Freefall Parachute Type-A. This new development became the backbone of modern skydiving as we know it today. The device incorporated the backpack storage, much like that found on today’s rigs, while also containing a ripcord for deployment and pilot chute. The principles held by this design are mostly retained in today’s skydiving gear with the ripcord, backpacks and pilot chute still being present.

On the 19th of April 1919 Leslie Irvin would voluntarily be the first person to attempt a freefall skydive from a plane. The parachute opened as expected and Irvin made it down to earth as theorized, although he did suffer a broken ankle from the landing.

The parachutes being used in the early 20th century were all round canopies and look much different to today’s elliptical or square sports canopies. In the 1950s the first square parachute was invented, though it remained a mere decelerator, similar to that of the round parachutes before it. Only in the 1960s did the world start to see the rise of the multicell glide canopy, more closely aligned to what non-military skydivers are using today.

As each decade passes, we see further progress being made towards the parachute. Small changes to the canopy design as our understanding of aerodynamics increases, continue to help in creating a progressively more agile design. We’ve seen skydiving move from the act of simply jumping out of an airplane without dying, to one that is focused on creating parachutes that can cater to specific disciplines and styles of flying, from faster and responsive canopies to larger and more stable options for beginner skydivers.

How to Start Skydiving

So you’re been thinking about doing your first jump? Whether you’re looking to simply experience the adrenaline of a tandem skydive or whether you’re looking to enter the sport and become a skilled skydiver, we’ll cover everything you need to know about getting started. We recommend a tandem skydive as the starting point for all skydivers, whether you’re looking to just do a single jump (in which case it is your only option), or if you’re looking to get into the sport. A tandem skydive will ensure that you experience the sensations of freefall and give you an idea of the feeling that skydiving can provide you, without having to make the heft investment into completing an AFF course. Only only are tandem jumps affordable, but they’re also available at almost all dropzones in the world.

When performing a tandem jump you’ll go through a training session beforehand to give you some insight into what will happen, how to position your body and how to land. Tandems are performed with a tandem master, an experienced skydiver who you will be attached to throughout the process. While you may have hoped that you could simply jump out of a plane by yourself, that certainly isn’t the case. It requires a fair amount of training with an AFF course before you get to experience an unassisted solo jump.

Historically, when signing up for training you had the option of AFF or Static-line, however in recent years static-line training has mostly been discontinued as a training option and AFF being the preferred method of training.

Do note that you should contact your local dropzone and enquire as to the limitations on age, weight or medical conditions that could prevent you from being viable to complete a tandem jump or AFF course at their dz.

Now that you know what your options are when looking to skydive, you can start to look for skydiving near you.

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Where To Skydive

So you’ve decided that you want to skydive, whether you’re looking to simply tick off that bucket list tandem, or whether you’re looking to get involved with the sport, your initial process will likely be the same. As we stated above, we highly recommend a tandem as the first step when looking to skydive, and while it’s possible to go straight into your AFF course, a tandem is still an affordable way to get a gauge on what you’re getting into. When looking at where to skydive the first thing you should do is check out our dropzone listings. We have more than a thousand dropzones listed, with details on where they are located, what services they offer, the prices they charge as well as reviews to help you make your decision.

Dropzone reviews are an extremely valuable asset and one that can help ensuring that you don’t end up at a dropzone with sub-par practices. We’ve got our dropzone listings in such a way that you will be able to sort by country, pinned map locations or if you’re in the United States, you’ll also be able to find dropzone listings in your state. Using our dropzone map, you are able to locate your location quickly and easily and look at which dropzones are listed near you. Once you find your closet dropzones, you can then check out their listings and see what others have to say about them.

Once you’ve found a dropzone that looks good to you, and that has positive reviews by other jumpers, you should give that dropzone a call or email to find out what their restrictions are and when they are able to accommodate you. Depending on the dropzone, you may have to wait a while for an appointment, though most dropzones will be able to cater to your request fairly quickly. Be sure to enquire about such things as medical issues, weight regulations and age restrictions that may be in place.

If you’re getting into skydiving as a sport and are looking to move towards doing your AFF course, make sure that you take into account the proximity of the dropzone from your residence. You will be making quite a few trips to the dropzone, so it is certainly worth considering just how far you’re willing to travel.

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Is Skydiving Safe?

The topic of skydiving safety is one brought forward almost immediately by those interested in getting into skydiving or even before committing to their first tandem jump. The topic about whether or not skydiving is safe isn’t as black and white as a simple yes or no answer and one is required to look at the risks involved while also taking into account the frequency of injuries or fatalities.

When looking at the statistics for skydiving safety we need to take into account the frequency at which incidents do occur, in which disciplines they occur most, the causes of these incidents as well as how often one skydives.

A proposed method to look at the risk of death in skydiving is to look at the unit measurement “micromort”, a term used to indicate the risk of death per 1 million. This method of measurement makes it easy to compare with other activities and provides a better gauge on determining just how dangerous skydiving is.

Calculating Skydiving Safety Risks

Forum member “maggyrider” made a great post and dove into the statistical risk aspect in depth. In their post they brought forward the statistics on skydiving deaths, though the methods used have been argued by other members as there are numerous variables that make an exact calculation extremely difficult to determine; we recommend giving it a ready for some further interesting discussion on skydiving risk.

When looking at the micromort statistics for skydiving on Wikipedia one can see that for the period 2000 - 2016 (for the United States) and 1994 – 2013 (for the United Kingdom) the micromort per unit of exposure was 8 per jump in both cases. By contrast with another sport, in the UK scuba divers who were BSAC members had a micromort of 5 while non-BSAC members saw an increased micromort of 10, per dive – placing the skydiving risk somewhere between those two. When compared with non-skydiving related deaths you have more chance of being murdered in England and Wales (per year) than you do if you perform one skydive. Additionally, you are almost twice as likely to die from a homicide in Canada (per year) than you are to die doing one skydive.

The difference between skydiving safety and violent crime however, is that the odds of dying from skydiving will increase the more you do it. Given that there were 41 fatalities from 4,864,268 jumps (United Kingdom), this tells us that the likelihood of death per jump as a percentage is 0.00084. This figure appears extremely low at first, but now let’s take into account the amount of jumps done by an active skydiver, provided you perform 200 jumps a year, the chance of dying from skydiving in a year as a percent becomes 0.168 percent. This means that there is a 12.6% chance of death for skydivers who have clocked 15 000 jumps.

What these numbers suggest is that while skydiving remains a fairly dangerous sport, it is more dangerous due to the aspect of volume, than it is in its base value. This means that choosing skydiving as a sport will certainly increase your likelihood of a skydiving related death, for those simply wanting to have a tandem jump done, the single jump does not pose a significant thread, no more so than driving a car 1840 miles.

It’s not that simple…

While the above statistics may do a fair job at giving some kind of indication on the safety of skydiving, it is by no means a definitive statistic and there’s just simply too many variables to take into consideration when looking at skydiving fatalities and safety. For example, depending on the type of skydive being performed as well as the skill level of the jumper, the odds will change dramatically.

So while you may have been looking for a simple yes or no answer to the question of whether skydiving is dangerous or not, it remains relative to the type of skydiving you’re doing and how often you are jumping. If you are concerned about doing your first tandem, the good news is that your likelihood of dying is extremely low and in fact safer than many other aspects of everyday life that don’t get taken into consideration.

Skydiving Gear

The equipment you use is often a vital aspect of any sport, but there is arguably none more important than in skydiving where your primary concern should be safety. The progression of skydiving gear throughout the centuries has been fascinating to look back on, however only in recent decades did we see a heavy focus being placed on the development of skydiving gear for recreational use. After all, skydiving as a sport is still less than a century old. Before diving into the progression of skydiving gear over the past 50 years, let’s first take a look at what the core pieces of skydiving equipment are and what role they play.

Main Parachute

The main parachute is quite self-explanatory in its name. It is the primary parachute used by skydivers during their jump. These main parachutes come in various designs and comprised of cells which are typically either 7 or 9 celled nowadays. The differences between 7 and 9 cell mains were more noticeable in the past, with certain attributes being tied to each celled canopy. Today however, there are both 7 and 9 cell designs which overlap in what they are able to provide the skydiver. For instance, 9-cells used to be considered as having the better glide between the two, while nowadays there are 7-cell canopies out that can match or even better the glide offered by some 9-cells. It is therefore best to approach each canopy individually and look at what it offers, and to what skill level it caters. In addition to the cells of a canopy, the shape also plays an important role. The main shapes offered in recreational parachutes are rectangular, semi-elliptical and elliptical. Rectangle and semi-elliptical canopies are more popular for newer jumpers while elliptical are generally considered to be for those with some experience behind them. The reason for this is because the elliptical canopy shape translates into a very responsive main canopy that can easily be too responsive for newer jumpers.

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Reserve Parachute

The reserve parachute is the one you hope you never have to use, but skydive long enough and the chances are you’re going to. A reserve is deployed when there is a problem with the main and you need to cut-away. Think of it this way, a reserve is there as your backup plan if something goes wrong with your main. Reserves are typically the same size or slightly larger the main, you obviously don’t want to cut away from a malfunction only to find yourself with adrenalin already rushing, under a smaller canopy than you’re used to. The reserves are typically 7-cell canopies in order to provide a fast and stable opening, you obviously don’t want a slow release when deploying your reserve in an emergency situation.

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Container

Containers are where your chutes are stowed. You know that backpack looking thing? That’s your container. Containers are more complex than they look though, and are designed to deploy your canopy in the safest possible manner, while also being comfortable to wear. Containers are ever-evolving as the sport of skydiving progresses and the advancements on newer containers offer far more bells and whistles than earlier models.

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AAD

Automatic activation devices are devices which automatically deploy either the main or reserve canopy from the container system. These safety devices are used as a measure to ensure that should there be a problem in the manual deployment of the parachute, or a malfunction occurring, that the chute will still be deployed. For instance, if a skydiver suffered a seizure or some other kind of medical emergency while in freefall and they are unable to deploy their canopy, the AAD will be set to release the canopy after a certain altitude is reached (or after a certain amount of time). AADs have undergone small changes throughout the years to ensure that they have the most accurate altitude information for deployment. Most modern AADs are electronic in nature and have a very accurate handle on altitude.

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Altimeter

An altimeter is a device that displays to a skydiver what altitude they are at. There are several types of altimeters available on the market, digital altimeters, analogue altimeters and then audible altimeters. Digital and analogue models are usually wrist mounted, allowing for easy visuals of the altitude of the jumper. Audible altimeters are a bit different as these do not display a value, but rather they play a sound to the skydiver (usually mounted within the helmet) to alert them of their altitude. The choice of whether to go audible, digital or analogue is mostly preferential with price being the most deciding factor for many jumpers. Digital altimeters tend to cost a fair bit more than your regular analogue altimeters and thus analogue still has a large presence today, despite being the oldest of the designs.

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Wingsuit

Wingsuit flying has exploded in popularity over the past decade or so, in many ways taking over from the 90s craze of sky surfing. Wingsuits are designed to reduce the rate at which the skydiver falls, by using a webbed design between both the arms and body and between the legs. Wingsuit skydiving is not something that is recommended for new jumpers and instead tends to be focused towards jumpers who already have some skydiving experience. The exact level of experience one should have before completing a wingsuit jump is a matter of debate, with some feeling as though there should be proficiency tests before allowing them, while others feel you can just judge the situation based off jump numbers.

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Helmet

While the assumption may be that your skydiving helmet is there for ground collisions, the truth is the helmet is most effective in its responsibility in mid air collisions between jumpers. There are two main categories of helmets for skydiving, the full face helmet and the open helmet. The design you choose to wear should be whichever you feel most comfortable with, though should you opt for an open face helmet, you will also need to invest in some skydiving goggles to protect the eyes. Helmets have become more than just another safety measure though, for those with a passion for photography or videography, different helmet designs are created in order to cater for the mounting of cameras.

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Goggles

Goggles are a mandatory part of your skydiving gear if you’re jumping with an open faced helmet, acting as an essential eye protection method. Goggles are typically affordable and easy to acquire.

Jumpsuits

Jumpsuits are an optional extra for skydivers. For the casual skydiver there is no real need for a jumpsuit, however for those looking to increase performances in freefall or perhaps get into tracking, a jumpsuit is going to be able to improve your aerodynamics and provide you with a better track, especially the case for specialized tracking suits which still fall into the category of a jumpsuit.

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Used Skydiving Gear

Skydiving is by no means a cheap sport and the gear can come in at quite a cost. Because of this, it's not uncommon for skydivers to buy used gear to jump with. While having some fresh new gear is great, if you're on a budget you shouldn't hesitate to consider the second hand market when looking to gear up. We offer free skydiving classifieds where you'll be able to look through hundreds of ads and see if there's anything that fits the bill of what you're after. Dealing with scammers is always a concern when it comes to online classifieds, so we do advise that all those buying used gear, regardless of where you're buying from, implement some basic safety precautions to ensure that you don't get caught out by someone trying to steal your money.

1. Be weary of individuals who wish to use money transfer. While not all of these individuals will be scammers, it is a common payment method used by scammers. Though recently more have started to adopt PayPal as well, usually using stolen PayPal accounts.

2. If it's too good to be true, it's probably a scam. There are often cases where individuals list great items at unbelievable bargains causing the buyer to act quickly to avoid losing out on the deal. If you do see someone offering a bargain, contact them - but be careful in your vetting of their legitimacy.

3. Excess payment is a big red flag. This is usually for those who are selling online and encounter a scammer trying to make a purchase from them. They may offer to have their own courier come to collect it, or offer you more than it's worth. These are suspicious activities that should prompt further verification of validity.

4. Find our information about the person! If you're unsure about whether a buyer or seller is a scammer, you should seek as much information from them as possible. We recommend asking them for their home DZ or rigger's number so you can call to verify. You could also ask them for their USPA number or other information relating to their skydiving career that could assist you in determining if they are to be trusted. There are a few cases where skydivers get scammed by other jumpers, but vast majority remain general scams like those found on Craigslist.

For more information on buying used gear, we've published several articles on the topic.

6 Ways to be less dumb when buying used skydiving gear

How to buy used skydiving gear the smart way

A guide to buying your first skydive gear

Skydiving Disciplines

There are numerous disciplines that one can specialize in, from those that are individual orientated to ones that incorporate a small team and even those that consist of dozens of other skydivers who work together to form world record setting big-way jumps. When becoming a licenses skydiver, you may choose to just remain a fun jumper and skydive for fun, though if you choose to specialize in a discipline you will have no shortage of options, and can easily work your existing skills into the discipline you head into. Let’s take a look at some of the common disciplines skydivers head into and see what they’re comprised of:

Indoor Skydiving

Indoor skydiving involves wind tunnels which create a column of rapidly moving air being pushed upwards while gravity pulls the jumper down, the result is a sensation that mirrors freefall, where the user gets to experience the same kind of feeling as if they were in a skydiving freefall. Historically, wind tunnels would often be found outdoors and were open. In recent years there has been a heavy focus on the more sophisticated indoor skydiving facilities, with many even offering their restaurants and recreational areas.

Indoor skydiving is a great way for those with a fear of the safety related to skydiving to experience the sensation of freefall without the risk. For those that use indoor skydiving as a bucket list experience, it is a fairly affordable venture and can prove to be a whole lot of fun. For many, the act of trying out indoor skydiving results in them feeling inspired to head to their local dropzone and start acquiring their skydiving license. Though indoor tunnels aren’t just for the casual visitor and instead act as both a training grounds for skydivers looking to master their freeflying skills in a more manageable environment or for those who form part of competitive freeflying teams who need to practice in the colder, wetter winter months where skydiving may not be possible.

In addition to these two types of clients, wind tunnels also have their own breed of competition. Professional tunnel flying has become more popular in recent years and because of the safety aspect, many children are now also engaging in competitive tunnel flying. The amount of talent that is generated from indoor skydiving is truly astonishing and it will no doubt play a huge role in how the discipline of freeflying evolves in the skydiving world, with many bringing forward their talents from the tunnel and incorporating them into their skydiving routines.

When looking where to indoor skydive, there’s no shortage of tunnels these days, especially within the United States where many new establishments have recently opened. You can visit our indoor skydiving section and find a tunnel near you to begin experiencing freeflying.