Caroline Hsu is a multi-sport adventurer in Park City, UT who enjoys skydiving, skiing, alpine climbing, and paragliding across the Southwestern United States.
Name: Caroline Hsu
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Current town: Park City, UT
Sport: Skydiving, Skiing, Alpine Climbing, Paragliding
What made you decide to start skydiving? I started jumping in order to overcome a paralyzing fear of heights. The catalyst was a friend, who, every time we went mountaineering, saw how much effort I put into overcoming this fear and encouraged me to take this next step. When I first started, I had no idea how much I’d end up loving this sport for so many reasons. It's been an absolute life changer because through it I discovered that a happy, balanced life for me has so many other components than my day job alone.
How long have you been a skydiver? 2 years
How many jumps do you have? Around 450 jumps
What type of skydiving do you enjoy? I love freeflying right now! I definitely want to get into more dynamic flying and freestyle. I grew up doing ballet most of my life, and all I’ve wanted to do since I started jumping was to dance in the sky. Canopy flight is also super fun! Right now I’m barely a hatchling swooper—learning how to dial in coming in on my fronts—and I’m so looking forward to learning more.
What was your first skydive like? Did you do a tandem? I didn’t do a tandem, and really it would've been much scarier for me! This is probably a function of my climbing background—knowing how systems work and how to keep myself safe makes me feel calm. Two of my friends were in the same first jump course as me, so I felt some solidarity, though I still had to practice mindfulness to keep the nerves in check and manage all that adrenaline. I'd say the point where I knew I was hooked was after pitching on my first jump: I distinctly remember yelling at the top of my lungs, "Holy shit!!". I felt so empowered facing a truly limiting fear of heights I'd had for over 20 years.
Do you come from an outdoor family? What does your family think of your decision to start skydiving? Growing up my family went to lots of national parks and spent time hiking—we really enjoyed getting outside together. My extended family is pretty entertained by my escapades in the sky and they ask good questions about my sky life. I’m very, very grateful for their support. I wasn't super outdoorsy growing up, though I tried lot of organized team sports. I dabbled in softball, tennis, golf, wrestling, and cheerleading.
Where I really found my athletic calling was on my college rowing team at Bryn Mawr (anassa kata!). There's something special about pushing yourself to your absolute physical and mental limits on glassy water during sunrise. I think this translated really well to mountaineering and loving alpine starts. I wasn't an athletic or outdoorsy kid and I had to work really, really hard. I still do. Rowing with my team showed me the way: that hard work and support can get you places you've only dreamed of going—whether that’s across the finish line for the first time, climbing past 13,000 ft, or flying through it.
Which came first: skydiving or climbing? Climbing came first, though accidentally (serendipitously?)! I was visiting Seattle with my boyfriend at the time, where we were supposed to go backpacking. When we met some friends there, someone suggested going out to a cabin in Eastern Washington because it was close to Vantage, an amazing place to climb with super fun basalt columns. "Super fun"—I say that in retrospect because I was incredibly scared of heights at the time, but being that these were new-to-me friends, I didn't want to be the only voice of dissent and hey, it's good to expand your horizons, right? Turns out that's true, because it started me on a life-changing path I never knew existed.
A week after that I went out to Joshua Tree to climb with some friends who lead the Wilderness Travel Course (WTC) with the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club. I ended up attending WTC a few months after. It's a 10-week course that meets for a 3-hour classroom session during the week, as well as day and overnight trips on the weekends. I owe so much to this group of amazing humans and leaders because I learned so much about self-sufficiency and safety in the backcountry from them.
I did some learning from friends and additional training in anchor building and gear placement when I wanted to get into trad. I also had the opportunity to go on a couple guided trips, which opened up a new world of fast and light alpine climbing to me. The guides I climbed with were so good at what they did, and I definitely learned a lot!
What do you like best about skydiving? Too many things to name, but most of all I love flying with my friends! The feeling that you get after a sweet jump with people you love is like nothing else. I also really enjoy working towards goals in this sport, as well as the focus and awareness that every jump and minute in the tunnel brings.
What is the most challenging thing you’ve ever done as a skydiver? What was the scariest? The most challenging thing for me has been learning to freefly. I’m definitely not a natural when it comes to flying and I consistently have to overcome a good amount of fear when trying new things. It can be mentally and physically taxing! Also, real talk: the scariest jumps I’ve ever done were for my wingsuit first jump course. I was terrified almost every jump because I kept over inputting. The only exception was the last jump of the day when I was too tired to be tense. That's when it clicked! Experienced wingsuiters make it look so easy, but to me even a 'baby bird' student suit feels like a lot of extra fabric to be flying! Wingsuiting is still scary to me, but lots of good things are.
What container and parachute are you currently jumping? What was your progression? I’m currently jumping a Vector 310 and a Safire 3 119. After becoming a licensed skydiver, I spent lots of time on canopies between 210-160, then a few hundred jumps on a 149. I demoed a few canopies between 149-119 and I’ll likely be sticking here for a while.
Do you have any cutaways? How many? None yet. I’m hoping to do an intentional cutaway this summer to practice that skill before it’s needed!
Do you have any advice for women who are interested in skydiving? If you're curious, make your first jump and see if it's something you like! If you end up liking it, find a mentor you trust. Skydiving is a unique sport—a real level playing field—in the sense that there isn’t an ideal body type for learning to fly and strength alone doesn’t give you an advantage as it would in other activities. This is a really great thing! However, as women, I think we have experiences that are different from men’s. It’s really nice to have a more experienced jumper to talk things through with, whether they’re progression-related or purely social—if for nothing else but to make sure you know you aren't alone in your experiences.
One of my favorite things about this community is to be with people on their journey as they start jumping and finding what makes them happy in this sport. I love talking with new jumpers and chatting about their last jump, seeing the stoke on their faces as they talk about a cool video they saw, learning about what their goals are. So, I want to open the door—feel free to message me on social media, especially if you want to start jumping or just started. This is true for anyone, though I’m especially invested in the advancement of women in the sport. I care so deeply about it because I know how life-changing skydiving can be for us!