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Skydiving involves jumping out of an airplane with a steerable parachute, either for sport or competition.

Skydivers begin by going to a drop zone -- a place that has airplanes, instructors and gear for skydivers. There they register to jump, go up in a plane, wait until they are in the correct position to land back at the drop zone, then jump.

"When you first jump out of the plane and you're free falling [before you open your parachute], it's like flying. You can fly up to someone, go away, fly through a cloud and then come back," says Bill Von Novak, a skydiver from Sacramento, California.

Skydiving is a lot more than just getting in a plane with a parachute and then jumping out. Before you get anywhere near the plane, you need lessons in body position, steering the parachute, how to pack your parachute and what to do in an emergency. Then there are tandem jumps, where an instructor jumps with you.

With each instruction jump costing around $125, you'll probably spend close to $800 before you're ready to jump solo. Once you get to this stage, it gets a lot cheaper -- about $15 to $20 per jump.

Equipment can be rented at most drop zones for about $15. If you want to buy your own equipment, you can expect to spend as much as $3,500 for new gear.

Gear consists of a harness, a container (for your parachutes), a main and reserve parachute, a helmet, and an altimeter, which tells you when to pull your parachute cord.

While many skydivers describe the experience as flying, you are actually falling 300 meters (984 feet) every five seconds when you jump out of the plane at about 4,570 meters (14,993 feet).

Once you reach an altitude of 610 to 672 meters (2,001 to 2,205 feet), you pull your cord and your parachute kicks in. For many beginners, this can be a very strange sensation.

"After free falling for roughly a minute, you pull your ripcord and all of a sudden you go from 180 miles per hour to 15 miles per hour. It's a pretty big jolt," says Mike Landon, a skydiver from Memphis.

Many skydivers admit it's not the maneuvering in the free fall or pulling the cord that's hard. It's the time they have to wait before they get out of the plane.

"I was talking big and showing off, but I was so nervous. I thought for sure I was going to wet my pants," says Gert-Willem Romer, a skydiver from the Netherlands.

Contrary to what you might think, skydiving is not a dangerous, reckless sport. Experts say a lot of training and planning goes into each jump.

"It's a myth that we're a bunch of adrenaline junkies who jump screaming out of planes only to discover our parachutes won't open. That's just not what skydiving's all about," says Von Novak.

According to statistics, the fatality rate for skydiving is about one in 75,000, with roughly 92 percent of deaths caused by human error. In other words, you're more likely to be killed riding your bike in the city or riding in a car.

While most skydivers do it for the thrill and fun, some actively compete in skydiving competitions. Competitions can be either individual or team events.

In individual events, skydivers compete for accuracy in landing as well as style jumping -- performing ballet-like maneuvers while in free fall.

In team events, skydivers attempt linking maneuvers with four or eight people. This is called relative work. Groups also perform canopy relative work, which is similar to relative work except that it is done when the parachutes are open.

You don't have to be in great shape to skydive. In fact, some people have been known to skydive in their 80s.

You must be able to move your arms and legs to position yourself, you can't have any serious medical conditions such as high blood pressure or a weak heart, and you can't be too heavy or you'll need a bigger parachute. Experts say it's best if you're under 99 kg (218 pounds).

While there are no exact statistics on skydiving's popularity, experts feel this sport is growing because of promotion through movies and also because equipment is becoming much safer. Currently, there are over 30,000 members in the United States Parachute Association alone.

Many skydivers go on to become instructors, which allows them to jump more often as well as share their love for the sport with newcomers. Von Novak estimates he earns about $4,000 per year by teaching on weekends.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to try skydiving, experts warn that you're likely to get hooked.

"The first time I jumped and landed successfully, I was so excited I couldn't stand in one spot for more than a few seconds. I'm hooked now," says Scott McLellen, a skydiver from Utah.

Getting Started

If you've got guts and a bit of cash, what's holding you back? Here's what the experts suggest to get you started in skydiving:

Visit a drop zone and ask some questions. You can also join a newsgroup on the Internet or a local skydiving association to get your questions answered.

"Most skydivers remember what it felt like to be the new person on the block and are more than willing to help someone out with information. Local drop zones are usually great about answering questions," says Scott McLellan.

It's important to be patient through the training process and pay attention to what your instructors are saying. You'll be out on your own soon enough.

Before you choose an instructor or school, check with a local parachuting association to make sure it's a good one. Experts say training is a very important part of skydiving.

Finally, don't worry if you're nervous. Experts say that's only natural. With training and experience, you'll overcome it.

"I was nervous the first couple of times, especially getting out of the plane. It goes against all your instincts," says Von Novak, who now jumps 10 times every weekend.


United States Parachute Association

Parachute Industry Association

Check out this big list of resources

Skydiving's Drop Zone Directory
A search engine for drop zone sites

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