So you are going to jump at a new dropzone? Sweet! A new DZ is an excellent step into experiencing so much more fun in your skydiving world. You’ll meet new people, try new things, and feel different vibes.
There are many great articles already on the logistics and safety of jumping at a new DZ. But a positive experience is more than knowing the landing direction, it is meeting new friends to jump with!
I’ll start with two very different experiences I had as a new skydiver visiting other dropzones. The contrast can highlight how you can set yourself up for success when visiting a new place.
My first experience away from home was at Skydive Chicago, and it was awesome! It was a sleepy weekday, but they walked me through everything and introduced me to a couple of people to skydive with. I had a great time.
My second not-home DZ was in the UK. I’ll leave out the actual dropzone. I went there for a weekend, checked in, and asked for an organizer or someone to jump with. The office staff looked at me like I had two heads.
I went to the hangar and tried approaching several other people but couldn’t get a conversation started. So I manifested, geared up, and planned a solo. I got yelled at in the boarding area because I didn’t know that we had a gear check paperwork and got signed off on every jump (UK policy difference). I jumped by myself.
I spent the rest of the day trying to see if there were other gathering groups and nothing. So I did one more solo and ended up leaving.
I never jumped there again. If I wanted to make this my new home DZ, I’m sure I could have persistently inserted myself into the cliques and eventually been ok. I could have tried to meet someone beforehand online. I could have asked around about upcoming events. Truth be told, I just found a better place to jump.
So how do you increase your chances of having a positive experience at your “first second dropzone”? After reflecting on my two experiences now that I have 16000 jumps, here is what I recommend.
Find the right DZ
I’m not going to pretend that every dropzone is super welcoming and full of jumpers who want new people. I’ve heard enough horror stories from small DZs to know that some are full of cliques, assholes, and skygods.
Do a little digging and see what others have experienced at that dropzone. If there is a social media group, join up and see if you can meet some people virtually before you get there.
Smaller dropzones can be super welcoming and unintimidating, or they can be a cliquish nightmare like I experienced in the UK. Bigger dropzones often have programs set up to get you introduced, but you could get lost in the shuffle. If possible, choose the scenario that suits your style and personality.
Find a load organizer program
The best dropzones have load organizers on staff to get people together. So add yourself to that mix for the easiest and fastest way to get on cool jumps and meet others. Of course, the organizer wants to jump with you; after all, it is their job to get you involved!
With or without a load organizer, now is not the time to be shy. If you are an introvert, try to overcome your reluctance to approach others at least temporarily. Even in cliquish dropzones, people generally won’t be rude or turn you away completely. And if that group isn’t a fit, they might point you in the right direction for those who are.
Weekends are easier
I jump at super-large busy dropzones like Perris and SDC. Even these mega-resorts are a bit more sleepy on the weekdays. If you are jumping mid-week, there might be fewer people. (Although I will brag a bit about my home, Perris has LoS scheduled every day!)
Try something new
Maybe you can’t find a perfect FS group. Then, adapt and try a tracking jump or something new (as long as it is safe!).
Bonus Note: Be Welcoming
If you see someone you don’t know, introduce yourself. Even if your plans don’t include growing your group, make every effort to help someone find some friends. Just checking in with them goes a long way from being that off-putting experience. If everyone makes it not their job, the person steps away with a sour taste about your DZ.
There are many logistics and safety things to focus on when you jump at a new DZ, but don’t neglect a plan for your social experience. Research ahead, be assertive, and set yourself up for a great time!