The UKS Weston Boogie! A festival of skydiving, hundreds of parachutists gathering at a military base in Oxfordshire. The mark of a true skydiver is when you spend the weekends at dropzones and… not jump there.
Unless, of course, you’re a RAPS student, in which case you won’t jump largely because they’re not interested in you doing so. Over a thousand jumps on Saturday, and somehow only ten places on the manifest were available to people learning how to jump out of a plane. On a perfect windless day with five lifts an hour, the wait for a RAPS dispatch was… five blasted hours. And we still had to fight for it.
While the staff were pleasant enough, the message was clear: skydiving is our sport. We’re not interested in anyone else learning it. Now get off our dropzone.
Well, they’re doing a good job of it. I’m pretty down on jumping tonight, despite the rest of the weekend being great: good weather, good company, and beautiful villagey surroundings straight out of Miss Marple. Not down on the sport itself, but on the sheer difficulty of actually getting yourself manifested for a jump when the weather’s even remotely good. The only time dropzones are interested in us are when it’s raining or windy (and we can’t jump.) You don’t run a sustainable business on neglecting prospective customers for life, but it seems that’s what the industry wants. The skydiving population of the UK (those holding a BPA membership) is a fairly constant 5000; that strikes me as a growable business, but the franchise holders aren’t interested in growing it. Fair enough.
I can handle the DRP that went wrong and prevented me moving up a stage; I can cope with the time between sessions that lets your body forget the instinctive movements out the door; the laughs and jibes of experienced skydivers aren’t a problem, you just roll with them. What is a problem is that it just isn’t worth going to a dropzone for one or two jumps. The answer, I think, lies in switching courses: dropping the military-style RAPS and heading for the sports-focussed fun of AFF. A shortcut to an A license, then at least I can get on the manifest faster, although I probably won’t be able to do this before 2009.