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My first two weekends at the dropzone
by Scott Boston -
Photos © 2000 Scott Boston

This is going to be a pretty full look at a new guy going to a skydiving dropzone for the first time. First off, when I say I spent two weekends at a DZ (dropzone), I mean I spent two FULL days each weekend. Skydiving was one of those activities that I often thought about doing but never followed through on because others didn't seem to have the courage to make real plans.

So, two weeks ago, I decided that weekend would be the weekend! I went to a DZ in the Houston area. Three weeks prior I decided to send e-mails to both of the dropzones I found via internet search engines. I received one excellent response that answered all my questions and then gave me tons of extra information to chew on. The other message wasn't so hot--it was a quickly typed single paragraph answering a few of my questions very curtly. Needless to say, I made my decision right then where I would do my first skydive!

A couple of weeks went by and, finally, I decided that the weekend had arrived when I was going to do my jump. On that Tuesday, I called Skydive USA and made reservations for my first dive with the AFF method. For those who don't know, you can do your first dive one of two ways, AFF or Tandem.

Day 1 - Saturday February 12, 2000

AFF first dive (Level I) required 5 to 7 hours of in-class training, so I arrived at Skydive USA at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning ready for instructions and prepared to jump. After watching a recent skydiving movie with Wesley Snipes, I was a little intimidated about walking onto a dropzone as a newbie. But rest assured, drop zones are businesses like every other business and they welcomed me with open arms to visit their facility. Experienced divers along with the staff were extremely friendly and often walked up and introduced themselves to me and asked if this was my first dive. 8:00 a.m. rolled around and it was finally time to start my in-class training.

The first hour of training talked about what to expect and how the first AFF dive would take place. Second and third hours were spent on equipment, information and safety. With breaks roughly every hour to hour and fifteen minutes, I had plenty of time to absorb the information and start again.

It was cloudy this particular Saturday morning so the DZ didn't start making drops until about 11:00 a.m. After doing another hour of discussing skydiving and field questions we let out for a lunch break. After lunch I got to see my first skydives up close and personal. I was starting to feel nervous already just looking at skydivers open and land. At about 12:30 p.m. we returned to the classroom to start a series of drills, quizzes, and execution of moves to be made on the first skydive. AFF Level I

Each student in the class had to answer questions, demonstrate proper technique, and first perform in the classroom the correct order for the basics of skydiving. We continued this for a little more than two hours before finally taking a written exam. The class concluded at approximately 3:00 p.m. All right! I was ready to jump now! Little did I know that weather conditions had to be absolutely perfect before Skydive USA would let any of their AFF students get off the ground. So I waited around until dark hoping that the clouds would roll out and I would get to do my first dive. They didn't, so they told me to check the weather and come back tomorrow early.

Day 2 - Sunday February 13, 2000

All right! I got up early and headed back to Skydive USA excited about getting my first skydive in. I saw in the paper that the first part of the day would be rainy, but that in the afternoon the sun would break through. Still I got to Skydive USA at roughly 8:00 a.m. It was looking pretty dark and bleak, but this gave me a great time to mingle and talk with all of the DZ operators, staff, and experienced divers. I also got a chance to watch some of their video mixes and learn what to expect. Finally at about 12:30 p.m. the sun broke through the clouds, but the wind was still too gusty for AFF students. I did get a chance to watch more of the experienced divers make a few loads. At about 3:30 p.m. the winds had calmed down, and the DZ operator let me know that I was going to make my first AFF dive.

Oh yeah! I was excited and scared at the same time. Finally, a load was about to leave and one of my jumpmasters (JM) approached and started drilling me on safety, procedures, techniques, and everything else you can think of relating to the first dive. To me, this was very comforting and reassuring. After answering his questions, and listening to his expanding information on some weak answers, I felt like I was ready. Good thing, because the plane landed and a 20 minute call was put on for my load.

I was then outfitted with equipment, shown how an equipment check was done and shown what to look for. All during this time the other JM was near and checked the equipment again. Finally, the other JM quizzed me about safety, procedures and techniques. After being asked to repeat the sequence of events for the Level I AFF dive about 10 to 12 times, I thought I surely would forget. We practiced a few times on the ground and did a 'door jam' on the airplane.

AFF Level I Well, now it was roughly 4:30 p.m., the airplane was running and I was loaded in right after the tandem jumpers. My first skydive went great! I did forget one of my circle of awareness, and I lost a contact lens out of my right eye during free fall. Coming in for the landing was rough because I couldn't really gauge the ground during landing. But I got it all videotaped and I spend the next two days driving all over Houston showing my family what I did last weekend!

Day 3 - Saturday February 19, 2000

I loved my first skydive so much that I decided I was going to go ahead and do my Level II AFF dive. So I got to the DZ again at roughly 8:00 a.m. Once again, the winds were pretty high during the morning. I enjoyed the DZ atmosphere so much that I didn't mind waiting around for the winds to calm down. Plus this gave me the opportunity to watch at least 50 to 70 more experienced divers. Finally at about 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, I got a chance to do my Level II.

Once again, I got on the plane. However, this time I was a little bit more nervous because I wanted to be sure that I didn't miss the circle of awareness and got the exact progression of the skydive. My second skydive went great, this time I didn't lose the contact and when time came to land that parachute, I came in standing! What a feeling! I immediately thought about coming back on Sunday and going ahead and knocking out my Level III AFF dive!

Day 4 - Sunday February 20, 2000

This is an absolutely beautiful day. 8:00 a.m., blue skies and 10 mph winds. I got there fairly early, but I ended up having to wait around until about 4:00 p.m. to make my Level III jump. Once I again, I didn't mind this. Understand that JM's were working as fast as they could. Because Sunday was such a beautiful day there must have been at least 10 to 12 AFF students waiting to jump. Well, Level III AFF, as some of you know, is the first dive where the JMs release the student to demonstrate that the student can control their body position and fall straight through the sky until time to deploy the parachute.

I wasn't particularly nervous about this jump, but there was much in the way of procedures that I had to remember. I was told to remember to arch. Finally, I did my Level III AFF dive with the same two JMs with whom I had performed my other dives, but I never got stable enough for them to release me during this dive. Hence, I failed and had to repeat my Level III AFF dive. I was a bit disappointed over not finding that arch, but I have had troubles in other sports with relaxing.

Also, on this dive, too, I lost a contact during my free fall. Even though I did demonstrate the ability to guide myself back to the landing area without help. I came in harder that I should have for my landing because, once again, with only one good eye working it was hard to judge the ground, and I flared my chute roughly 10 feet too high. I landed falling to my knees. Part of that, I think, was due to frustration about not getting stable enough for my JMs to release me during the dive. Oh well, I have at least five more days to replay that skydive over in my head, practice my arches, and see if I can nail down this Level III AFF dive on my next dive!

Sunday, February 27, 2000
I passed Level III! WOOOHOOO!

Overall, I had a wonderful time at the Skydive USA dropzone. The operators, staff, pilots and other divers were awesome! My first three jumps were fun and exciting, and my ground time at the DZ was always interesting and entertaining.

I would like to give my thanks to:
Tom and Jane, my jumpmasters
Rick, my instructor
Chuck, the DZ operator
Clint, the cameraman on my first jump...and all the other staff and experienced divers at Skydive USA. happy camper

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