experienced skydivers on plane pre-jump

The Culture of Skydiving: Fun

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Photo credit (above): D Squared

In 2011, Western Kentucky University student Steven Wade published his Anthropology capstone project, entitled “The Culture of Skydiving.” What Steven came up with is pretty awesome stuff–a peek behind the curtain of our sport–and we’d love to get you in-the-know, as well. While he conducted his research at Skydive Kentucky in Elizabethtown, the same findings could be observed at just about any other dropzone in the world–including ours, right here in the beautiful Virginia/Washington D.C. area.

Defining the Parameters

First, Wade’s paper defines the exact culture that he’s investigating. We’re not talking about skydiving videos on the internet, here–we’re talking about the actual, factual dropzone life: the in-person “community of individuals who regularly jump at a given drop zone.” Steven noted that this particular culture “places a high value on individual achievement, self-reliance, and adherence to routine, and it promotes a strong sense of community among its members.”  

Most importantly, Wade observed that skydiving culture is not just activity-based. He noted that “the relationships formed between skydivers through the common experience of skydiving” reach well into those individuals’ day-to-day lives off the dropzone, too.

community of experienced skydivers at dropzone

Supporting Structures

Any culture on this planet has to frame itself out by dint of supporting rites and rituals–be those religious, sacred-secular or simply habitual. Wade observed that the culture of skydiving, well in alignment with the general theory of anthropology, “supports its community through several unique rites of passage as an individual gradually becomes a member of the group.” The dropzone he studied–in the same manner as all the other dropzones we’ve been to or heard of– hosts barbecues and game nights and parties for its members, so everyone is well and truly connected on the ground as well as in the sky.

having fun on the dropzone
Photo by: David Cherry

The Values We Share

There’s an interesting contradiction that skydiving presents that Wade points out in his paper: that jumping out of a plane, whether or not you’re with a group, is “by necessity a solo act, requiring a great deal of focus, control, and self-confidence.” That self-reliance and agency drives much of the day-to-day preoccupation of a sport skydiver with earning her/his own way toward “advancement in the sport through individual effort and experience.”

The contradiction? That it’s not just “me, me, me.” Wade notes that skydivers “take every opportunity to counter this individuality by jumping in groups and doing formations, by coaching and helping each other out, by encouraging other jumpers to continue, and celebrating their successes.” That means that the heart and soul of skydiving leverages the self-confidence and strength gained in an individualistic environment to ratchet up the intensity of the group bonding experience. The challenge undertaken by each student in the act of learning how to skydive–and, in doing so, joining the elite ranks of skydiving athletes–forms the locus point that the community orbits around and contributes to, but only the jumper her/himself can actually complete that achievement.

experienced skydivers in formation
Photo by: David Cherry

The most important value we share, however, is the simplest of all: Just to have fun. If you walk onto any skydiving dropzone on the planet, it’s the fun you’ll feel–the high-fiving, bear-hugging, hoot-and-hollering atmosphere that keeps each individual jumper returning day after day, weekend after weekend. Wade concludes that, at the end of the day, “skydivers are out to have fun, doing what they can to make each experience exciting and unique.”

Want to conduct your own freefall-based anthropological study of fun? Come out to Skydive Orange and run some tests. We’d love to be your control group!

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Katharine Biegert

Orange County, Virginia has some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen and from the air it was even better. I've already signed up for another jump!

The largest tandem skydiving center near Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland.

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