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Skydiving is a sport in which participants jump or fall from aircraft at altitude. They can perform an assortment of aerial maneuvers before deploying a parachute to slow their descent, allowing them to come gently to rest on the Earth below. The sport is also known as parachuting, in a reference to that vital piece of safety equipment. People at different levels of physical fitness can participate in skydiving, as long as they are ready for an adrenalin-packed sport which can be both terrifying and exhilarating.
The roots of the sport are actually much older than many people realize. Several medieval inventors developed rudimentary equipment which could have potentially been used for skydiving activity, and in 1797, Andre Jacques Garnerin jumped from a hot air balloon with a parachute, marking the first incident of truly modern skydiving. The sport was further refined throughout the 1800s, and many militaries adopted it in the 1900s.
In the military, skydiving was originally intended to be a backup safety mechanism for airmen. If a plane became disabled during flight, the pilot could deploy a parachute to save his life. Intrepid pilots began to skydive recreationally as well, and in many countries, further applications were considered. Many modern militaries use skydiving for troop deployment, for example. Wildfire fighters also skydive to reach remote sites, so that they can be on the ground quickly.
The potential of skydiving as a recreational sport was also quickly realized. Both women and men participated in the development and refinement of it as a sport, and continue to do so. Sport skydiving is characterized by performing with a sense of flair as well as safety. These people also perform stunts in films and for product promotions. Group skydiving is also often performed as a sport, as is wingsuit flying, a variation that uses a specially designed flight suit to more closely mimic the sense of flying.
Several safety measures are taken to make skydiving as safe as possible. Skydivers regularly check their gear to ensure that it is in good shape, and most skydivers carry a backup parachute. In some cases, the backup will deploy automatically if a skydiver reaches a certain altitude. Both primary and backup parachutes are controlled with steering lines, allowing the skydiver to control his or her descent. Internationally, several organizations promote safe skydiving, offering classes and certifications in the sport.
For people who want to experience skydiving for themselves, numerous companies around the world offer opportunities. In general, people take tandem jumps their first few times out, so that they can learn the basics before taking over on their own. Good training also involves ground schooling as well, to make sure that the skydiver is safe, secure, and ready for a solo. Some companies also offer standalone skydiving experiences for people who just want to try it out.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is skydiving and how does it work?
Skydiving is an extreme sport that involves jumping from an aircraft and freefalling before deploying a parachute to slow the descent for a safe landing. Participants experience a rush of adrenaline as they reach terminal velocity, which is about 120 mph (193 km/h) in a belly-to-earth position, according to the United States Parachute Association.
Is skydiving safe?
While skydiving carries inherent risks, it is relatively safe when conducted with proper training, equipment, and under the guidance of certified professionals. The United States Parachute Association reports that the chance of a skydiving death is 0.39 per 100,000 jumps, making it safer than driving a car based on fatalities per mile traveled.
What should I wear for skydiving?
For skydiving, you should wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothing that fits snugly but allows for full range of motion. Athletic or casual attire, such as long pants and a t-shirt, is recommended. Closed-toe shoes that won't slip off during freefall, like sneakers, are essential. A jumpsuit may be provided by the skydiving center.
How long does a skydive last?
A typical tandem skydive from around 13,000 feet will involve approximately 60 seconds of freefall, followed by a 5 to 7-minute parachute descent once the canopy is deployed. The entire experience, including the plane ascent, preparation, jump, and landing, can take several hours, including pre-jump training and post-jump celebrations.
Do you need to be physically fit to skydive?
General physical fitness is beneficial for skydiving, but you don't need to be an athlete. It's important to have enough strength to control your body during freefall and landing. Most skydiving centers have weight limits for safety reasons, and individuals should be able to lift their legs for landing. Always consult with the skydiving center if you have health concerns.
Can you breathe while skydiving?
Yes, you can breathe while skydiving. Some first-timers may find it momentarily challenging due to the rush of air and the adrenaline of the experience, but normal breathing is possible throughout the jump. It's recommended to relax and breathe normally through your nose or mouth during freefall and under the parachute.