Instructing – For Fun and Profit

AFF Stage 1 over Picton DZ – that’s me in the blue jumpsuit

I love my job.

How many people do you know who can place hand on heart and say that?

I’m not talking about a real job though, a nine to five job that requires you to stagnate in peak-hour traffic, sell your soul to a faceless corporation, and then stagnate your way back home. No, I’ve done all that.

The job I’m talking about is more an extension of my passion, a passion which involves repeatedly throwing myself at the ground… and missing.

Take someone who has only ever seen skydiving on television, give them some training and be there when they land their own parachute – that has to be one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. After all, we’re not talking knitting here.

Students sometimes arrive at the drop zone with the benefit of group bravado; perhaps a bunch of guys who were at the pub egging each other on about jumping until someone said “well, ok, let’s do it”

Sometimes I’ll receive students who have held a lifelong desire to leap from an aeroplane and have finally decided it’s time.

However they come, they invariably end up in the classroom with some form of introspection, some suspicion about what they’re getting themselves into. They’ve seen it on TV and perhaps watched a wingsuit fly through a hole in a mountain somewhere in China, but as easy as it appeared on the small screen deep down they know it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster.

After all, Man’s most primitive fear is the fear of falling.

This innate fear manifests itself in various forms, and it can take some time to work out what’s going in inside their head.

Some people will be very, very quiet – “hunting wabbits” as Bugs Bunny used to say. They’ll be reluctant to make eye contact or ask questions in front of the group. Others will laugh nervously if they make a mistake when practicing their drills, especially if their mates are standing nearby. Situations like this often become funny to watch as they develop into good-natured piss taking between friends.

Sometimes, though, this fear is toxic, and can lead to a huge loss of confidence.

Over the years I’ve been involved as an instructor in a number of disciplines, but teaching Accelerated Free Fall to ab initio students has to be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Sure, teaching people to ride motorcycles was interesting, as was the gliding and ultra-light flying, but this one, skydiving, is by far the best thing going.

All of the principles of instructing come into play at the highest level. You often don’t have the luxury of fixing it once they’ve left the aeroplane – you’re not with them for the whole skydive – and if you accidentally teach a bad habit on that single day’s training then you’ve most likely set them up to make mistakes somewhere down the line.

The problem with that is, their first mistake could be their last.

And I guess that’s why I love my job. Each class of ordinary people I meet offers new challenges. Working out how they think, how they’ll react under pressure. How they’ll function when they step out into space.

For me, as with anyone, I guess, job satisfaction comes by making a profit from my efforts.

My cost-benefit equation is simple:

Profit = [What I take out] minus [What I put in]

Invariably I’m in the black.

The reward I get every time one of my students lands with a beaming smile on their face has no value. It’s priceless.

Fun and Profit – yeah, I get both.

…and now for the canopy flight

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