…Out of a Perfectly Good Airplane

That’s a term many self-aggrandizing buffoons used to throw around a lot in the 80s and 90s to describe the uninhibited irrationality of skydiving. “It takes a certain kind of person to strap on a chute and jump out of a perfectly good airplane.” Oh, shut up, you twirp. I wish the plane went down in flames right behind you.

Okay, that’s a little vitriolic, but I will at least give the skydivers from 25 years ago some credit; after all they actually skydived (sky dove?).

I’ve always wanted to go skydiving. Ever since I was about six and saw John Rambo do it into Laos in First Blood: Part II, it seemed like the coolest idea to me. The ultimate ride; a few minutes where you get to feel like a bird and come as close to flying as a modern primate can. I was convinced as a child I would skydive some day. That my mother thought it was a stupid and dangerous idea only fueled my interest.

As I got older though, skydiving became less of a priority and eventually, for the most part, a forgotten memory. Every now and again I’d think about it. And one time some friends went and invited me, but I declined their offer to join; I didn’t have the money. It wasn’t terribly expense to go, at least for them. But it would have been for me.

Skydiving is one of those things everyone thinks they’re an expert on, but no one can ever accurately reference information about. By now most people know first-time jumps are done tandem with a professional instructor. According to every person on the planet, you have to make your first jump with an instructor strapped to your ass. Well, yes, this is what most skydiving schools have adopted. Mostly because it’s cheaper, faster, and we’ve entered an age where liability waivers and insurance policies are meaningless. Most people just wanna get up on the plane, jump out, and be home in time to tell everyone the boring, ball-less story. And the skydiving schools don’t want to face scrutiny over some a-hole’s wife or kids barking down their throats about their dead loved-one-come-meal-ticket. So they make you go tandem.

Here’s the thing: that’s not really skydiving. Every element of danger and risk has been dissolved. Skydiving used to be the sport of the wild and fearless. Now it’s a false team-building exercise for corporate shills – not that there’s anything wrong with being a corporate shill, but where does the shill go to step out of his or her shill-shell and actually live life on the edge?

Imagine it’s your lifelong dream to race a Formula One car around an alpine track. And let’s say I told you you could do it, but when you show up I inform you that Mario Andretti will be driving the car while you ride shotgun. That would still be a neat experience, but could you really go home and tell everyone you drove a Formula One car?

All my friend’s who went skydiving didn’t really go skydiving. I don’t hold that against them. In order to jump solo you have to go through weeks of training and it costs a ton of money. That’s why I didn’t do it. Most people can’t afford to. But this problem goes beyond the act of skydiving. It’s what our society as a whole has become. There’s no danger, or risk, or recklessness. We’ve cocooned ourselves so deeply in the womb of omnipresent protection that even skydiving has been mother-wrapped in pillows. If you really want to live life on the edge then you have to, you know, go to the edge; not just have someone hold your hand as you tepidly peer into the chasm below. People went there in the past. I’m not saying technology and evolution haven’t taught us a thing or two, but a society that doesn’t take risks, doesn’t innovate. And the gutlessness of modern skydiving is an allegory for the snail’s pace sociopolitical world we live in. Don’t believe me? Look at Facebook, and Twitter, and texting (I love that spellcheck still won’t accept that as a word!). The new world is so timid we don’t even call each other any more! A phone call is the most aggressive social proposition you could possibly impose on someone. It’s like throwing a rock at a squirrel! And further into the cocoon we sink.

But don’t worry. Social media, and skydiving instructors, and a battery of other childproof de rigeur safety measures are here to protect your fragile body and even more fragile emotions. And that’s not even the part that is so upsetting. Most people don’t want to die, but everybody wants a cool experience. So go on the tandem jump. Just don’t posture and say you’ve towed the line when truthfully you barely got out of the car. And skydiving academies, put some faith in the legal system. First-time jumpers went out solo all the time in the 80s, and there was no rash of fatalities, at least none I can remember. Seems to me we don’t really need to bottle feed everyone this experience.

Happy landings.

Photo credit: wikimedia commons

Photo credit: wikimedia commons













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