The Complete Wuss's Guide to Skydiving
It's completely natural to be terrified of jumping out of a plane. Not everyone has the guts to high dive from several thousand feet, with or without a parachute. Actually, pretty much only Johnny Utah is willing to do it without one.
Regardless, if you say you aren't scared on your first jump you're either a liar, or straight-up crazy. But even if you're an admitted wuss (like me!), you're more than capable of skydiving without paralyzing yourself with fear or backing out completely. I did it. You can, too. Here's how.
Put as little time as possible between your decision and the actual act of jumping, as that time will be chock full of second-guessing and deciding to watch the second season of House of Cards instead (which is good, but it's not skydiving).
I had two full days to think about my jump, and I considered backing out at least a dozen times. Being at the skydiving facility exaggerates that time thing even more. If you're in a group and it's split between two planes, do your best to get on that first flight. And once you're in the air, try to go first.
Believe me when I say it's unnerving to see your group disappear out a garage door and into the sky.
Just sign up
Skydiving tends to be pricey, and it's a much bigger commitment than, say, tossing a football around in the park. When you get an opportunity, you need to take it. In my case, Dos Equis reached out as part of a summer campaign calling on fans to submit photos and video of challenges the company presented, with the opportunity to win prizes (including trips to Mexico!).
That particular week was documenting skydiving experiences. Since Dos Equis was offering to pick up the tab, I figured, why not? Don't hesitate because you're "not sure you're ready."
Peer pressure yourself
Tell a bunch of coworkers/friends/anyone who will listen that you're going skydiving. You'll never live it down if you brag to your former frat brothers about how badass you'll be, then chicken out. That comes with the added bonus of everyone thinking you're brave in the first place.
Or even better...
Go with a group
Pretty much everything is more fun with multiple people. And when the groupthink is turned on, you'll be far more likely to go through with skydiving. It's far less likely one or two freaked-out-beyond-reason people will convince five others to wuss out with them. And when you're the only guy in the bachelor party who REALLY doesn't want to do it, it's far easier for them to convince you to jump than for you to convince all of them to just go to the bar instead.
Plus, in the end, FOMO wins out.
Don't drink and dive
As tempting as it might be, avoid the urge to "calm your nerves" with a few drinks (especially anything high gravity) or any kind of self-medication. Many, if not all, skydiving facilities make you sign a waiver beforehand promising you haven't done any drugs or had anything to drink recently. If you break the rules, they won't let you jump.
And although you might be able to fool them, you should be as lucid as possible just so, you know, you don't miss directions, screw something up, and jeopardize your life and the lives of everyone else diving out of a plane from several thousand feet.
Save the drinks for after your "Welcome Back to Earth" celebration. There will be plenty.
Don't give in to fear
I am a coward. I HATE roller coasters, heights freak me out in general, and the few times I've ever gone faster than 100mph in a car were completely against my will. So naturally, the combination of heights and extreme speed should have given me the vapors and had me blacking out the second I was out of the plane. But it didn't.
The truth is, you don't really have a perception of being thousands of feet in the air when you're free falling. The hazy ground below doesn't appear to get any closer for much of the fall, and despite actually reaching speeds around 120mph (terminal velocity), you don't have stationary marks in the sky as reference points. It is the sky, after all. Your brain just thinks you're basically floating with a super-strong fan blowing air in your face. Kinda like a Magic Eye, but with a lot more danger and a lot less eye-crossing.
Once the chute opens, you're much more conscious about how high up you are, but the scariest part is already over.
Don't judge your jump site on looks
Consider some of the best barbecue joints out there. Sure, the floor might be a little dirty, and the guy behind the smoker looks like a character from Deliverance, but the looks don't dictate how tasty the meat is. The same goes with many skydiving joints.
The facility where I went was as basic as it gets. It had one runway, a parking lot with a handful of planes, a small collection of trailers (where you watched the how-to video and signed the "my-family-won't-sue-if-I-die" forms), a preparation hangar, and a fire pit & picnic tables. The reality is, that's all this place needs. Everything else is just bells and whistles, and nobody ever said they needed more bells and whistles on a parachute.
Once you're in the air, nothing matters except for the plane coasting, the parachute opening, and the videographer's GoPro firing on all cylinders to catch you in the midst of the craziest thing you've (probably) ever done.
Pay close attention any time your tandem partner is talking. Not only is it mandatory for you to learn the protocol of how not to potentially kill yourself (and them), but it helps ease your mind to have a friendly conversation. And considering you'll be sitting on a dude's lap and strapped to him in what amounts to an adult Baby Bjorn, you might as well get to know him a little bit first.
Even on the off chance that you don't learn anything (unlikely), these guys rocket through the sky every day for their JOBS, so you can only imagine what they do in their free time (sword fighting? Zumba? Checkers?!). Their stories are worth hearing and in most cases, they'll be more than willing to answer any of your questions or concerns.
Don't. Look. Down.
At least not until you've exited the plane. Looking down before the last possible second could be exactly what it takes for you to ruin your shorts and your odds of jumping.
As you approach the door of the plane, stare straight ahead into the horizon. Eventually, your partner will have you lean your head back onto their shoulder, so you'll actually be looking up right before the jump. Once they heave you out of the plane, even sheer terror and cowardice can't stop you. All that's left for you to do is enjoy the ride...
... and the eventual realization that you're not a coward after all, because you just jumped out of a damn plane.