Lots of sports claim to be based on a culture of fun. Of these, few can support that claim with actual, published science. Guess what? Skydiving can!
In 2011, Western Kentucky University student Steven Wade published his Anthropology capstone project. It's entitled "The Culture of Skydiving," and you can check it out for yourself, right at that link. In that research, Steven went deep behind-the-scenes of a dropzone: Skydive Kentucky in Elizabethtown, to be precise; however, Wade's findings are by no means location-specific. Indeed, they offer the scientific community (and the world at large) an objectively measured peek behind the curtain of our sport.
Wade doesn't really go into a lot of detail on the public-facing side of skydiving -- the internet videos, and such. Instead, he goes straight into talking about in-person life on the dropzone: the community of regulars who call the place their sport-jumping home.
He found that, as opposed to the value the outside world places on the aggressiveness of any given stunt, the dropzone community "places a high value on individual achievement, self-reliance, and adherence to routine, and it promotes a strong sense of community among its members." The cornerstones of this culture, then, are interpersonal and based on helping each other succeed.
Most importantly, Wade observes in her paper that the culture of skydiving culture goes far beyond the borders of the airfield. He noted that "the relationships formed between skydivers through the common experience of skydiving" reach well into those individuals' day-to-day lives as well. Once a skydiver, one is always a skydiver, both on the ground or in the air.
Cultures require structures. That much is true of absolutely any culture on this planet. These frameworks usually take the form of rites and rituals, whether those rituals are sacred or habitual. Wade makes the astute observation that skydiving "supports its community through several unique rites of passage as an individual gradually becomes a member of the group."
Skydiving rituals are many, and colorful: the weekend evening bar-b-ques, the A-license stamp on the forehead to celebrate becoming a solo skydiver, the pie in the face to celebrate a 100th jump, "beer fines" for first-time achievements. Each dropzone has its own smaller community traditions that it upholds and uses to welcome new members closer into the fold.
In order to have a culture, you have to have a group of people who share a connection, and in order to share a connection, people have to adhere to that connection by means of values. Skydiving is no different.
Wade points out that, whether or not you exit the plane with a group of people, skydiving is "by necessity a solo act, requiring a great deal of focus, control, and self-confidence." The sport's requirement for self-reliance and self-mastery drives most skydivers forward in the sport, but the people around them are the force that keeps them magnetized to the dropzone. To wit, Wade notes that skydivers "take every opportunity to counter this individuality by jumping in groups and doing formations, by coaching and helping each other out, by encouraging other jumpers to continue, and celebrating their successes." Put simply: Getting better at skydiving is an individual effort, but the group bonding experience is what the sport orbits around.
Wade notes that the beating heart of skydiving is simpler than all the rest of that: Just to have fun!
If you stroll into any skydiving operation on the planet Earth, it's the fun you'll see first and foremost. Wade concludes that, at the end of the day, "skydivers are out to have fun, doing what they can to make each experience exciting and unique." You'll see the vastly diverse group of jumpers, all hugging and laughing and high-fiving and doing little secret handshakes before a jump. You'll see the folks camping out for the weekend and the boogie bonfires and the storytelling. You'll see all the fun you've been waiting for, all in one place -- and you're going to want to join the party. Guess what? You're invited! Book your first jump today, and you'll see just what we mean,