I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, April 11, 2010

World Freefall Convention

Since I have been thinking about the years when I was a really active skydiver, I thought I'd tell you about the World Freefall Convention and all the years I worked there as a Load Organizer. This picture above shows the tent that was assigned to me, with Paul, one of the jumpers who came back year after year to jump with my organizers and me.

The way it all began was back in 1994 when Smart Guy built a website for the owner of the WFFC. In those days it was not a given that every business around had a website, and in payment for his services, we were both offered the opportunity to organize loads at the Convention, with the compensation that your jumps are all paid for. This is not exactly a free ride, however, as you need to take a bunch of disparate jumpers and organize a skydive for them and make it work so that everyone is happy and safe when they land.

Well, I was terrified. I didn't know how to do that kind of thing at all. All of the other LOs (load organizers) didn't like to take the lower experienced jumpers, so I asked if I could take them myself. I realized early on if you took them and made smaller, easy jumps (which I could do), that everybody would be happy, and that's exactly what I did. Plus some of them were just a step above students, which I worked with all the time at my home Drop Zone.

By the time the second year rolled around, I had my own tent, separate from the other LOs, and I was able to provide an inviting and non-threatening environment for those who wished it. If they wanted to jump with the more experienced crowd, they could. I had about ten other organizers working with me. For eight or nine summers, this was what I did in August.

The WFFC was held in Quincy (and the last few years in Rantoul), Illinois during the first part of August, covering two weekends and the weekdays in between. Anyone who has been in Illinois in August knows that it can be very, very hot. Most of the time the temperature hovered in the lower to upper 90s, with the humidity very high, making it sometimes very enervating. We also had occasional thunderstorms that would come through, drenching everything and sometimes even blowing the circus tents down.

During the ten days at the WFFC, an entire town sprang up from the cornfields. The owner of the WFFC, Don and his wife Susie, worked hard to see that all needs were met, from acres of cleared land where you could pitch a tent when you arrived, many food and equipment vendors, large landing areas, and aircraft from around the country. There would be as many as five Twin Otters and three tailgate aircraft running to carry the jumpers from the ground up to 13,000 feet, with many specialty aircraft such as helicopters and even a 727 jet to jump from! At its busiest, more than 5,000 skydivers from all over the world came to the Convention. I worked very hard all those years and loved it. In ten days I would skydive an average of anywhere from 30 to 50 times! Tired and sore at the end, but filled with great memories and lots of fun.

Even today, in 2010, when I head over to the local Drop Zone, I will meet people who thank me for taking time with them when they were "young" jumpers. I don't miss those days, though, because I was younger then, and just reading the logbooks and reminiscing reminds me of how hard it was to put out that much energy, day after day. When I returned to work, I was ready for a break.

Probably the most exciting skydive I made was on August 9, 1999. I found it in my logbook, hoping that I could remember the names of the people who were on the jump with me, but I didn't think it was important at the time. Another LO organized a noontime naked jump. This was advertised over the loudspeaker a couple of days before, and once enough people had signed up to make a King Air load, Bill, the organizer (who had done this before), brought the 13 of us together to talk about how to do this jump safely. First, we stripped down and put a big t-shirt over our naked bodies and then donned our skydiving gear. Bill suggested we wear our shoes (everybody did) and some carried a small fanny pack in front to put the t-shirt in for after landing.

We then headed for the King Air, which holds 13 people and was waiting for us, with plenty of our fellow jumpers aware of what we were getting ready to do. Lots of looks at those of us rather large-breasted women who were not wearing bras, but everything was covered. We got into the plane and took off, after deciding that we would not make a group larger than five when we exited. I was in a four-way, Bill, me, and two others. Once we got off the ground a little ways, we all loosened our chest straps and wiggled out of the t-shirt. Bill carried mine in a pack along with his, after promising that he would land away from the main landing area with me. Some of the more exhibitionist skydivers would land right in the middle of the main landing field, with the person on the loudspeaker alerting those on the ground interested in watching.

We were very careful to make sure that all the chest straps and equipment were in place, and when it was time to exit, the four of us climbed out and took grips on each other's harnesses so that we could exit as a group. (Usually you grab onto what are called "grippers" on jumpsuits, but we didn't have those!) Once we were in freefall, we concentrated on our skydive, and I felt the cold wind at altitude whipping my body in a very unusual way. Once we separated and I opened my parachute, I felt like I had been in a bath filled with stinging nettles, I itched all over! My parachute looked so pretty above me, and I found my landing area away from all the others and saw my targeted spot. I came in to land and, after having had 43 standup landings, I managed to slide in on my butt. Ouch! I had grass stains where I have never had grass stains before!

Bill had already landed and handed me my t-shirt, and we walked back to debrief the jump. It was quite an experience, one I'm glad I did once, but never again. Now when I go skydiving, I am very happy to have all my equipment with me!


CiCi said...

I never heard of naked skydiving. You have so much inner strength to try things out of the ordinary. You have lived such an adventurous life. Amazing.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Wow, after you've jumped naked out of an airplane, what else can you do for thrills? Clearly you've lived "on the edge" quite a lot!

(And my word verification is "ravester." Ha!)

Linda Reeder said...

Well, your first two comments say it all!!!

gayle said...

I wish I were as brave as you!! This was a very exciting and interesting post!!

CrazyCris said...

now that sounds completely INSANE!!! and oh so much fun! ;o)

Lucy said...

What a vision I've just had! I was speaking of epiphanies on my own Blog, but this takes the cake! Was there film at eleven?

L. said...

! I was on that load I reckon; not in your four way, but in the plane, and landing well away from the madding crowd :-)

Whitney Lee said...

I'm chuckling. I am Miss Modesty (except when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth) and admire the spunk it took to do a naked jump! I imagine that the sensation of the air was a whole different hairdo. Of course you landed on your butt, Murphy's Law:)

It sounds like you are wonderful at organizing and working hard at whatever needs to be done to get the task accomplished. You are one of the indispensable types. It sounds like the less experienced jumpers benefitted greatly from your help.

Whitney Lee said...

Okay, I'm having trouble with my comments actually publishing.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Thanks for the naked jump story..I really enjoyed it! You are one heck of a gal DJan..not everyone would have done it! :)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jo(e) said...

Naked skydiving? Wow. I think I'd be worried about the landing -- but then again, I've never even gone skydiving with clothes on. What a great story to tell.