Adventure activities are gaining in popularity, perhaps because we spend most of our day indoors, staring at monitors and screens. Once upon a time, life itself was an adventure. Being chased by a bear, walking down a darkened alley, an encounter with a highwayman, or travelling even a few miles away from one’s village provided a thrill that made one feel alive. Today we need to generate our thrills and one of the best ways is skydiving. There are few more pulse quicken activities than jumping out of a plane and freefalling to earth.
The first “skydivers” didn’t do it for pleasure. With the invention of the hot air balloon, the parachute was invented as a means to safely return to earth in the event of trouble. The first recorded jump was by a Frenchman called Andre-Jacues Garnerin in 1759. John Hampton was the first Englishman to make a successful jump. In 1838 he leapt from a hot balloon at a height of about 2700 meters. The canvas chute had whalebone ribs, bamboo stretchers, and copper tubing attaching the chute to a wicker basket. The jump lasted over 12 minutes and Mr. Hampton explained to the crowd that the initial leap and decent had literally taken his breath away.
The parachute continued to be used mainly as a safety device until after the Great War when barnstormers made skydiving part of the show. It was after WWII that recreational skydiving gained popularity. The combination of surplus chutes, plus the experience of servicemen who had found the experience thrilling ignited the sport as we know it today.
For a one-time experience, most choose to skydive in tandem with an instructor. With this approach, no special training or experience is needed. A safety briefing is conducted and the instructor goes over the basic procedures for a safe jump. One then takes to the sky and when the right altitude and location is reached, out you go. Going tandem is a wonderful introduction to the sport. You’ll be attached to the chest of the instructorvia a specially designed harness. This means the sensation of free fall and decent is almost identical to that of a solo jump.
For the more ambitious and adventurous, one can take a course to be able to solo dive. Solo diving allows one to fall for longer periods as well as begin developing better control in free-fall. The course can be taken over the course of months, or there are accelerated versions that can be completed in as little as a fortnight. Most courses include a number of solo jumps and an international license allowing the holder to jump at any drop zone around the world. For those that get hooked on the rush, one can join clubs and participate in competitions.
Finding a skydiving school to do either a tandem or solo jump is simply thanks to the internet. There are over 20 designated drop zones in the UK, so one shouldn’t be more than an hour’s drive from a school. All providers must be accredited and the BPA (British Parachuting Association) regulates and monitors all parachuting schools. When inquiring with a provider, it is well worth asking about the safety record and equipment used at the location. Whilst accidents are extremely rare, it pays to ask questions.
So get out and get the heart pumping. Skydiving provides a rush that is difficult to match by other adventures. That first step into the void is unforgettable.