Skydivers Who Go Out Kicking


At the California City drop zone in the Mojave Desert where I learned to skydive, one evening my sister Ursula and I were sitting around drinking a beer, looking for something to entertain ourselves with — as skydivers are wont to do, and we made an interesting discovery.

In snooping around behind the counter of the parachute loft, we located the club’s student records and decided to amuse ourselves by reading the instructor comments. At that time, all new students had their contact information printed on one side of an index card, and on the other side was information about each jump they had made, with an occasional remark by the jumpmaster.

Once a skydiver was cleared from student status, their index card was moved to the regular jumper file, but if someone had come and made one or two or a handful of jumps ten years prior and never returned, their card would still be in that student file. Needless to say, it was a large file.

Now, jumpmaster comments were generally limited to just a few words, since there was only one line for each jump. They might say something like, “nice arch” if the student had made a good exit, or “tumbled on exit” if it didn’t go so well. But on looking through card after card, there was one remark that seemed to foreshadow whether or not a student would return. It was just one word, “kicking.”

Kicking meant the student had struggled or thrashed on the way out the door of the airplane, signaling that they were singularly uncomfortable with the situation, or so I would have to believe. Because even the students whose cards bore the remarks “tumbled” or “back loop on exit” inevitably came back for more, while those who went out “kicking,” by and large never returned.

Now, after many years of skydiving and having observed my share of student jumpers, I have to say I have never seen one come down without a dazed, slightly maniacal grin on his or her face. No matter how terrified they are in the airplane, once they’re under canopy floating gently to the earth, there’s a sense of exhilaration that can’t fairly be described unless you experience it for yourself.

I’m guessing, though, that perhaps it’s a different sort of exhilaration for different jumpers, which explains why some never come back. Perhaps, for the ones who went out “kicking,” the exhilaration is less a sense of thrill and accomplishment but rather sheer relief at having survived the ordeal.


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