I’ve been skydiving for a little over 2 years now. I have 114 jumps. Many people that don’t skydive assume that is a lot, and that I’m very experienced. My skydiving friends know that is not true. I know that I am very much a “newbie” and I have a long way to go before I can call myself experienced in any way. Let me tell you about someone I met a few years ago that didn’t know he had a long way to go.
For the sake of this story, let’s call this guy Jeff. I honestly don’t remember his name, so we’ll go with that. At the time I had around 50 jumps or so (still very much inexperienced in the world of skydiving) and was doing my best to learn from people at the dropzone who had thousands of jumps over years of time, leading to knowledge about different wind conditions, canopy performance, and what a little 50 jump wonder like myself should be doing and learning to progress safely in the sport.
Jeff had around 30 jumps at the time, meaning he had just gotten off of student status, and was now recently cleared to jump with others. Before even meeting him, I had overheard some of the instructors talking about Jeff’s attitude and bravado in regards to his skydiving skill, and then hearing from the instructors that he wasn’t nearly as gifted a skydiver as he thought. I was told from a few different people to stay away from him in the air (which was not usual).
Jeff had come from a background of motocross, and was used to going fast and putting himself in dangerous situations, and immediately thought that his knowledge of a bike instantly translated to knowledge of how to fly a parachute. He saw the high performance canopy pilots skimming the water at 80 mph and thought he could do it to.
What he didn’t think about was the fact that those pilots had started on large, docile parachutes, working their way to smaller more aerobatic canopies over the course of many years, with other people coaching them along the way. He thought that because he knew how to ride a bike over a dirt jump that surely he could fly a parachute across the water.
I had only one interaction with Jeff. Like I said, I had around 50 jumps at the time, jumping a 190 square ft parachute, which was the appropriate size and shape for my weight and exposure to skydiving. My one conversation with Jeff involved him bragging to me that he had grabbed a 170 square ft chute even though the drop zone owner explicitly told him not to (Jeff was around 50 lbs heavier than I was). At the time I didn’t say much of anything, just mentioned that I was jumping a larger chute and didn’t have enough experience to jump something that small. In hindsight I should have told him what he was doing was dangerous and stupid. Regardless of what I said, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Jeff was bound and determined to go as fast as possible, regardless of the kind of risks that meant he was taking.
Later that day I overheard the DZO giving Jeff a very stern talking to about not taking advice and heeding the warnings from the Safety and Training Advisors, Instructors, and himself. For whatever reason, it still didn’t sink in that what Jeff was doing was dangerous or risky to him. He assumed he knew what he was capable of, and everyone else (with years more experience and 100 times the number of skydives) had it wrong.
Fast forward a few months, when we finally had a chance to get back to the dropzone for a weekend.
Just in case you were wondering, no, Jeff is not dead (that I know of).
Jeff did, however, decide that he was going to once again take a parachute that was too small for his level, and try to “swoop the pond” just like the cool kids with thousands of jumps. Jeff had no idea how to do it the right way, because he hadn’t taken the time to learn from the people who knew how. So from around 100 ft in the air (way too low to be turning, let alone something like this) he decided to pull on his steering toggle as hard as he could to pick up speed. When you turn a parachute, you also put the chute into a steep dive. Jeff didn’t know what hit him. He spiraled himself into the 4 ft deep pond with gusto, going straight in like a rock dropped from a cliff.
I know someone there at the DZ caught it on video, and I wish I could post it since Jeff did not get seriously injured. He walked away with some bruises and not so much as a broken finger. He did, however, earn a permanent ban from the DZ. I can only hope that this experience taught him a lesson in humility and respect, but somehow I doubt that is the case.
Taking the time and energy to do something the right way feels a lot harder, and most of the time it is. But the risk of assuming you know more than you do makes the “hard way” the easy, safe way in the end. Taking the time to do it right is always a good idea.