Skydivers all belong to a big mixed family. What was once a niche group has developed into a large, interconnected community. Despite this large network, there are small pockets within our sport that have become isolated. It’s within these small, isolated pockets that bad habits traditionally flourish.
As skydivers rack up jumps and become increasingly comfortable with the sport, it’s important that they stay vigilant and keep assessing themselves. Avoiding complacency is key to becoming a lifelong learner. Jumpers need to be cautious not to put themselves in bubbles where new ideas, procedures, gear tricks and concepts go unnoticed. Presently, there are around 220 USPA-affiliated drop zones in the U.S. Each of these DZs operates individually and has its own unique ecosystem. It’s when we get too caught up in our own small bubble and fail to educate ourselves properly in this sport that unsafe habits begin to develop.
Imagine yourself in this common scenario: You show up for your first jump at the nearest DZ, a small Cessna spot with a handful of instructors. You make a tandem, get stoked, go through AFF, receive your A license, and boom, you‘re a skydiver! You go to the DZ as often as possible, soak up information like a sponge, and after 100 jumps you get a USPA Coach rating. Sweet, you can now teach newer jumpers a thing or two! You work toward becoming an AFF instructor with the help of the experienced instructors at the drop zone. Quickly, 500 jumps adds up and that coveted AFF rating is yours. You’re now teaching the same things you’ve been taught without questioning whether there’s a safer or better way to participate in this sport.
The ecosystem that sustains itself by converting students to staff isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact, it can be awesome (and maybe even a necessity in some areas where there aren’t other nearby drop zones). However, when DZs build themselves an echo chamber, with the same jumpers preaching their ideas repetitively until those ideas become “facts,” it can lead to errors in judgment based on ignorance. Be wary when you hear, “This is just the way we do it here,” and don’t accept advice on blind faith.
At the end of the day, it’s your life on the line. Make informed decisions. Get out of your comfort zone, jump with new groups of people, and be a small fish in a big pond every once in a while. Be an ambassador of our sport and be aware of the bubble you live in. An observant attitude will keep you attuned to judgment errors that eventually evolve into dangerous common practice. Become educated and humble, and most of all, never stop learning.
Dave Mazik | D-32497
USPA Coach and AFF and Tandem Instructor