Learning everything you need to know beforehand about the exciting aerial sport of skydiving is crucial to alleviating any fears you might have, as well as avoiding severe injury. There are currently over 400 different skydiving centers of in the U.S., mostly located on or near smaller airports. The adrenalin-rush of skydiving hooks some first-time jumpers, compelling them to go on to multiple jumps and competency tests, eventually receiving a series of licenses from the U.S. Parachute Association (USPA) to become qualified as professional instructors themselves. Whether you choose to skydive just once or become an eventual aficionado, knowing what to expect and what options you have to choose from will put you ahead of the game in regards to preparedness.
There are three basic types of skydiving training which instructors use with their students: tandem, static line, and accelerated free-fall. Tandem skydiving involves new jumpers to experience skydiving with minimal instruction by having an instructor jump with them. The student is attached to the instructor's parachute by a harness, and both leap out of the plane together, with the instructor deploying the parachute at an altitude of approximately 4,000 feet.
Static line training involves leaping from a plane at lower altitudes (often at an altitude of about 3,000 feet), with the parachute opened by a line attached to the plane, and the student guided to the ground via ground signals or radio contact. Static line training courses are usually four to six hours in length.
Accelerated free-fall training entails the student jumping from the plane with two instructors holding on to them, at altitudes as high as 10,000 feet. The instructors' grip remains for the duration of the freefall (usually less than a minute), at which point they let go and the student opens their own parachute at an altitude of roughly 4,000-5,000 feet.
Prices for skydiving classes will vary depending on the type of training you choose and the company you decide to work with. Average prices for tandem skydiving jumps generally range from $100 to $200, and static line jumps are usually priced between $85 to $125. One accelerated free-fall jump is often priced around $250, though this type of training is often presented as part of a series of jumps, frequently costing well over $1,000 in total.
While the potential for severe injury or death resulting from skydiving is very real, statistics bear out that these incidents are in the minority. According to Skydiving Magazine, roughly 2 million skydiving jumps are made each year in the U.S., with annual fatalities usually falling between 30 and 40 people. In some instances, these fatalities are due to malfunctioning equipment, but the majority of skydiving fatalities occur as a result of improper skydiving procedure, either from panic or willful showing off. All companies that take passengers out for skydiving jaunts hire the services of professional instructors, who make a point of going over every fine detail involved in the jump, from the proper way to exit the plane to the proper timing of the ripcord pull. This methodical instruction, in conjunction with advances in parachute technology and safety features, is largely responsible for the relatively low number of skydiving fatalities.
Nervous jumpers should know that commercial skydiving companies are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Additionally, the USPA has developed a set of basic safety requirements which all affiliated skydiving companies are required to follow. These requirements cover a broad range of issues, from equipment to wind limits to customer training procedures and beyond. Make sure that any skydiving company you're considering working with is USPA affiliated.
Surprisingly, there are no legal age requirements for skydiving on either a state or federal level. That having been said, skydiving companies often require their customers to be at least 18 years of age, which is the age of legal majority in most U.S. states, with the underlying assumption that customers who are at least this old will have the intelligence and maturity to follow proper skydiving protocol.
Physical requirements for skydiving vary according to commercial skydiving company, though many such companies refuse to take on customers who are obese, or who have a history of epilepsy, mental illness, or heart conditions. While skydiving doesn't require the jumper to be in top athletic form, those who are in reasonably decent physical shape will be better able to handle the adrenalin rush and highly accelerated blood circulation, as well as the aggressive landing which is meant to take place on the feet or legs.