Skydiving is one of the most common things I see on people’s bucket lists, and I totally get why. It’s scary and dangerous and expensive, but can be fun and life-changing at the same time. I say life-changing because many jumpers I met said they got addicted after the first jump.
It had been on my bucket list too, for quite a while. The initial dream was to do it in New Zealand — the land of extreme sports, but I was dead broke when I traveled there in 2012, so it was out of the question. In 2018, I finally decided that it didn’t matter where I should experience it for the first time, so long as I experienced it. Because I wanted to save money, the most sensible thing to do was to try it in my own country. I wouldn’t be flying over snow-capped mountains, but I’d be flying all the same.
After doing some online research, I discovered that I had two options: tandem skydiving and static-line skydiving.
Tandem Skydiving vs Static-Line
What is it?
Tandem skydiving is a skydive in which you’re strapped to a certified instructor. No training needed — basically you can turn up at the location 30 minutes before your scheduled jump, listen to some briefing, and be good to go.
- Takes less time (can be done in a few hours).
- Doesn’t require training.
- You get to jump from a greater altitude (15,000 – 20,000 feet).
- There’s more free-fall time (60 seconds or more), which means you get to experience the floating sensation for much longer before your parachute deploys.
- Your instructor can bring a camera and help you record the experience.
- Stress-free. You get to enjoy the experience more as you don’t have to worry about landing and keeping yourself alive.
- More expensive, because you’re jumping from a greater height. The higher the plane has to go, the more expensive it gets. Plus, they also need to use a bigger, sturdier parachute to support the both of you. This adds up to the price.
- You don’t get to learn how to do it yourself.
- You won’t get a license.
What is it?
Static-line skydiving is a solo jump. It’s the most basic form of solo skydiving, as you jump from a lower altitude and the parachute self-deploys within 3-5 seconds after you exit the aircraft. A full-day lesson is required prior to the jump.
- You get to learn how to do it yourself.
- You get a license, which allows you to perform more jumps and proceed to more advanced courses.
- More WOW factor, and extra bragging rights!
- Takes more time. You will need to commit at least two days.
- You have to jump from a lower altitude (3,000 feet).
- Less free-fall time (3-5 seconds).
- You have to do everything yourself, meaning you’ll most likely spend more time worrying than actually enjoying the view.
- You’re not allowed to bring a camera.
- It can be super damn scary, and if you chicken out on the plane, there will be no refunds.
Which One is Right for You?
In terms of enjoyment, tandem skydiving is the clear winner because you don’t have to worry about a thing other than how you look on camera. Your tandem partner does all the work for you. On top of that, since you’re jumping from a higher altitude, you get more free-fall time in the sky and enjoy the view much longer.
On the other hand, static-line skydiving is a good choice if you intend to become an advanced / professional jumper. As for me, I had no plans to do any more than one jump, but after watching a video on static-line skydiving, I immediately knew it was the one I wanted.
The extra bragging rights overpowered everything else. It simply looks so badass! Besides, it’s not often that I get to have a skill that most other people don’t — usually it’s the other way around.
Can You Skydive Solo on Your First Jump?
Absolutely! I did it without prior experience. The only requirements for static-line skydiving are as follows:
- All participants must be within their recommended Body Mass Index (BMI) and of a reasonable fitness level. The maximum weight is 95 kilograms, fully dressed.
- Participants under the age of 18 will require parental consent. The minimum age for solo skydiving is 16 years. Some places may impose a maximum age limit for participants and require those over 40 to prepare a declaration of fitness from their doctor.
- Participants must be free from medical conditions such as epilepsy, cardiovascular and neurological conditions, some forms of diabetes, and recurring injuries such as dislocations. It’s best to speak to your doctor if you’re unsure whether you’re fit to jump.
- Participants must be able to read and write. The full day of ground training also requires students to be able to concentrate in a classroom environment for long periods of time, as well as understand and apply basic principles. Only students who pass both the theory and practical elements will be permitted to jump on their own. However, people with learning disabilities may still be allowed to participate, on a case-by-case basis.
Which Skydiving Center to Choose
Obviously, when choosing a skydiving center, you want to find one that is certified and experienced. A good skydiving club will ensure that each of their instructor’s qualifications are up to date, and will only hire reliable and experienced skydivers. Since you’re putting your life in their hands and paying good money for it, it’s perfectly okay to ask the center about their qualification and safety standards.
Other than safety, you should also look for centers that will give you an enjoyable experience. The best way to do this is by looking at their online reviews and reading what previous jumpers had to say about them. How do they treat their customers? Do they offer photography/videography service, and if so, how much? Will the camera be attached to the instructor’s wrist, or will there be a professional videographer?
In Malaysia, there aren’t many skydiving centers to choose from. I found two but one of them had suspended their skydiving activities until further notice. So, I went for the one in Segamat, Johor, called Hawk Skydive. It was founded almost 40 years ago by a military veteran who also pioneered civilian skydiving in Malaysia.
Since then, the club has trained thousands of skydivers, including celebrities, government ministers, and uniformed bodies. They had even been commissioned to train 50 youths to jump in the Malaysian Youth North Pole Expedition in 2007. In 2015, the Maldivian government hired them to train 35 of their locals to jump in conjunction with the Maldives’ 50th year of independence. So, they have a pretty impressive CV.
How Much is It?
I paid a total of RM1,300, inclusive of an optional RM100 for video recording. This was actually the cheapest one I found after comparing with skydiving packages in neighboring countries. Then again, most of the other diving centers did not offer static-line jumps, so I didn’t have much to compare with. This was in 2018. Please contact Hawk Skydive for their latest prices.
Before the class started, my fellow students and I had to sign a waiver form. No surprise there. As with any extreme sports, you have to declare that you understand the risks involved. The organizers are not going to be held responsible for anything unfortunate that happens to you — or whatever’s left of you.
After that, we had to give them our personal details, which would then be handed over to the state police department for a routine background check. This was to ensure that we were not terrorists trying to hijack the plane for a suicide mission.
We were also given a handbook, titled “MALFUNCTIONS”.
So, basically they have an entire book dedicated to things that could go wrong during a jump. How reassuring.
The class took about 6 hours. We learned about the parachute and how to operate it. We learned about altitudes, speed, and the directions of the wind. But mostly, we discussed the malfunctions and how to deal with them.
After the class, we had a trial jump from a stationary plane. First, the jumper had to sit next to the door. Actually, it was not even a door. It was just an opening, which would remain open during flight. Then, from the sitting position, we had to exit the aircraft slowly and stand on a small platform below the wing. On the jumpmaster’s command, we were to jump backward in a facedown spreadeagle position and count out loud, “One thousand, two thousand, three thousand…” and so on.
The purpose of counting was to know when to start
panicking executing emergency procedures should the parachute fail to open. Ideally, it should self-deploy anytime between three thousand and five thousand.
The Day of the Jump
The next morning, we gathered at 7 a.m., hoping to start before it got too hot. However, we were not given clearance to fly, as it was too misty. If it rained, we were going to have to postpone everything until the next day. While waiting for the sky to clear up, we practiced jumping again from the stationary plane, named The Great Old Lady. It was the same plane we were going to fly on later. The plane was so tiny that on each flight, it could only accommodate four persons: the pilot, the jumpmaster, and two jumpers.
By 9 a.m., we were ready to fly. The jumpers were randomly paired up. The heavier person in each pair would jump first. My partner was a guy called Kirshen. Fortunately for me, he was much bigger and taller, so he would be jumping first. We would be on the 6th flight. Out of the 16 jumpers, there were only 2 women.
During the flight, three cameras would be used to record the jumps — one on the jumpmaster’s helmet, one on the wing of the plane, and the last one on a drone at the landing site.
Something Went Wrong
When the first pair jumped, we all looked up and watched. They were but tiny dots in the sky. Our instructor stood on the runway with a walkie-talkie to give instructions to the jumpers. Everything seemed to be going fine. And then something unexpected happened.
The first jumper went the wrong way, and suddenly was too far out to make it back it back in time for landing. He was losing altitude fast. We could no longer see him behind the trees and buildings. The instructor frantically asked him to find a safe area to land. Then, he sent a guy on a motorbike to search for him.
The rest of us dared not say anything. We only watched in horror. The very first jumper of the day had made a terrifying (and possibly fatal) mistake. Was that an omen or something? A glance at the other jumpers’ faces told me we were all thinking the same thing: Shit just got real.
Luckily, the guy was okay. He landed on some field not too far away. Apparently, he had hesitated a few seconds too long before jumping, and on a moving plane, every second counts. As a result, he jumped too far away from the landing strip. Because of this distance, the instructor couldn’t make out which way he was facing and thus, had given him the wrong instructions. Needless to say, the jumper received an earful for his mistake.
And Then, It was My Turn!
The other jumpers did fine, thankfully, and before long, it was my turn to suit up. The suits were made of thick canvas to protect us during landing. Kirshen and I both chose orange jumpsuits, despite their resemblance to the kind you might see in another sort of facility.
The crew helped me with my parachute backpack, goggle, helmet, altimeter, and walkie-talkie, making sure that everything was snug and secure.
I felt like I was being sent to war. Slowly (not for dramatic effect, but because the jumpsuit was slowing me down), I made my way to the plane and took my position behind the pilot.
The jumpmaster then patted me on the shoulder, signaling my time to go. I struggled to put my legs in position. With the wind coming from the front and from the propeller, plus the heavy backpack weighing me down, it proved to be more difficult than I thought. I looked at the jumpmaster who said something I couldn’t hear amidst the loud roar of the wind and the engine. Then, I saw him mouthing, “Go”.
I jumped, hit my head on the wing, and while my mind was still trying to process what had happened, the parachute had deployed. I hadn’t even had time to open my mouth and count to 5000.
The walkie-talkie then crackled to life, giving me step-by-step instructions on what to do. I looked below me and saw the tiny roofs of houses and buildings. There was a swimming pool on a rooftop, looking about as big as a Band-Aid. And there was the vast blue sky all around me. I had to wonder if I was really doing what I thought I was doing. At that point, I realized that this could either end well, or very, very badly. I was in no hurry to find out.
But time passed in a blur and I soon had to prepare for landing. Again, my instructor guided me through it all. At one point, he asked me to head to the left, towards the landing strip. After a few seconds of silence, he said, “Hello? I said go to your left, not your right!”
It took me a moment to realize that I had mixed up left and right…again! I should probably have warned the instructor about my total lack of coordination.
Anyway, I fell hard on my butt, but at least it was on grass, not on gravel. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected. The fact that I had landed in one piece was a good enough achievement. My instructor asked me to stand up if I was alright (I was too far away for him to see me properly). As I stood up, I noticed the drone hovering above me, so I gave a little wave.
I had landed at least a hundred meters off target — they had to send a pickup truck to fetch me and my parachute.
Free lunch was served while we waited for the instructors to prepare our certificates and licenses. While eating, one of the guys told us about his previous jumps. Apparently, he had done a few, and when he was not jumping, he often came to watch.
He said this was the first time in his experience that there had not been any injury. Usually, there would be cuts, bruises, broken bones, or — at the very least — sprains. He himself had once impaled his leg when he landed on a sharp wooden fence. He ended up in the hospital and in a wheelchair for many months. Well, all I can say is I’m glad he didn’t tell us any of this before we did our jumps.
After lunch, we had a certificate-awarding ceremony.
And lastly, we took a photo with The Great Old Lady.
Once we had received our licenses, we had the option to sign up for a second jump, if we still hadn’t had enough. When I said no, the people at the skydiving school were visibly disappointed because they seemed to be very certain I would be as addicted to the sport as they were. So, I backtracked and said, “Not today!” The truth was, I was just super glad I had come out of it alive, and I definitely wasn’t going to tempt fate a second time.
The next day, they posted a video of us on their YouTube channel and Facebook page:
Somehow, in the video, I managed to look calm and composed, although — I can assure you — I felt anything but. I don’t think I want to repeat the experience. Tandem skydive, maybe, but not anything solo, especially after I heard all the horror stories.
How about you? Would you like to try solo skydiving? Comment below.