Bronzed and flighty

The 2008 BCPA National Skydiving Championships!

I dunno, still a rookie skydiver yet I’m actually getting points in the University leagues (a bronze for landing 3rd closest to the cross among the pre-qualified jumpers. Well, being a short fall from the Morecambe Bay quicksands was a huge incentive to aim right.)

In the end Warwick didn’t beat uber-sporty Loughborough U, but it’s a credit to Warwick Skydive that we even got close – placing second against teams from the UK’s centre of sporting research is a huge plus. And the event itself – organised by 20something kids working furiously behind the scenes for nothing except pride – was brilliant: plenty to do, well attended, and full of fun.

That’s the actual plane we jumped from, a PAC 750XL – undoubtedly the best plane I’ve ever exited the hard way. Fast climbing, smooth and quiet, no turbulence** and a dream to jump from. Brilliant. (The plane doesn’t have the shark’s teeth now, by the way – it was in a midair collision a year back and they’ve only just got it back, and it’s better than ever despite an uneven paint job. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.)

And the plane, it seems, is the best thing about Cark dropzone. I don’t know if it’s the MBA or just instinct, but it’s possible to ‘smell’ somehow when a business isn’t well run, and compared to places like Langar or Hibbaldstow this little DZ was a joke.

Ticketing and Manifesting were run as one operation, not two, with a whiteboard instead of a list – so you had to be ready to manifest when you bought your ticket; no freedom to jump when you want. As any chef will tell you, this is inefficient, since there’s no ‘signalling’ denoting how many people have ‘reserved tables’ and makes filling planes an ad hoc job without planning. This wastes customers’ time and loses the centre money. Bad.

Second, why the hell do they require separate payments (one in cash) for jump tickets and kit hire? These operations may be separate businesses for the dropzone people, but customers don’t care how many sets of accounts there are; we just want to jump. Miles from a cash machine, this procedure is inward-looking and unnecessary. Poor.

Third, they REALLY don’t like student parachutists at Cark. Buying a ticket, they almost made me feel they were doing me a favour. I appreciate it’s a hassle to hook up static lines, but today’s learners are tomorrow’s customers, and it’s shortsighted to cut off your future cashflows. Why don’t they treat trainees as an opportunity rather than a hassle? There’s no way I’d jump at Cark again even after qualification; they’ve lost me as a customer for life.

But all Cark’s faults were covered by the five days of skydiving fun, and even further by the parties and entertainments later (laser shows and bungee bouncing – cool!) And somehow I had no problem sleeping on the ground in bad weather; there’s something about being under a well-pitched tent in a weatherproof bag at night, with the rain and wind howling but not coming in, that just feels awesome.

(**’No turbulence’ is in skydiving terms of course. An 80mph wind is still pretty hairy.)

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