The Culture of Skydiving

Monday, April 1, 2019

Culture is an operating system. The late ethnobotanist/philosopher/psychonaut Terence McKenna coined that way of looking at it way back in the sixties, and it still couldn’t be truer — that culture is the structure we build on the raw power of our thinking in order to get everything done in our day-to-day lives.

We share culture, too, in the same way computers share their OS’s: as a means of sharing information without too much inter-translation. The cultures in which we collaborate, whether they’re national, or religious, or familial, go far to defining and/or extending our worldview — and skydiving is no different.

More Than Jumping

Sure, life on the dropzone — the community of regulars who call the place their sport-jumping home — revolves around the act of jumping out of planes. That said, it’s certainly not all about jumping out of planes, and it’s certainly not all about adrenaline. There’s a lot more to it.

It’s not a culture of one-upmanship, either. While the outside world places a lot of emphasis on the aggressiveness of any given stunt, the dropzone community, on the other hand, places a high value on individual achievement, self-reliance, and adherence to routine, and it promotes a strong sense of community among its members. The cornerstones of this skydiving culture, as it turns out, are based on helping each other succeed.

Beyond the Airfield

This culture isn’t just constrained to the airport, either. Indeed, the relationships formed between skydivers (through the common experience of skydiving, and through long hangouts on the DZ) reach well into those individuals’ day-to-day lives. Once a skydiver, one is always a skydiver, both on the ground or in the air.

Underlying Structures

Culture, just like any other operating system, requires infrastructure to function. In any given example of a culture, these frameworks usually take the form of rites and rituals. Religious rituals? Habitual rituals? In practice, they both work the same way.

In skydiving, we engage in several unique rites of passage as an individual gradually becomes a member of the group. These skydiving rituals tend to be really colorful: bar-b-ques any given weekend evening, the A-license stamp on the forehead to celebrate graduating from the solo skydiving training program, the pie in the face to celebrate a 100th jump, “beer fines” paid by every jumper who does something for the first time. In addition to these traditions shared by the sport at large, pretty much every dropzone has its own smaller community traditions that it uses to welcome new members closer into the fold. The bonds these rituals create keep our “skyfamily” close.

The Fun is Real

At the end of the day, the “code” that the culture of skydiving uses to keep this operating system ticking is simple: fun. And lots of it.

You’ll see it the moment you step on to a dropzone: people having crazy amounts of fun. Every jumper is doing what they can to make each experience exciting and unique. When you peek into the hangar, you’ll witness a vastly diverse group of jumpers, all hugging and laughing and high-fiving and doing little secret handshakes before a jump. Walk around, and you’ll see the tents and motorhomes of the folks camping out for the weekend. If you’re there during a skydiving event (called a “boogie”), do yourself a favor and stay for the bonfires and the storytelling. If you’ve been hungry for a community that provides all the fun, friendship and challenge you’ve been looking for, you’re going to find it all in one place on the dropzone.

We have good news for you: You’re invited! Book your first jump today, and you’ll see just what we mean,

Thanks so much for a wonderful first time adventure for me and my 5 year old great-niece; and also my 2nd timer niece. I felt very safe and informed through the whole process. My only wish is that we had ParacleteXP in Minnesota-with you to guide us! Thanks again for a wonderful time. We will DEFINITELY be back next time when in NC.

Ellen Adams