This weekend was a beautiful one. The sun was out, the winds were fairly calm, and I started itching for some freefall.
So we headed down to Grove City, PA to jump with our friends at Skydive Pennsylvania. Lucky for us, they’ve decided to stay open this winter for fun jumpers who are willing to brave the cold.Though they’re not flying the Porter, at least we get to ride up in the cleanest C-182 I’ve ever seen! It has padded flooring and everything.
The cleanliness of the plane is beside the point…
Rick and I met up with jumping buddy Don who we met during our time at Canton Air Sports. Don is a belly flyer, and with the bitter cold that we were going to experience, I decided that donning my RW suit was the best option for warding off frost bite. So in turn, we ended up doing two jumps, both as RW practice.
On the first jump, it was everyone’s task to come dock on me. We got close, but had some fall rate issues. The second jump was switched up, and we were tasked with docking on Rick. Again, there were some issues, and I did have to go head down for a few seconds to catch up, but Rick and I did manage to sync up for a second before I had to wave him off and track away.
It was definitely different to be back on my belly after 50+ freefly jumps, but it was a welcome change. I learned a little about surviving the winter chill – more to come on that – and I also learned that freefly helps with body control awareness immensely. In fact, it felt like I’d improved my RW skills, even after all this time spent only freeflying.
There’s something to be said for the feeling of diving head first out of a Cessna into the brisk, cloudless sky. It feels more peaceful than jumping from a turbine.
*Photo by Lonnie Kirk
Maybe it just brings back all those memories of my first jumps as a newbie skydiver – given that I started my skydiving career out of a 5-person cessna.
Either way, it was great to be back in the sky. Stay tuned for what I learned on staying toasty in the brisk winter skies. Until then…
When I first started skydiving back in April, I was lucky that the weather was warm enough that I didn’t require too many layers, even at altitude.
Though after my first few AFF jumps, we had a spring cold spell here in NE Ohio and I was donning gloves and a hoodie. I was nervous the first time jumping with gloves. I was so used to reaching back and grabbing the hackey with my bare hands that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to feel it, or worse yet, find it with gloves on.
Luckily, my winter gloves have grippers on the palms and fingers, so I felt confident that deploying my pilot ‘chute would not be an issue.
Sure enough, the gloves worked perfectly. In fact, I came down from that skydive with a preference for gloves. Not only do they keep my fingers nice and toasty at altitude (as we’re all aware that I’m a little bit of a freeze baby), but they protect my hands in freefall too. After all, haven’t we all had those moments of,” hey, my hand is bleeding…how did that happen.”
No, just me? Well, okay then.
(Suited up in my RW gear, gloves and all)
Until the heat of summer set in, I was in the habit of donning gloves before every jump. It was something I became quite accustom to. It’s also something I’ve had to do this fall in order to ensure I can feel my hands post-freefall to work my toggles properly.
Not many of my skydiving buddies wear gloves on a regular basis, but I’ve heard from some who swear by it. I suppose it’s all what you get used to over time.
For me, gloves are where it’s at – though we’ll see if that holds true during heat waves next summer.
What’s your preference? Gloves or no gloves in freefall?
Wait, that’s not right.
But it does accurately describe my Halloween weekend.
Friday was spent running around getting all the pieces for my costume and enjoying the seasonably warm weather. Though windy, I do love an evening of 70+ degrees at the end of October!
Saturday started with an unexpected morning call from Rick, asking me to come over before the DZ party. Since he couldn’t go until late, a pre-party lunch was in order.
Before we headed to get some grub, he surprised me with a “just because” gift: a pair of Gatorz! He actually purchased two pairs, one for him and one for me. I ended up with the Radiators, brushed metal frames and photochromic grey lenses. His pair are very similar, brushed metal with grey lenses, though slightly bigger to fit his face.
Talk about a great gift! I was actually considering getting myself a pair – he knows me so well. I can’t wait to get a strap for them and give ‘em a spin in freefall.
Saturday night was spent at Skydive Pennsylvania with a bunch of our close friends. There were some great costumes that night: everything from fat strippers to Reagan (a la Point Break) to the woman who came as the Skyventure Wind Tunnel. I donned some bunny ears and rubbed dryer lint all over myself so I could be a dust bunny. Clever, eh?
Sunday the weather in PA didn’t start out like we’d imagined. The plan was to get in a bunch of freefly jumps, but upon waking, we were informed that the weather in Ohio was beautiful and that the balloon would be flying. So we un-manifested and headed over to the balloon launch.
*Photo by Robyn Miller
Rick and I were last out of the balloon, doing a two- way with him falling backwards in an attempt to capture my entire jump on video. Unfortunately, his GoPro failed (again) and we didn’t capture the jump.
You’ll have to take my word for it, if you haven’t done one, that it’s the most tranquil experience ever. Falling, silently through the blue sky. There’s just nothing like it.
*Photo by Robyn Miller
I can’t wait to have the opportunity to do one of these again. Let’s just hope for some more good weather before the snow starts to fall.
How did you spend your Halloween weekend?
*Photo by Lonnie Kirk (from a C-185)
Over the course of the season I’ve found that my stress levels are significantly lower throughout the week after a weekend filled with skydiving.
It’s a perfect inverse relationship – the more altitude in my life, the less stress. Ask any jumper, they’re likely to confirm this statement.
Though I will admit, the more skydiving I do on the weekends, the more I crave it throughout the week. Unless I’m lucky enough to squeeze in a weekday jump – hell, even if I have made a hump-day jump or two – I’m practically twitching in my seat come Friday, needing my adrenaline fix.
There’s something about opening the caravan door (or otter, or porter) at 13,000 feet, smelling the clean, crisp air, and flying with your freefly partner (or RW crew, if you’re into that sort of thing).
There’s no better release than that.
*Still taken from video by Richard Simenc. Prepping for a two-man rodeo.
Talk about living in the moment – as you plummet at speeds upwards of 140+ mph, all you have to focus on is what’s going on in that minute of freefall. There’s no worries at all. Work, your to-do list, issues with friends and family, all that gets sucked out the door at altitude.
Under canopy, you’re completely at peace; reflecting on the preceding skydive, adrenaline still pumping through your body – it’s the ultimate alone time.
*Photo by Sandy Weltman
Of course, where I found the most tranquility was on my helicopter jump – which is essentially the same feeling as a BASE, jumping into still air (though with significantly more altitude involved) – which you may remember from my post on the Work Stinks boogie a couple months back.
I’ve heard hot air balloon jumps are even more peaceful than the helicopter, what without the sound of the blades above your head. I will soon find out as I do my first balloon jump tomorrow with friends Bryan and Landon and my freefly partner Rick.
Fingers crossed for beautiful weather and Blue Skies!
Over the course of the summer, Canton Air Sports has quickly become my home away from home – as is the case for most skydivers and their home DZ.
It’s a place that you look forward to visiting after a long week. A place where you find peace, tranquility, and happiness. A place where you’re all family – an often crazy, dysfunctional family that likes to throw themselves out of airplanes at 13,000 feet and marvel at the video footage after – but a supportive one none the less.
I cherish my home dropzone just as much as my real home. Between the bonfires, stories and advice shared, and great memories built in freefall with like-minded people, who wouldn’t look forward to a weekend at the DZ?
The friends I’ve made this season alone are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met – and this weekend, I was lucky enough to celebrate the 35th anniversary of our home DZ with most of them.
It was a 5-jump weekend for me, four on Saturday – starting with a dead sprint to make the first load – and one on Sunday. What can I say, it was a long night and a very cold day at altitude. So, I might just be a freeze baby. What of it?
The weekend was filled with freefly jumps, lots of sit practice with my freefly partner and some excellent coaching opportunities with one of the most incredible freeflyers around. I feel more than fortunate to have been in the air with him and learned so much just from one-off conversations on the ground. Thanks, Joe!
Throughout the weekend we got to jump, eat, drink, and chat with those skydivers who share in the love of a great dropzone. The cookout was delicious, and after a long day of jumping, cracking open that first beer around the bonfire made for the perfect transition to a night of debauchery. I’ll spare you the details. What happens at the bonfire, stays at the bonfire.
(Diane and Rodger, Rick and myself hanging out with the rest of the crew at the bonfire.)
Though it’s all in good fun. Work hard, play hard. Right?
Come Sunday most of the experienced jumpers were moving a little slower than usual, but what’s a better hangover cure than a brisk 60 seconds in freefall?
This was one of the best jumps of the weekend for me. Two-man rolling train into a sit. I held a pretty decent sitfly – enough to participate in a two-man freefly with Joe as he went head down. This was also, by far, the best landing I’ve had with my canopy yet. Perfect braked approach into a landing where I wouldn’t have cracked an egg shell – and perfectly on target. Looks like I’m starting to get this 7-cell thing down. About time!
Due to the cold winds at altitude and the caravan having to leave earlier than expected, I called it a day after one jump. The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning up from the night before and reminiscing over the hundreds of pictures that Sandy took over the weekend.
She was even nice enough to burn some onto a CD for me. Here’s a small blip of the events from the 35th anniversary celebration of Canton Air Sports. (Big thanks to Sandy and Lonnie Kirk for these amazing photos.)
(Dirt diving the 6-way hybrid. I was part of the 4-man base with Rick and Joe as hangers.)
(Sandy took lots of great shots of the sport jumpers under canopy!)
(Couple of freeflyers, always wanting to ‘hang’ around.)
(Now that’s what I call dirt dive concentration.)
Before I earned my A license, toward the tail end of my student training, I was told that once you’re off student status the real work begins.
At the time, I shrugged that comment off, focusing on how great it will be to finally have earned my license. And now that I have, I see just what was meant by that statement.
The last skydiving outings have been a lot of work. I’ve started jumping with groups of other experienced skydivers and have been lucky enough to be invited on some big ways with competitive jumpers who have thousands of jumps on me.
As fortunate as I am to be learning from these folks, it doesn’t come without hard work and serious concentration in the air.
Being the least experienced of, well, anyone I’ve ever jumped with, if a dive goes awry, it likely has had something to do with me. But, when it goes well and you can look back at the video and be proud of your jumping skills, it makes all those little blunders worth while.
Here’s a great example of a 6-way from this past weekend. After a couple of rough exits, we pulled this off beautifully! I can’t stop watching the five of us hold on to this formation perfectly.
It’s a feeling of pure satisfaction to know I was a part of that. Sure, there’s still lots of work to be done, but can’t I just admire what was accomplished for the time being? This jump definitely ranks high on my list of fun skydives.
It’s also been fun to get out and play around in the sky with Jeromy. He doesn’t mind doing these fun jumps with me every once in a while, and honestly, I think he enjoys having me chase him around the sky.
What have been some of your most memorable fun jumps?
This weekend I finally got back into the sky – and it felt great!
After taking two weeks off – due to wind and a minor elbow injury, as you may recall – my level of nervousness was a little higher than usual, but as soon as that door opened at 10,000 I was right back in the game.
(That would be my nervous smile.)
I finally got to fly my new jumpsuit that came in the mail last week (and was taunting me for days as it hung from my closet door). Since I’m still new to the sport I strapped the booties to my legs rather than using them in free fall. Once I’m an expert at flying my body, you best believe I’ll be giving those booties a try!
Jump #12 – My first diving exit.
I felt like Superwoman. That is, until I was backflying – unintentionally. Oh look, there’s the plane! I stabilized belly to Earth with enough time to get in a back flip and attempt a front flip. Winds were mild, maybe 5 mph and variable. Soft landing that I rolled out but really should have stood up.
Jump #13 – Lucky #13, and that it was. Our plane was full, VERY full. Clouds rolled in and we had to circle for almost an hour before the skies allowed us to jump. But it was worth the wait as we got about 1,500 feet more than we typically would. More free fall time, woot! I asked Lonnie to jump with me for some new solo pictures, video, and a little coaching. Check out his work at VelocityPhoto.com. I see now that I need to get my head up and quit looking at the ground.
Overall my jumps went well and more importantly I had a blast! My AFF friends graduated on to solo this weekend too. It’s always great to hear their stories. And I even got to watch my friend Jessica come down from her first tandem – which she loved, naturally. I left the drop zone feeling pretty great last night. Can’t wait till next weekend!
Today was my fourth AFF jump, and it was by far the most fun yet!
It was a beautiful day, light winds out of the west, not a cloud in the sky. As the first jump of the day I had quite the audience of tandem jumper, including a bachelorette party, watching on as I came in for a smooth landing (no pressure).
So smooth in fact, that I probably should have stood up rather than PLF, but given that I landed in eight or so inches of brush I took the safe route.
But let’s back up to the free fall for a second, shall we?
Today was my release dive. I went out the door as usual, Dan on my right, Tom on my left.
We exited together, took a few seconds to level out – arching hard to get belly to Earth – and went right into my first circle of awareness.
Only a couple hand signals and minor body position changes before I found myself in free fall alone. Officially my first solo free fall.
Surprisingly, I kept it cool and stable. A few minor, unintended turns, but I waved off at 5,500 and deployed the pilot chute. And that’s when I realized it….I completely forgot about practice touches after the circle of awareness.
Before the jump we had modified our routine to allow as much solo free fall time as possible, and in those modifications we decided on just one practice touch. Regardless, I was still released, but when I reached for that hackey to deploy it hit me, “holy crap! This is the first time I’m touching this… I completely spaced on the practice touches.”
Minor mistakes aside, I felt great about this skydive, and my instructors seemed pretty proud too.
This was the first time I felt like I had more fun than I did stress. Each time I jump I become more aware of just how much I was meant to be a part of this sport.
What has been one of your best jump experiences?
Well, this newbie skydiver has successfully completed her first five jumps! Here’s what they looked like, in a nutshell.
#1 – Tandem at Skydive Miami.
After a Caribbean vacation we decided to go out with a bang and skydive. Going in for a one time thrill I never imagined that I would fall so madly in love with the sport.
#2 – Tandem Progression at Cleveland Parachute Center (now my home DZ).
This time around I knew I was headed down the path of becoming a skydiver. At this point, I wasn’t quite comfortable going it on my own. So with 30 minutes of on-the-ground training, learning hand signals and the importance of altimeter checks, I was strapped to Dan for a free fall from 10,500 and deployed my own ‘chute. At that moment I was hooked!
(Unfortunately, no photos of this jump.)
#3 – AFF #1 at Cleveland Parachute Center.
After 5 hours of one-on-one training on the ground I went up with my own parachute. My nerves got the best of me and the free fall didn’t go as smoothly as we’d all hoped. An instructor was lost along the way but I still managed to pull at 5,500 and steer the canopy in for a soft landing. This was a big learning jump for me, and I figure, what a better time to make mistakes to learn from? After all, I’ve got two instructors right there to help me with the necessary corrections.
#4 – AFF #2 at Cleveland Parachute Center.
I was determined to have a near perfect skydive this time. So I came back to the drop zone the next morning and was the first jump of the day. Success! My nerves were calmed as I knew what to expect this time around and overall the skydive felt great.
#5 – AFF #3 at Cleveland Parachute Center.
This weekend I headed out for another early morning skydive. It was cold in the sky, very cold. So I donned gloves and a hooded sweatshirt under my jumpsuit. This time we performed team turns. I felt much more aware of my leg positioning and even got a couple thumbs up in free fall. Tried to squeeze in another jump later in the day but life got in the way and time ran short.
I’ll be back though, next weekend. You can count on that.
This weekend marked the beginning of my journey as a true skydiver.
I began my Advanced Free Fall (AFF) jumps. Essentially, these are a series of skydives where you are accompanied by one or two instructors in free fall and you learn how to become a solo skydiver.
What’s great about AFF is that you progressively learn more and more about free fall technique, steering the canopy, safety and everything else you need to know in order to jump out of a plane on your own.
On the first day you have ground school – anywhere from 4 to 6 hours of instruction – to go over the basics, review emergency procedures, and run through the skydive again and again.
And then, you make the jump! The first jump with your own parachute. Upon deploying the ‘chute you get an exhilerated feeling, one of complete freedom and awe.
Personally, I howled at the top of my lungs!
Then an instructor talks you in via radio from the ground.
This weekend consisted of my first two AFF jumps. My instructors over at Cleveland Parachute have been beyond amazing and they really helped me with some great lessons learned.
#1 – Altitude Awareness. ALWAYS, no matter what is happening in free fall, always remember to check your altimeter and know where you are in the free fall. 5,500 feet sneaks up on you fast!
#2 – Arch (and proper body position). If you’re not falling as smoothly as you’d hoped, arch your back. Hard. Then, check your legs. Odds are you need to point your toes a little and adjust to shoulder width apart.
(As you see here, I needed to bring my legs closer together a bit)
#3 – Relax. Find something on the plane ride up to calm your nerves. Personally, I sing to myself while visualizing my skydive. Adrenaline is supposed to be flowing. After all, what fun would it be if you weren’t a little on edge? But sheer terror isn’t going to help much. Breathe. Focus on your arch.
#4 – Break the skydive down. Take it one step at a time. First you have to exit the plane. Then you have free fall. ARCH. Then you can think about your in-flight progressions (circle of awareness and deploying at 5,500). And don’t concern yourself with malfunctions. They do happen, but rarely. And you’ve been trained how to handle it.
#5 – Trust yourself. You know what needs to happen. You’ve been over and over it with your instructors. Trust in your abilities and allow yourself to have fun.
(Everyone should have this smirk during free fall. After all, it’s FUN!)
But if the skydive doesn’t go as planned, brush it off. If you pulled at 5,500 and got to the ground safely then you succeeded. No one is perfect and just think, there’s always the next jump to improve.