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Preparing for your First Tandem Skydive
Ask someone who’s been tandem skydiving what the experience is like and they’ll probably respond: “the most incredible feeling in the world” or “the craziest thing ever.” But what does that all mean? Are these words enough to persuade you to take the plunge? Sure, to truly understand tandem skydiving, you have to experience it yourself. Nevertheless, having a general overview of what to expect may help nudge you toward the “let’s do this!” camp. To help get you up in the air, we’ll drop the superlatives and instead delve deep into the adventure’s many nuts and bolts.

Tandem Skydiving: What to Expect
Anticipate spending about half your day at the drop zone. Before hopping into the plane, you’ll receive a comprehensive overview of all safety precautions as well as several tips to ensure your comfort during the wild ride.

Dressing for the Occasion

Be sure to wear weather-appropriate clothes that aren’t too bulky (you’ll be wearing a jumpsuit over them) and closed-toed shoes. Those with long locks should wear their hair in braids or a bun or risk some serious tangling during the dive.

Receiving a Skydive Safety Briefing

When you arrive at the airport, you’ll receive a thorough safety brief. Learn the basic freefall and landing positions as well as the signals your jumping partner uses to communicate with you in mid-air. The briefing usually only takes about twenty minutes and may involve watching a short instructional video. Next, get kitted up in your jumpsuit and paired with your tandem skydiver. He or she will serve as your personal guide and guru for the rest of the experience.

Flying to the Drop Altitude

Depending on the altitude you’re jumping from, your flight up takes from 15 to 30 minutes. Your instructor re-checks your harness and straps the two of you together. Next, you step to the open door—it’s time to jump!

Take the Plunge!

You’re doing it, you’re flying! Your tandem instructor taps you on the shoulder when it’s safe to let go of your harness. As you fall, you’ll reach a maximum velocity of about 120 mph, but if you spread out your arms and hands, the wider surface area will slow your descent.

Releasing the parachute

Despite the pure exhilaration of freefall, you may start to wonder when your parachute is going to open! Don’t worry, it’s coming. Your tandem instructor deploys it at 5,000 feet. That’s the great benefit of a tandem jump: since the biggest responsibility is on your instructor, you’re left free to enjoy the exhilaration of free fall before the canopy snaps open. After an initial jolt as the canopy catches the wind, your skydive suddenly becomes a lot more peaceful. Take these minutes to enjoy the scenery as you float to a safe landing.

Receiving Photos and Videos of Your Skydive
Drop zones usually have photo and video packages available for purchase. Skydives can be filmed in one of two ways—either with a handcam held by your tandem skydiving instructor or by a freefall videographer who jumps at roughly the same time as you to capture the journey down. Note that drop zones do not allow you to wear your own GoPro or similar small camera—it’s a safety regulation set down by the United States Parachute Association (USPA).

What Does Skydiving Feel Like?

Most people assume that when you jump from a plane, your stomach drops like it would on a roller coaster ride. But the physics are different when you’re skydiving. Your body is already in motion before you dive (you’re jumping from an airplane traveling at around 40-80 mph). Therefore, the speed you feel as you fall away is relative to that forward motion, making the jump far less of a shock than plummeting down a roller coaster track. You’ll instead have the impression of being cushioned by air.

The Freefall

The length of your freefall ranges from 30 to 90 seconds depending on the altitude you’re diving from. While some skydivers may insist that a higher dive is always better, the reality is that jumps from various altitudes provide different experiences. If you’re nervous about jumping, an extra-high dive with a long flight up might not be your best bet. But if you’ve logged lots of jumps, a higher jump will give you extra time to enjoy the views and the incredible feeling of weightlessness.

Jumping from 10,000 Feet
Skydives from 10,000 feet are the most common jumps and perfect for anyone with first-time jitters. They require the least amount of time flying up—usually only 15-20 minutes—and still provide a full 30 to 40 seconds of freefall followed by four or five minutes under the parachute. Thirty seconds of freefall is generally considered enough time to relax and enjoy the sensation as it’s happening.

Jumping From 14,000 feet
14,000-feet jumps offer a full 60 seconds of freefall before your parachute opens. (The length of time you spend under the parachute remains the same no matter what distance you dive from as it’s always deployed at 5,000 feet.) 60 seconds gives you even more time to relax into the dive. But it takes an additional ten minutes or so for the plane to reach 14,000 feet, so you have to be patient!

Jumping From 18,000 feet
The maximum altitude you can dive from in the United States is 18,000 feet. At this height, you need to wear an oxygen mask in the airplane as the atmosphere becomes too thin to breathe. Relatively few first-time divers jump from 18,000 feet (the experience is not offered at every drop zone). So if you do opt to skydive from this altitude, you’ll earn some serious bragging rights—and the chance to channel your inner Felix Baumgartner.

How Safe is Skydiving?
It’s only natural to wonder whether a sport as extreme as skydiving is safe. You may be surprised to learn that, statistically, skydiving is safer than hiking or even scuba diving—and tandem skydiving is the safest way to jump of all. Car accidents are far more common than skydiving accidents, so the most dangerous part of your jump is the drive to the airfield.

Is There a Backup Parachute?

A tandem rig is more than a parachute folded up in a bag—it’s a complex system designed to be as fail-safe as possible. Your tandem instructor wears the rig: a backpack that holds the main chute and a reserve parachute. If the main parachute malfunctions in any way (very uncommon), the instructor can easily cut it away and open the reserve chute in its place. Reserve chutes are designed to be even more reliable upon deployment than the main chute. And in the event that a skydiver is incapacitated and unable to open the reserve chute, an automatic activation device will deploy it for them at a pre-determined altitude.
What Qualifications Does Your Tandem Instructor Have?
You’re in great hands for the entire duration of your tandem skydiving experience. Your jumping partner has been certified by the USPA and has completed hundreds if not thousands of jumps. He or she has been trained for any eventuality and is fully at ease—they’re probably jumping a dozen times today alone. Plus, they have a vested interest in arriving safely on the ground, too.

Additional Safety Measures
Finally, you can ensure that every safety precaution is being taken at your drop zone of choice by checking that it is USPA-certified. This information is easy to find on the USPA’s website. The USPA stamp of approval on a drop zone lets you know that the company takes their business seriously: they must comply with the association’s Basic Safety Requirements, use only USPA-certified instructors and USPA-developed instruction methods, and provide USPA-required equipment (obviously, every experience on this site is USPA-certified).

Tips for Enjoying your First Jump
The moment you get on the plane is the moment you realize that there’s only one way you’re getting off it. It’s not uncommon to feel like a ball of nerves during the slow ascent to the jump altitude. But it’s important to relax as much as possible so you can get the most out of your skydiving experience.

Dealing with nerves
You can assuage a lot of your fears about skydiving before even arriving at the airfield. Watch YouTube videos of skydives and read articles like this one about what to expect on the day. If you’re afraid of heights, keep in mind that you’ll be too high up to get the sense of vertigo you’d feel atop a ladder or building. Be sure to eat and drink normally that morning to keep energy levels up.

Don’t Forget to Breathe!

The atmosphere is thinner and the air pressure lower as your plane approaches the jump altitude, so you’ll need to alter your breathing in order to not feel short of breath. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply; it has the double effect of calming your nerves and properly oxygenating your lungs. But also don’t be afraid to laugh—even if the air is thin, the atmosphere among skydivers is warm and full of joking around! During freefall, you’ll be able to breathe normally.

Keep Your Eyes Open

When you jump from the plane, it might be tempting to squeeze your eyes shut. Resist! Your first skydive is a once-in-a-lifetime experience; you don’t want to miss a single moment. With your eyes open, it will be easier to acclimate to the feeling of freefall and better enjoy the views. Freefall can be an incredibly calming experience if you’re willing to lean into it.

Dropzone Destinations

There are more than 200 USPA-certified drop zones around the United States and one within driving distance of just about every major city. While a skydive is an amazing experience no matter the views, jumping in an extra-scenic location certainly doesn’t hurt.
Skydive Las Vegas : Take a break from the casinos for a thrill of a different kind on a Las Vegas skydive. You’ll be shuttled from your hotel directly to the airfield, where bird’s-eye views of Sin City, the mountainous desert, and the endless blue sky await.
Skydive Tampa Bay : Gorgeous coastline scenery awaits on a Tampa Bay skydive. See the white sand beaches of the Gulf of Florida and the sparkling water stretching into the faraway horizon. This drop zone is conveniently located between Tampa Bay and Orlando.
Skydive Oahu : There’s no better way to see the volcanic landforms and coastlines of Hawaii than from the air. On a skydive from 10,000 or 14,000 feet above beautiful Oahu, you’ll experience the lush green mountains and impossibly turquoise waters of Hawaii’s third-largest island.
Skydive Grand Canyon: A skydive over the Grand Canyon is a chance to better appreciate the enormity of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. You’ll be too engrossed in the views to get nervous on the flight up, and when you jump, you’ll be in total awe of the rock formations looming larger and larger as you descend.

Skydive Anywhere!
Other popular places to skydive include Austin, Dallas, and New Orleans. Skydiving is more common in states with warmer weather as the drop zones can be open year-round, but there are USPA-certified drop zones in nearly all fifty states.

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