5 Reasons to Skydive (That Have Nothing to Do with Adrenaline)

Caroline Hsu - Head Down Movement.jpg

I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of adrenaline. I skydive in spite of the adrenaline, not because of it. My body’s physiological response, including increased heart rate and tunnel vision, are things I need to manage in order to make quick decisions in high-stress situations. But they aren’t the main attraction. There are definitely skydivers who love the adrenaline and even decide what new things to try based on the rush they get—which I completely respect. It’s just not me.

I love getting stoked as much as the next person. And, yes, it’s true that there is a delightful cocktail of neurotransmitters released in your brain with every jump. But, my love affair (and sometimes downright obsession) with skydiving goes quite a bit deeper than that, and this also seems to be the case for a number of friends I’ve made in the sport. We all have our own reasons for making this sport such a big part of our lives. Here are a few of mine.

A fun head up jump at Skydive Utah.  Photo credit:    Mark ‘Trunk’ Kirschenbaum   .

A fun head up jump at Skydive Utah. Photo credit: Mark ‘Trunk’ Kirschenbaum.

5 Reasons to Skydive (That Have Nothing to Do with Adrenaline)

1. The freedom is out of this world, and jumping is incredibly fun.

It is blissful and liberating to feel yourself drop away from a plane into delicious, cool air that turns into a strong wind as you accelerate downwards towards the earth. You can push off this wind to start moving towards your friends or fold your arms and legs in towards your body to pick up speed. You can fly upside-down hurtling towards the ground head-first. You can even fly like a bird in a flock, with or without a wingsuit. So much of skydiving consists of the moments you share with friends: the high fives and the nose boops while in free fall but also the laughter and silly expressions. Skydiving isn’t all slick edits and chest pounding dubstep. It’s the freedom to play, to improvise, and to imagine. It can be incredibly freeing for your soul, and incredibly fun.

My best friend coming in for a high five!  Photo courtesy of Caroline Hsu.

My best friend coming in for a high five! Photo courtesy of Caroline Hsu.

2. Skydiving is meditative.

For those who haven't jumped out of a plane, I know you may be skeptical but hear me out! Meditation is all about tuning in, and becoming aware of your body and engaged in what you're doing. It can be an invaluable tool for learning how to work with your mind, whether that's improving your focus or finding clarity about your emotions and reactive states. Practically, it might look like focusing on a word, a color, or even nothing at all.

It’s helpful to think of each skydive as 45 seconds to one minute of pure focus. That focus includes flying with your friends and performing a checklist of everything you need to do to make that happen safely. Because things happen so quickly during a jump, there is little margin for error. We can travel in excess of 160 miles per hour, so there are very real consequences for careless mistakes. Skydiving requires you to exist in the moment, for 45 seconds of your life.

Your mind doesn’t drift, because that would be dangerous. It doesn’t wander to peruse the day’s current events. It isn’t consumed with obtrusive thoughts. You don’t think about that awkward thing you did at a party four years ago.

There is little to no time to think about the worries of the world or the very real stressors in your life: your mind is focused on the “dive plan,” as well as performing a sequence of actions (in the right order) in order to safely deliver you back to earth.

Being this present in your own life feels incredible and the positive effects can carry over to the non-skydiving parts of life too—you might find that you have a renewed sense of contentment, enhanced focus, and clarity.

Upside down team huddle at 12,500 ft in the air.

Upside down team huddle at 12,500 ft in the air.

3. Progression can be very satisfying.

It feels good to set goals and knock them out, one by one. Jumpers are often inspired by the cool things other skydivers are doing, and figure out a plan to work towards those same goals too. Not bad, right? The challenge of working together towards a common goal, and a sense of accomplishment are things a lot of people search for.

Some people are really into big way formation skydiving. They attend invitation-only training camps and anxiously await acceptance letters to attend record jumps with hundreds of other experienced skydivers from all around the world. The stakes are high! The end result is a breathtaking spectacle of human ingenuity and togetherness: hundreds of jumpers flying head down or head up or belly to earth, linked in elegant clockwork configurations.

Other people are really into canopy flight. They study and train with mentors while mastering the ability to carve their parachutes in excess of 70+ mph very close to the ground. They are walking (well, flying) a thin line between life and death. For them, the beauty of skydiving is in canopy flight and mastering the dangers posed by “swooping” while competing for accuracy, distance, and style.

Yet others want to get together with three other people and arrange themselves in as many different formations as possible in one jump, eventually competing at the national and world championship levels. We often have to start small and keep chipping away at small, manageable goals to safely get where we're going, but continuously working hard and seeing results can be an exciting pursuit in and of itself. And there’s nothing reckless about that.

After many failed attempts at this type of exit, I saw this photo and finally understood why it’s called a “flower” exit. Progression!  Photo credit:    Mark ‘Trunk’ Kirschenbaum   .

After many failed attempts at this type of exit, I saw this photo and finally understood why it’s called a “flower” exit. Progression! Photo credit: Mark ‘Trunk’ Kirschenbaum.

4. Skydiving is full of fascinating concepts and systems.

If learning about systems and how things work (along with a healthy dose of risk management) piques your interest, skydiving could be an engaging pursuit for you. For many new jumpers, skydiving is a really unique and even foreign experience: there’s simply a lot to learn. It takes a lot of trial and error (and a lot of coaching) to learn how to fly your body through the air. At the risk of resurrecting the old notion from Toy Story, when skydivers use the word “flying,” we really mean “falling with style.”

New jumpers start out flying in a belly-to-earth position. We learn how to move from side to side, how to speed up and slow down, how to turn, or any combination of these maneuvers. It isn't the most intuitive thing at first, and there's a bit of a learning curve for many. It's like learning physics in a very practical way, especially once you start adding in other factors like other skydivers you're jumping with, and other groups of skydivers in the sky. Once you master belly-to-earth flying, you learn how to freefly or how to wingsuit—and that means starting over as a beginner again and again and again.

Skydiving rigs are also interesting pieces of equipment, with multiple backup measures in place to help you save your life in case, say, your parachute doesn't open correctly at the planned altitude. If you're so inclined, it can be really interesting to learn what exactly happens if you pull this handle or that, or how you might handle different life-threatening situations based on how your gear works.

There’s a fair amount of trial and error involved in learning how to fly your body. Oops.  Photo credit:    Alec Sherwood   .

There’s a fair amount of trial and error involved in learning how to fly your body. Oops. Photo credit: Alec Sherwood.

5. It's empowering—you can accomplish things you never knew were possible.

I'll never forget my very first jump and how I'd committed so much to make it happen every step of the way. It started when I woke up that morning, to when I got in the car to leave for the dropzone, to when I got on the plane, and finally when I made my way to the open door where my life changed forever. I don't remember a whole lot from the jump itself, but I remember quite vividly the moment right after my parachute deployed. My canopy unfurled like a beautiful flower, with the correct shape and floaty feeling that meant it had opened without incident. I immediately yelled at the top of my lungs, "HOLY SHIT!! That was f—king amazing!" I was in utter disbelief that I had jumped out of a plane.

If you’ve ever jumped from a plane you know the exact feeling! You feel like you can do nearly anything, and I think that's only in part because of that fancy brain cocktail mentioned earlier. For most folks, overcoming the fear of standing at the edge and letting go into the void, into uncertainty and the unknown for the first time, is incredibly empowering. Even for folks deep into their skydiving careers, there is a near-endless fountain of new things to learn, achieve, and overcome. If we're lucky, we might take this newly-empowered sense of self into our daily lives too.

Before I started skydiving, I never knew that landing a parachute on a beach was within the scope of possibility of things I could do in life.  Photo courtesy of Caroline Hsu.

Before I started skydiving, I never knew that landing a parachute on a beach was within the scope of possibility of things I could do in life. Photo courtesy of Caroline Hsu.

Skydiving is blissful and fun, and for many folks, it offers a pathway to expanded horizons and a new sense of self. For those that enjoy the rush, it's without a doubt a wonderful experience. But for those who are less keen on the adrenaline, there's a whole other world of possibility too, much more than meets the eye.

If you're interested in learning to skydive, May is Learn to Skydive month. The United States Parachute Association (USPA) partners with dropzones around the country to provide free first-jump ground school. To find one of these courses, visit the USPA's website.