Skydiving is fun – really REALLY fun! Working in skydiving though? Not so much. Well, for me it wasn’t.
I started skydiving in 2012. I’ve been interested in it years prior but of course I had followed along with the main derogatory idea that skydiving is a huge “death threat”. Don’t get me wrong, it is a dangerous sport but it’s actually a lot safer than most people realize.
Before I started working in skydiving, I had worked in the bar/restaurant industry for about 5 years. I had just moved from San Diego to live with my sister for a bit as I graduated from one college and transferred to another, which was closer to her. I needed a job and searched around Craigslist for bars and restaurants that were hiring. Well, after some failed interviews, I decided to google map places and found a skydiving center with a bar. I thought, “Oh dang, bartending at a skydiving center?! Hell, yeah! This is perfect!” They weren’t even hiring but I went in, interviewed, and scored a job!
My job as a bartender at the drop zone was fun. Of course, the rule was: No alcoholic beverages before jumping. After that though, game on. I got to listen to all kinds of cool skydiving stories from instructors and students. It inspired me to take action and start skydiving. So I did. I obtained my United States Parachuting Association (USPA) “A” skydiving license within 2 weeks.
After I obtained the 1st of 4 licenses you can receive in skydiving, I was offered to work in the gear store, which would give me so many benefits to jumping, like free gear rental, so I left the bartending job (on good terms). Then I got really interested in learning more on the gear itself. I was curious about how it’s all packed and wanted to know in depth about it so I obtained my senior parachute rigger certification, which is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). There are two certifications: Senior and Master. There are also different types: back, seat, chest and lap.
I learned so much about how the gear works from my experience as a parachute rigger. However, I also dealt with a lot of not so fun aspects of this job.
My main intention for getting my parachute rigging certification was to learn about the gear, not to make money with it. I even remember telling a few people that. But I didn’t listen. I remember hearing how much money you can make packing parachutes, including my boyfriend at the time, and they were right. You can make some pretty damn good money.
The two things that I struggled with during my time as a parachute rigger were values and ego. I spent years clashing between them and eventually decided to stop the nonsense once and for all.
There is a lot of responsibility involved in packing parachutes, obviously. The most important, of course is the reserve parachute. That’s the last chance of survival. Absolutely, no room for error in that. The main parachute however, has much more wiggle room and you can cut corners with that although not recommended. It takes on average 7-10 minutes to pack a main parachute if you are fast enough but the reserve parachute takes about 2-4 hours or longer based on whether it passes an inspection.
When it came to packing the reserve parachute, I don’t give a flying fuck, I will take my damn time. I value people’s safety and if I’m going to pack someone’s reserve parachute, I’m going to do it right, even when I’ve been asked to “hurry up”.
When it comes to packing the main parachute, the clash of ego and values begin to rise. Because you can cut corners with these, I’ve been asked to pack fast so many times in order to get paid and get more work. It went from quality over quantity to quantity over quality and it seems to be the main theme in packing main parachutes nowadays. The faster you can pack, the “cooler” you are. Pfft. It has caused me great annoyance because you are damned if you do and damed if you don’t. No one likes a slow packer but if you packed fast and the opening was shitty, you get shit on anyways. These are considered “trash packs” cause that’s what they are, trash.
Some people can pull off the trash packs nicely though. They can pack fast and the openings of the parachutes are beautiful. These people get praised and get more work. Good for them. I just couldn’t do it because I don’t like causing anyone to have a malfunctioning parachute. But I see some people just don’t give a damn when they do cause a malfunction and that just disturbs me to the core.
Malfunctioning parachutes happen. They are considered rare but they do happen. Sometimes the parachutes open nicely and sometimes they don’t, but they open regardless. If they don’t, there are emergency procedures.
Parachutes want to open, despise that huge misconception that they won’t. They are designed to open, otherwise skydiving would be illegal, like BASE jumping, but that’s a whole different ball game. There’s a shit ton that play into the rigging of skydiving parachutes and that’s why they have a senior rating and a master rating.
Getting my master rating wasn’t an interest of mine because I realized there is so much to learn about different types of parachute rigs (gear) that I would really, REALLY need to have a shit ton of motivation and interest in to really know what the fuck I’m doing. I feel you need to be super hyped up on your rigging game to get that master level. Especially when someone brings you their ancient artifact of a parachute rig to pack. That’s like being an IT Technician and having to work with computer software dated back when computers first came out. Although, the outcome of the software doesn’t affect the person’s survival.
I’ve known master riggers who didn’t know shit. It seemed like they just got the rating for bragging rights. I knew senior riggers who knew more than master riggers. But regardless who knew more and who was right, master riggers always have the upper hand. I always took it personal because it deals with peoples lives. I developed bitterness and resentment towards people in this industry because even though I tried my hardest to keep things safe and be responsible, I always ended up on the short end of the stick. I just thought this is a joke.
I was tired of the bullshit. I cared too much. I dealt with a lot of criticism that I didn’t deserve and that I felt other people did but because I decided not to achieve that master rating, I had no say.
I developed a misconception of myself. I felt that I was never good enough. I realized that it’s not that I’m not good enough, it’s just that I consider myself to be a good fucking person and my moral standards are way to high to be increasing the malfunction rate just to be seen as some awesome rigger.
This job was solely focused on money and ego. I thought I was cool working as a parachute rigger but it clashed with my “I’m a good fucking person” mentality many times. I’ve made a lot of money but with all the bullshit that I dealt with, I was not happy and knew it was time to give it up. I was miserable and started hating people I worked with because all I saw was dollar signs light up in their eyes. I was done. Or at least I thought so.
Even though I wanted out, I kept falling back into the work solely because of money. My happiness was slowly turning into depression and I actually stopped skydiving once I started working because all I wanted to do was work. But then I never wanted to go to the drop zone on my days off to jump.
I finally decided to call it quits and say no to any work that was offered. It’s been really hard but I knew I had to let it go otherwise I would just keep going in circles. The work no longer made me happy, even though I tried multiple times.
I plan to eventually get back into skydiving as a hobby not as a job, but I just need to take some time away from anything skydiving. That includes most of the friends I’ve made over the last 5 years. It’s been a lonely time since I gave up working in the industry but I put a lot of hard working into it for 5 years, bloody hands and all.
Now it’s time to move onto something else. Something that I love and feel good about. We shall see what the Universe has in store for me. Cheers!
Photo: Me about to exit out of a Twin Otter named “Super Blue”