Before you go off jumping out of airplanes for the thrill of freefalling to Earth, let’s get a few basics down. You’ll need to get familiarized with basic terminology, movements, and signals to make your jump safe, enjoyable, and safe …we said that already, huh?
What is a Tandem Jump?
A tandem jump is when you are attached to a licensed jump instructor via a harness. The jump instructor’s rig is the one with the parachutes and you’re just along for the ride.
The instructor will do most of the hard work, although you’re not free of all responsibilities. During “ground school” where you learn the basics of a jump, you’ll no doubt be taught basic hand signals, taps, and body positioning that you’ll be expected to perform during the jump. It’s easier than you think, and the lesson takes maybe less than a couple of minutes. Remember, the instructor is the one doing maneuvering and conrolling the fall. All you’ll be expected to do is relax, enjoy, and don’t make it difficult for the instructor to do his/her thing to keep you safe.
Skydiving Ground School
Ground school for skydiving is nothing like ground school for …say…piloting airplanes. While there’s a lot to learn about aerodynamics, maneuvers, weather conditions, clouds, and body postures for proper freefall and chute opening procedures, your first tandem jump will be pretty basic and you’ll learn the rest along the way as you progress.
During ground school, you’ll most likely learn things like:
- Correct body position – to achieve maneuverability, like speed and direction during freefall.
- Hand signals – so that other parachutists in the vicinity know when you’ll be pulling your chute so they can get out of your way.
- Parchute controls – to turn or change speed once you open your chute.
- Landing posture – so you don’t get dragged as you hit the ground, you’ll need to lift your legs for landing, must as if you’re sitting on an invisible chair.
That pretty much covers basic ground school for your first jump. As you progress, there will be more nuances that your instructor will teach you, but that’s another whole article altogether and beyond the scope of this basic how-to.
If you opt to get certified, you’ll go through more ground training as you work with your instructor. It takes about 20 or so jumps to go through most of the scenarios you’ll need to learn to navigate as a beginner, but only a few tandems before they’ll actually let you do it semi-solo and then eventually real solo.
As a first time skydiver, freefall feels longer than it actually is. It’s probably going to last a little less than 60 seconds, but you’ll enjoy every single second of it.
A few moments after exiting the airplane, your instructor will give you a tap to let you know it’s time to position your body like an arched starfish (for lack of a better description, pelvis towards the Earth and arms and legs bent and arched up). This helps to control your fall position and speed.
While you’re doing tandem jumps, freefall is your time to just enjoy the view without worrying about when to open the chute. Your instructor will know when, and some instructors will let their tandem student pull the chute when it’s time.
No doubt you’ll want pictures, so make sure you let the instructor know this before the jump so they can have a camera man (or woman) jump near you and do your photo shoot.
Freefall may be the most adrenaline-pumping experience on Earth. I mean, why else would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane? It takes a special kind of special.
Proper Landing for a Safe Skydive Experience
It’s not that hard. As a tandem jumper, your instructor will do most of the work. As you approach your landing area, the instructor will maneuver the parachute to position you over the area where you’re supposed to land. He or she will then tap your shoulder to let you know when to pull your legs up (as if you’re sitting on a chair) to make the landing easier on them.
They’ll pull the chute cords to slow the fall at the right moment and bring the chute down as their feet touch the ground. You just sit there and enjoy the smooth landing.
Your only job during the entire experience, really, is to keep calm and mind the signals given. Even if you don’t remember what to do, they’ll help you along the way. And even then if you fail to do what you need to do, just remember to pull your legs up on landing. That’s the most important part.
After Your First Tandem Experience
Some people will be satisfied with just that one tandem jump and be off on their way. Others find the thrill too irresistible and will want to sign up for more.
You may find that you’re one of those. In that case, you may want to go for your parachuting license (Class A license). Ask your instructor about that and they’ll get you started. It involves more jumps to get more experienced so that you can do it safely. You’ll learn things like:
- how to strap your rig on
- what to do when exiting the plane
- how to use your altimeter
- when to pull your chute
- how to get to where you’re aiming at once the parachute opens
- what to avoid (power lines, buildings and such)
- how to pack your rig
If this sounds like a whole lot of fun to you, then yeah…go get yourself an instructor to help you pass your A license.
Tips for your First Tandem Jump
Wear comfortable but fitting clothes. Remember that it will be colder the higher you go even if the ground weather is like in the midm 80s. Also your freefall speed is probably going to be around 120 miles per hour, so you’ll want clothes that aren’t going to be flapping and whipping you up.
Wear good fitting shoes, like sneakers or something that you can lace up tight. You don’t wanna lose your shoes and hit someone on the ground. More importantly, you don’t wanna land without shoes.
Eat at least 30 minutes before your jump. You don’t wanna be all nervous and puke on the next guy coming out of the plane or some poor fellow who’s above you. Just don’t over-eat , but don’t starve yourself before the jump. You’ll need the energy. First time jumpers tend to get nervous and get nauseous right before exiting the plane.
Stay hydrated. You’ll find that this is important in any sport you engage in, and skydiving is no different.
Don’t bring valuable you don’t want lost. You won’t be able to take you wallet, phone, keys, and pocket change and whatevers onto the plane for the jump. They’ll just find their way out of your pocket or encumber your jump. Your instructor will make you empty your pockets and leave all belongings at the drop zone anyways to be safe.
Don’t be late. Unlike commercial airlines who can afford to wait 15 minutes for your arrival, skydivers move fast and they don’t have that kind of time to wait for stragglers. If you’re not there for the loading time, you’ll most likely be left behind, expecially if you need to go through ground school before the jump. You know what, just come early for everyone’s sake. Thanks.
Enjoying Your First Tandem Skydiving Jump
I hope we’ve covered everything you need to know about how to enjoy your first tandem skydiving experience. It really is nothing like anything else you’ll experience, and with the right instructor, it’s going to be hell of a lot of fun.
Do your research on drop zones (DZ) and find which ones offer experiences that you’re looking for. Although most tandem skydiving schools will offer basically the same type of jump experience, you’ll want to ask about what’s included in the jump package, such as video, photos, souvenirs (if you’re big on those).
Getting your Parachute License
If you’re thinking about getting your first parachuting license, find a school that also offers the course. That may save you a lot of money in terms of getting the most jumps in for the money, not to mention you’ll get to stick to the same instructor that took you through your first tandem. It’s a relationship that can help you excel in your skills as you and the instructor learn how to work with each other to help you achieve your goals.
As a student jumper, your rig will include an automatic activation device that will open up at around 3000 feet. This gives you enough time to glide down and enjoy the view while figuring out where and how to hit your landing zone.
Be sure that the drop zone you’re working with is a member of the United States Parachute Association (USPA), because they’re the ones that issue the licenses. We say this because there are some places that offer classes but are not part of the USPA. Needless to say, avoid those because you’re not going to be a licensed skydiver through them.
Make your skydiving experience the best it can be by doing your research and being prepared. If you are unsure of something, don’t just Google it, call up a skydiving school and ask. They’re some of the most enthusiastic and laid back people you’ll encounter and they love nothing more than to talk about skydiving.