Black People Skydive & So Should You—Here's How!

 
This could be you! Are you ready to plan your first skydive?  Photo courtesy of   Theresa Morgan

This could be you! Are you ready to plan your first skydive? Photo courtesy of Theresa Morgan

By now you’ve watched Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Viola Davis and other black celebrities jump out of perfectly good airplanes in Hawaii and Dubai. Skydiving has officially joined the list of things that black people do!—alongside hiking, international travel and performing live with Billy Ray Cyrus at the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards. It’s a new era!

So, are you ready to take the plunge? It’s not as scary as it looks, and you don’t need to travel very far or break the bank. If you’re looking for an affordable, safe tandem skydive near you, we can help. There are just a few things you should know:

Tandem instructor  Brandon Johnson  takes actor Will Smith on a skydive in Dubai.  Photo courtesy of Rodney Crossman

Tandem instructor Brandon Johnson takes actor Will Smith on a skydive in Dubai. Photo courtesy of Rodney Crossman

1. Not all drop-zones have the same safety standards. 

Yikes, right? Skydiving in the US is governed by the United States Parachute Association (USPA). They establish safety standards that determine proper equipment, licensing, and certification for skydiving instructors and students. Not all drop-zones are USPA certified, but, let’s not take any shortcuts when it comes to your safety! For help finding a USPA group member drop-zone near you, visit their website.

While it’s tempting, we don’t advise that you Google your state and the word “skydive.” It’s counterintuitive—we know!—but there’s no guarantee that your search results will be USPA group member drop-zones. Worse!—you may end up placing a deposit only to find out later that the drop-zone is located several hours or states away. Trust us, the good ole fashioned USPA drop-zone locator is the best way to go.

Erendira Sanchez González  (right) poses for a photo with her tandem student at Skydive Spaceland in Houston, TX. Erendira is the only active black woman tandem instructor in the United States. She is also the only black or Latinx female tandem examiner in the U.S.  Photo courtesy of    Woodbury Roland

Erendira Sanchez González (right) poses for a photo with her tandem student at Skydive Spaceland in Houston, TX. Erendira is the only active black woman tandem instructor in the United States. She is also the only black or Latinx female tandem examiner in the U.S. Photo courtesy of Woodbury Roland

2. Choose a drop-zone that works for you

There are over 200 USPA member drop-zones across the U.S. as well as numerous foreign affiliates around the world. So choosing isn’t easy. Here are a few other factors that you may want to consider:

Aircraft

Not all skydiving aircraft, or “jump planes” are alike! Here’s why that matters:

Smaller drop-zones typically operate small single engine aircraft like the Cessna 182. That means your 20 minute ride to altitude may feel a little cramped and a little bumpy as you sit on the floor inches away from the pilot and your three new best friends. Of course, you’ll have an awesome story to tell your friends at work on Monday! Cessna drop-zones also tend to offer more affordable rates, so if you’re trying to save money make sure you check out a local USPA group member Cessna drop-zone.

Mid sized drop-zones in the United States also fly single engine aircraft like the PAC750, or the Cessna 208 Caravan—these aircraft are faster and they accommodate more passengers.

The largest drop-zones operate at least one twin engine plane, such as a Twin Otter or Beechcraft King Air. What’s the difference? Mostly comfort, airspeed, legroom and cost on your ride up to your exit altitude. Whatever your decision, don’t worry too much—unless you’re 6’8”. After all, the discomfort is only temporary! Smaller planes aren’t less safe, just as larger planes aren’t necessarily safer.

A twin otter is pictured at an annual skydiving meet-up in Fitzgerald, GA.  Photo courtesy of Danielle Williams

A twin otter is pictured at an annual skydiving meet-up in Fitzgerald, GA. Photo courtesy of Danielle Williams

Aircraft Safety

Not everyone needs to know all of the details all of the time. If you’re a go-with-the-flow person you may want to keep scrolling to the next paragraph. But, if you’re a level 10,000 sleuth who feels better with more information you can always go to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website and request details concerning the aircraft’s airworthiness before your big day arrives!

You’ll just need the plane’s tail number. Not sure how to find that? Scroll through the drop-zone’s FB or IG page and look at their photos. After obtaining the tail number you can plug it into a search function on the FAA website to pull up the serial number. Once you have both numbers, you can request the aircraft record for $10. In this Information Age who doesn’t want to know everything before you risk your life! Every. Damn. Thing. 

Facilities

Drop-zones range from grass strip runways on private land to municipal airports with multiple runways, hangars and an aircraft control tower. When you call to schedule your skydive, make sure you ask about the facilities—that could be the difference between using a Port-A-John and baking in the sun for several hours or lounging in an air conditioned office with snacks, coffee and indoor plumbing.

There’s no wrong option, but it’s good to know; especially if you’ll be showing up with younger kids or older family members. It’s also worth mentioning that while small drop-zones tend to have fewer amenities they are often known for their hospitality. You’re not just a number, you’re a welcomed client! That’s because the money you pay is keeping a small business running, paying for piano lessons and sending kids to soccer practice.

Ladies Only

If you prefer a female identifying instructor for religious reasons or comfort level (or awesomeness!), make sure to inquire in advance if one is available. In the U.S. skydiving is 87% male and only 13% female, and the percentage of female instructors is even smaller. While several organizations are working to change that, you may have to travel farther to find a female tandem instructor.

The following stand-out drop-zones: Skydive Spaceland Houston, Skydive Midwest, and Skydive Elsinore, all have at least two female tandem instructors. Skydive Spaceland San Marcos and Go Jump Oceanside each have four; Chicago Skydiving Center has five; and Skydive Dubai takes the prize with a truly Instagram worthy total of eight female tandem instructors! So schedule a jump!

You can also check out women owned drop-zones across the United States like Skydive Pepperell which is owned by Fran Strimenos; Skydive Kapowsin which is owned by Jessie Farrington; The Jumping Place which is owned by Cathy Kloess and Skydive Danielson which is owned by Laura Morris.

A tandem student enjoys his first skydive over Statesboro, GA.  Photo courtesy of    Will Middlebrooks

A tandem student enjoys his first skydive over Statesboro, GA. Photo courtesy of Will Middlebrooks

Google that drop-zone

Before you take the plunge it is definitely a good idea to google your drop-zone and check for recent news coverage that might include accidents or, sadly, fatalities. Skydiving can be dangerous and although skydivers like to cheerfully claim that it’s safer than driving, accidents and fatalities do happen. Not saying you shouldn’t jump but knowledge is power.

According to the USPA, larger drop-zones that oversee a higher number of skydives per year invariably tend to have more accidents than smaller drop-zones. That doesn’t mean larger drop-zones aren’t safe. So how do you determine whether your local drop-zone is safe or not?—by focusing on red flags and ignoring white noise.

Red flags are small to mid sized drop-zones with several recent accidents or fatalities in the past two years. Red flags are also any tandem skydiving deaths in recent years. Not sure how big the drop-zone is? Find out what type of aircraft they’re operating. Remember, small to mid-sized drop-zones typically fly single engine aircraft (Cessna 182, Cessna 208 Caravan, PAC 750) and larger drop-zones typically fly twin engine aircraft (Beechcraft King Air, Twin Otter, Skyvan).

White noise is any accidents or fatalities involving high performance landings or sport jumpers. For the most part, those don’t directly correlate with whether a drop-zone is safe for tandem customers. Sport jumpers or experienced skydivers do weird stuff—like fly small parachutes at the ground at speeds reaching 75mph—and that carries additional risk. Your job is to assess whether you’ll be in good hands on your tandem skydive.

Erendira Sanchez González  (left) enjoys a skydive with her parents and husband [not pictured].  Photo courtesy of Jorge Espino

Erendira Sanchez González (left) enjoys a skydive with her parents and husband [not pictured]. Photo courtesy of Jorge Espino

Where to find the best deal

Save money but not too much! You get what you pay for, after all, and who wants to compromise safety! For deals on your first skydive check out Groupon. You can also schedule your tandem skydive on a week-day or organize a large group of first time skydivers and call the drop-zone to negotiate a discounted rate.

Still not within your price range? Travel out of state to a less expensive Cessna drop-zone and make a weekend of it by visiting with family (no hotel costs!) or camping for free on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Skip extras like photo/video packages and take your own before-and-after photos, stories and snaps on the ground. 

Cultural competency

How do you know if the drop-zone you choose is one where you will feel comfortable? This is probably the hardest question because there’s no way to know for sure until you show up. Who wants to pay good money (skydives from reputable drop-zones can cost anywhere between $199-$299+) and still have to deal with sexual harassment, micro aggressions or racism? No one! Check out Trip Advisor, read Facebook reviews and ask around.

Hint: larger drop-zones near metropolitan areas tend to have more standardized customer service, and more experience dealing respectfully with diverse clientele. So it might be worth the extra miles to schedule a jump at a large drop-zone like Skydive Spaceland Houston or its affiliates near major cities like Dallas, Atlanta and San Marcos.

In the U.S., drop-zones that are located near military bases are also generally accustomed to people of color (who have very high representation within the U.S. military) and typically have at least one or two instructors of color. They are also accustomed to accommodating first time skydivers with disabilities.

Looking for a LGBTQ2+ friendly drop-zone? Check out the annual Rainbow Boogie at Skydive Perris or join Skydive California for their annual Pride Boogie!

Dana Ramirez started skydiving in order to get out of her comfort zone and try something new. Her mother-in-law introduced her to the sport.  Photo courtesy of Dana Ramirez.

Dana Ramirez started skydiving in order to get out of her comfort zone and try something new. Her mother-in-law introduced her to the sport. Photo courtesy of Dana Ramirez.

3. Schedule your skydive 

Nothing can alleviate nerves faster than knowing what to expect! When you call the drop-zone to schedule your jump make sure to ask the following questions:

  1. What kind of aircraft do you operate?

  2. Is there an indoor waiting area with air conditioning and restrooms? If not, what is available?

  3. What time should I arrive?

  4. How long do customers typically wait before they jump?

  5. What training or instruction will I receive prior to the skydive?

  6. How high does the plane go, or what is the exit altitude?

  7. Are jumpsuits provided if I prefer to wear one? 

  8. Will I be able to wear an altimeter?

  9. If I purchase video can I pick it up the same day? If so, how long does it usually take?

Do black people skydive? Of course they do—and you should too! Visit  Team Blackstar Skydivers  to learn more.  Photo courtesy of T   eam Blackstar Skydivers

Do black people skydive? Of course they do—and you should too! Visit Team Blackstar Skydivers to learn more. Photo courtesy of Team Blackstar Skydivers

4. Dress for success

Wear loose fitting clothing and sneakers. Layers are also a good idea, so you can shed a few if the weather changes before your skydive. You’ll be wearing a harness with straps tightened for safety reasons. The ride up in the airplane can also get very hot during the summer. Any restrictive clothing will only feel more restrictive! Loose clothing and sneakers will keep you feeling comfortable and ready to go live your best life! 

5. Rock your favorite hair style, and bring a few extra bands

On my first skydive eight years ago, I rocked a giant 4c afro. I was briefly concerned about smothering my instructor, but, he survived! And so did my beautiful kinky curls against 120mph winds. That being said, long, loose hair is not advised for safety reasons. So bring extra hair bands or add a beautiful wrap to keep long protective styles and loose curls, locs, extensions (or your bomb ass lace front) wind proof and out of your eyes. Your photos will thank you!

Afro-Mexican tandem instructor  Erendira Sanchez González  (pink helmet) started skydiving when she was 15-years-old. She comes from a family of skydivers—her father has over 22,000 jumps.  Photo courtesy of    Woodbury Roland

Afro-Mexican tandem instructor Erendira Sanchez González (pink helmet) started skydiving when she was 15-years-old. She comes from a family of skydivers—her father has over 22,000 jumps. Photo courtesy of Woodbury Roland

6. Is it safe for me?

The best way to find out if skydiving is safe for your body is to consult a physician. USPA requires that skydivers possess a FAA Third Class Medical, carry a statement of fitness from a licensed physician, or agree to a medical statement that says you have no medical conditions or medications that interfere with your ability to safely skydive. Most of us fall into that last category which is why disclosing medical conditions up front is so important.

If you are a person with a disability or injury that you think your instructor should be aware of (e.g. - low vision or blindness, hard of hearing or deafness, amputee, wheelchair user, neurodivergent, etc.) make sure to let the drop-zone know ahead of time so they can do their best to accommodate. This is 100% a normal thing that happens all the time in skydiving. Disabled skydivers unfortunately are not well represented in media depictions of the sport—but we outchea! Please disclose any previous back injuries or shoulder dislocations as well. 

Rich Williams started skydiving in 1972 before taking a break for 35 years. After losing a daughter in a tragic plane crash in 2007, he began skydiving again, along with his wife. In this photo, he’s pictured during a tandem skydive at Skydive Snohomish.  Photo courtesy of Rich Williams

Rich Williams started skydiving in 1972 before taking a break for 35 years. After losing a daughter in a tragic plane crash in 2007, he began skydiving again, along with his wife. In this photo, he’s pictured during a tandem skydive at Skydive Snohomish. Photo courtesy of Rich Williams

7. Grab a snack and hydrate—just save alcohol for after the jump 

It’s unlikely that you’ll experience nausea during your free-fall, but it does happen. Some people also report dizziness or nausea once their parachute has opened up. If you think this might be you, let your instructor know that you’d rather skip the front flips out of the aircraft door and avoid the steep 720 degree turns under canopy. Make sure you hydrate and snack before your skydive.; just remember to stay away from any foods that may upset your stomach.

It’s tempting to grab a drink to take the edge off but that’s actually not a good idea. If your tandem instructor is experienced he or she has been puked on, peed on and everything in between. But they seriously don’t get paid enough to deal with other people’s bodily fluids so please hold all alcohol until after the jump. Then feel free to drink responsibly!

The scariest part is letting go!  Photo courtesy of   Theresa Morgan

The scariest part is letting go! Photo courtesy of Theresa Morgan

8. The scariest part is the door

Yes, once the moment comes and your heart is pounding, your tandem instructor will ask you to do unspeakable things such as sit with your legs dangling out of the aircraft door—yes, you’ll be strapped to your instructor at this point, but it’s still pretty surreal. And while your senses are struggling to process the dizzying 14,000 ft drop between you and the landing area below, your brain will only half register a series of commands: “lift your chin up” , “lean your head back” , “cross your arms” , “let go of the door, please” and “3,2,1…”

Let’s face it: the door is f—king scary. But everything that comes after will Change. Your. Life. Are you ready?

9. Relax and breathe

Don’t believe the myths: skydiving doesn’t feel like a roller coaster—it doesn’t even feel like free fall. That’s because you aren’t falling straight down. You’re exiting an object in forward motion that’s most likely moving more than 100mph. Even with the airspeed reduced for “jump run,” the aircraft is still displacing a lot of air as it moves through the sky. And as you slip into that turbulent stream of displaced air, you won’t feel like you’re falling at all. You’ll feel like you’re ________. Well, no spoilers here. Let us know in the comments what your first skydive felt like! And don’t forget to breathe...and smile! It’s truly an amazing experience. 

Photo courtesy of    Theresa Morgan

Photo courtesy of Theresa Morgan

10. Tip your instructor! 

Skydiving instructors are typically contractors who earn around $45 per jump. They don’t receive benefits like health insurance and they have few workplace protections. If you purchase video for your tandem skydive, know that your videographer makes around the same amount ($45-$55/jump). They just saved your life and delivered you safely back to the drop-zone and made you look good in the process! Don’t forget to thank them and slip them a few extra dollars. Tipping is highly encouraged.

We can’t wait to hear about your skydive! To learn more about the contribution of people of color to the sport visit teamblackstar.com. You can also follow a few notable skydivers of color like this Dubai based instructor who took Will Smith on his most recent tandem skydive.