Out Of My Comfort Zone and Onto The Drop Zone

Laura HamptonAFF, Charity skydives

nino aff skydive

Over the years, we’ve welcomed hundreds of new skydivers who experience the thrill of the jump as a tandem skydive and then come back to learn to jump alone through our AFF skydiving course.

One thing that every one of those individuals has in common is an absolute love for the sport of skydiving. Whether that love is derived from a long term ambition to jump, or a sudden realisation on the day that what was meant to be a ‘one off’ has fully taken hold and become an obsession, every one of our new skydivers tells us how much they value being part of the fantastic community here.

During lockdown, we welcomed two of our newest jumpers to tell us about their experience so far. We hope it inspires new skydivers and reminds experienced skydivers of the wonderful things about our sport that are so important to maintain now and long into the future. Huge thanks to Alex and Nino for your contribution!

Alex: tandem skydiver turned weather watcher…

What an extraordinary year 2020 was for all of us. For me, it was not only extraordinary because of COVID, but also because 2020 was the year I started my skydiving journey.

I got the bug for skydiving after I did a charity tandem at Langar to raise awareness and funds for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Trust back in September 2019. I have to admit, the tandem was on my bucket list but the thought of doing it terrified me. At that time, I wanted to get the thing over and done with, raise loads of money for a charity very close to my heart, and get on with the rest of my life. Little did I know that upon landing in the bullseye on my feet (the first and only time that has happened!) I would become completely obsessed with the mental challenge and thrill that skydiving was going to bring into my life.

After my tandem, I spent a few months debating whether to sign up for AFF. The fear before the jump was real and it was exhausting but the feeling I had after the jump was not going to be ignored and I couldn’t let it go. One thing I have learned about this sport (and fear in general) is that the more you think and procrastinate the less likely you are to do what excites you and makes you feel alive. So just before Christmas 2019, I decided to bite the bullet. 

After a full day of ground school, I did my level 1 jump on 3 March 2020. Before the jump I was absolutely terrified, I got very little sleep the night before and I was filled with apprehension on the drive to the airfield. When I arrived at the DZ I was told that the weather wasn’t looking great and I felt a real sense of relief, but within 10 minutes of my refresher I was told that we could get my level 1 done, so up we went. It was the most mixed up set of emotions I had ever felt; from being completely overcome with fright and terror before getting out of the plane to absolute exhilaration and perfect contentment when falling through the sky. I was completely flying when I landed (pardon the pun!) and I was ready to go again but clouds struck and then came the first lockdown scuppering my plans of getting my A licence for a few months. 

At that point, skydiving felt like a very small part of my life so the lockdown did not seem so bad. Nevertheless, as soon as the DZ reopened, I was there jumping as much as I could. Before I knew it, I was spending my days looking at weather apps (picking the app with the most favourable forecast as the app of the day!) and planning my life around jumpable days. 

I had an incredible summer at the DZ, making new friends and learning about skydiving. I began to feel part of a unique community. Whilst waiting for the next lift, the clouds to pass or for the winds to die down, I had many conversations with people who were genuinely interested in how I was getting on. I would see the same faces each time I was at the DZ and I began to feel quite at home. During my AFF and particularly when doing my consoles, I continued to feel severe fear and anxiety, to such an extent that at one point, I wasn’t enjoying jumping at all. On each and every jump on the journey to altitude, I could quite easily have stayed on the plane and returned with the pilot. One part of me was saying “don’t jump, you will die” and the other part was saying “if you don’t jump, you’ll die inside”. I spent quite a bit of time talking to other skydivers about how I was feeling. They all told me the same thing, that everyone feels fear, that it is completely natural and that it does get easier. The key piece of advice was “just keep jumping”. So I did and with the help, support and encouragement of the instructors, my fellow students and skydivers, I got my A Licence on 31 August 2020. 

My original plan was to get my A Licence then put this crazy fad to bed. Fortunately it wasn’t as easy as that. Despite the trepidation and the rollercoaster of emotions I felt every time I was going to launch myself out of a plane, within just a few months I had fallen in love with the sport, the people and the community. I had become addicted, and this wasn’t a habit I wanted to break.  

For me, it was when I started FS1 that the angst began to subside. I had four tremendous lady coaches for my FS1 jumps who showed me just how much fun this sport can be. They taught me to have confidence in my abilities and to relax (another key piece of advice!). Luckily for me, I got my FS1 sticker at the end of September just before the second lockdown. 

The second lockdown was harder to deal with than the first. The thought of not being able to jump really frustrated me. I had come so far and I knew that the longer I had to wait for my next jump the less current I would become, the more the fear would return and the more work I would need to do to overcome it again. 

Luckily, we weren’t away from the DZ for too long. Between the second and the third lockdown, I still managed to do lots of jumps, both solo and FS jumps. I started having some major fun with my new friends and did some really crazy exits. My favourite being the “the tube” – look it up, it will definitely put a smile to your face! Now we are in another lockdown, I know I will face the same challenges when restrictions are lifted and I have to say that part of me is dreading it, but when I am on that first lift there is only one way down so when the door opens and I am shuffling towards the exit I will be telling myself “Shut up and Jump!”. 

If you are a student (or just starting out in the sport) and are struggling with fear or you are feeling disheartened, get on a load as soon as you can and jump! No matter how long it takes you and no matter how much fear you feel you have absolutely got this . . . you will progress and you will get where you want to be and it will be completely worth all the time and effort. The brilliance of this sport and community you are a part of cannot be overestimated. It is life changing and awesome. I can’t wait to see you in the sky sometime!

Nino: a globe trotter finds his perfect destination

There are many aspects involved when you try to explain the beauty of our sport to friends and family. The experience, the freedom, the absolute stunning views you get from the plane and when under canopy and the excitement of doing something others rarely dare to even attempt. Above all, it is the scrapbook of memories you can make from people’s reaction to you telling them that you willingly throw yourself from a perfectly functioning plane. In addition, to me, the joy of this sport is the community you find around you.

In the time of an unprecedented pandemic, this community plays even more of a crucial role to a student who is just attempting the sport. Having to battle the common challenges of bad weather days, and the agony  of looking at more experienced jumpers tackling winds like bad-asses while aching for the day you can get to be as cool as them and to do the same. Lockdown presented us with another added challenge of interrupting the very important learning curve of new skydivers. Nonetheless, every time you come back to the drop zone, the energy of everyone around yearning for that 20 minutes call is enough to light the fire again after being suffocated by the lockdown. 

As someone who caught the bug very early on as many who fell in love with this madness, I wanted to be as good as I could be in the shortest period possible. Even though I may not have realised it at the beginning, taking your time to enjoy every single thing you do in the sport is really important. I try to look at lockdown sort of, as a blessing in disguise. Having done over 70 jumps since starting my AFF in mid-July and finishing in August, the second lockdown was extremely hard as I was pushing  to finish FS1 quickly and getting my B license briefs done. The lockdown period served as a reminder that while immersing yourself and having a serious goal is definitely important, the moment you forget the joy of jumping out that perfectly operational plane, you lose a massive part of the drive to face and enjoy the normal challenges of newly qualified skydivers.

The lessons I have learned in the small amount of time we have been allowed in the skies have been incredible, and it surely stems back to having an incredible community around you. The best lesson the skydiving community taught me is that it is okay to struggle and it is okay to not get things the first, second, or twelfth time in my case (while I was trying to pass my level 6 in AFF), but it is not OKAY to give up. And as long as you are willing to try and keep chipping at it, you will always find support around. Your instructors are going to push you, more experienced skydivers will keep motivating you, and above all, YOU ARE ALWAYS PROGRESSING AND LEARNING SOMETHING! 

Speaking to many students who struggle like myself, I believe we all get dragged into the frustration of that one thing we are not getting right, yet we forget about the 50 other things we are practicing and getting better at in the course of the jumps we do to finish AFF or obtain FS1. At the end of the day, it’s just a matter of perspective, and I believe once we adopt a good perspective in this sport, lockdown, no matter how long it is, will only be a red light in the plane that will eventually turn green, and we’ll all get the chance to make more memories of telling people “Ha! We jumped out of a fully functioning plane”.