Skydiving is a sport that is often portrayed in the media very differently than it happens in real life. Since the average person does not know that much about skydiving, these media portrayals are what most people believe to be true. We are here to help de-bunk these myths!
Skydiving is a sport for anyone. First time tandem skydivers are split equally between 50% men and 50% women. It seems that both sexes equally are ready to try skydiving for the first time. The women vs. men disparity only shows up among licensed skydivers. Surprisingly, only 13% of licensed skydivers are women. Out of 40,000 licensed skydivers in the United States this means that 5200 are women. There is a large push to keep females in the sport of skydiving and the United States Parachute Association has created a group called SIS - Sisters in Skydiving. This group utilizes a big sis/little sis program that supports and promotes females in our sport with an aim to increase female retention.
Hollywood likes to over exaggerate movie scenes to keep the audience involved. We've all seen Point Break, right? That epic scene with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze talking in freefall was super intense and looked awesome! Although the movie looked great to be able to have a full conversation in free fall, there is simply no way you would be able to speak while 120 mph winds are in your face. We do however, communicate through hand signals and facial expressions quite often! When getting your license to skydive, your instructor teaches you hand signals to be able to communicate with you during freefall.
To learn to skydive you must complete a skydiving program that consists of 25 skydives and 2 training classes (basic survival skills and parachute packing class). This can seem like a daunting task when you add bad weather days into the mix, however it can be accomplished in as little as 3 weeks!
While it can take as little as 3 weeks, sometimes students take a longer time. To be able to complete the training program quickly one must have an open schedule so that they can come to the skydiving center on days that have safe student jumping weather conditions. They also need to have lots of time available to spend at the skydiving center because weather delays happen frequently for beginner skydivers. Many students do take a long time to learn to skydive due to inflexible schedules or from bad weather conditions.
You can absolutely breathe in free fall. Where people find it's hard to breathe is when they are constantly looking down at the Earth. Many first time tandem skydivers tend to open their mouth to yell and scream just like one would on a roller coaster. The only problem with this is when you skydive you are going 120 mph - if you look down at the ground and open your mouth to scream the 120 mph air blows into your mouth. First time skydivers tend to have the most trouble breathing due to this, but it is easily fixed by looking up! When you are in free fall, you will need to keep your chin up and have your eyes on the horizon. This allows the force of the wind to hit your neck and not blow into your mouth.
This myth is the complete opposite of the truth. On an average skydive the altitude does not affect the safety of a skydive at all. However, emergency situations can happen during freefall and the higher you are in the sky the more time you have to deal with the problem. At Skydive Danielson we exit the airplane at 14,000 ft; tandem skydiving instructors are required to deploy their parachutes by 5,500 ft. This gives the pair 60 seconds of freefall which means 60 seconds of problem solving time during an emergency. Skydivers always like getting more altitude because it's more fun and it can add extra thinking time during these rare scenarios.
Many people assume that skydiving is the most dangerous sport around. There are many sports more dangerous than skydiving though - B.A.S.E. jumping being at the top of the list! Believe it or not, other sports like swimming, cycling and running are listed as being more deadly than skydiving (Rules Of Sports).
It is a common assumption that skydiving and B.A.S.E. jumping are the same sport since they both use parachutes, but B.A.S.E. jumping has one huge difference - they only use 1 parachute. In skydiving, if a skydiver experiences a malfunction with their 1st parachute they are able to cutaway and activate their reserve parachute. This is not the case for B.A.S.E. jumping. B.A.S.E. jumpers are jumping off of objects so low to the ground that if there is a malfunction with their 1st parachute there is not enough altitude to make that happen.
Parachutes have come a long way over the last 30 years and with new technology and designs have come softer openings and landings. When people think of skydiving they often imagine round military parachutes which are known for hard landings and busted ankles. These days, skydivers jump ram air parachutes which are shaped like rectangles and are able to land very softly.
Ram Air parachutes still have potential to have hard landings. The difference is that on a military round parachute a hard landing was guaranteed every time. On a Ram Air parachute, hard landings are less common. The most common reason for hard landings on ram air parachutes is from changing wind conditions.
Ram Air Parachute
Newton's law states that objects fall at the same rate of speed, but depending on the weight and orientation of the skydiver their terminal velocity changes. This video explains it well:
Ripcords are a thing of the past. Skydiver's today deploy their parachutes by extracting a handle. This handle is attached to a small parachute, known as the "pilot chute". Once it catches wind and inflates, it will release a pin inside the container which deploys the main parachute.
This is a very tricky optical illusion. We've all seen videos where it looks like the skydiver is going back up when the parachute is deployed. The reason that this happens is because a tandem skydiver deploys their parachute while their videographer remains in freefall. What results is the optical illusion that the tandem skydivers are going back up in the sky.