So I have failed. How could I become a skydiver, when I wasn’t able to learn one of the most important things: a stable body position. There was no point in continuing the static line course.

So should I just give up? Well, there was another option left: an AFF course. Unfortunately it is not offered at my local drop zone, so I had to find another one. After some research I came up with a great idea: I could use my vacation time to take this course abroad!

I decided to go to Skydive Empuriabrava, one of the most famous drop zones in the world. I could start before the skydiving season in Germany and jump every day, assuming the weather would be OK. In fact this was my biggest worry – this region is known for high winds which often make jumps impossible. But I still wanted to give it a try. Even if I could not finish my course I’d enjoy a great vacation in sunny Catalonia.

Ground School

The first day was all about skydiving theory, just like my static line course last year. I was the only student who needed an English-speaking instructor, so I’ve got my private lessons. After passing a small written exam I was ready for my first jump. Unfortunately the wind was very high this and the next day, so I had to wait. I used this time to watch professional skydivers doing some nice formation jumps. Because of the clouds I clearly saw them falling and tracking really fast before deploying their parachutes. With up to 40 people it looked really awesome!

Tandem AFF

In Empuriabrava you need to make a tandem AFF jump first. It’s like a usual tandem jump which contains level 1 sequence. So I had a chance to practice everything safely, since my instructor could take over if something went wrong. We exited the plane IN the clouds and I couldn’t see anything until ca. 2500m – crazy experience! After my instructor had opened the parachute he passed me the steering toggles so I could practice flying the canopy. At the end he took them back and we landed safely.

AFF Level 1

Level 1 provides the core skills needed for all levels. I jumped with two instructors holding me while I was performing given tasks. First: arch my body and get stable. At first my body position was as bad as in my static line jumps. I was very tense – after all I have just jumped out of a plane! But then I communicated with my instructors. It’s not possible to talk in freefall, although some Hollywood movies make people believe this hoax. For that reason I had learned some hand signals, like “bend your legs” or “check your altimeter”. After receiving a “relax” signal my body tension pretty much disappeared. Now I had to do 3 practice pulls. This means I had to grab the handle which opens my parachute with my right hand while turning my left arm to stay stable. After this exercise I had “free time”, i.e., simply flying and checking the altimeter every 3-5 seconds. At 1800m I shook my hand to signal “no more exercises” and locked my view on the altimeter. At 1500m I waved off and tried to grab the deployment handle, but I could not find it at first. I found it in time, though, so my instructors didn’t have to pull it for me. After making sure that my canopy opened correctly I headed towards the airfield and enjoyed the amazing view. Meanwhile my instructor talked to me through the radio and gave some advice for the landing. After reviewing my jump I was ready for the next jump.

AFF Level 2

My second jump was better. I made two practice pulls and a slow forward movement. Then one of the instructors let me go and flew in front of me, which felt really great. I had no problems with the deployment this time and passed this level easily.

AFF Level 3

My instructor considered this the easiest jump: one practice pull – that’s all. But now both instructors let me go and I had to concentrate more on my body position. Instead I focused too much on trying not to spin. I was tense, my arms were fully stretched. I even missed the 1800m mark and had to be reminded to check my altitude and pull in time. I was really disappointed, but my instructor saw no reason not to let me pass this level. Unfortunately my right ear hurt more after each jump and I had to call it a day to prevent any damage.

Wind tunnel

The next day was windy, so again I wasn’t allowed to jump. I didn’t want to waste another day, so I booked 10 minutes in the near wind tunnel. I went to one in Germany one week earlier to familiarize myself with the feeling of flying. Now I wanted to practice some turns for my next AFF jumps. Surprisingly I learned it quite fast, so there was some time left to play with my body position. Later I did a short review with my tunnel instructor and he was convinced that I would finish my AFF course easily. That’s motivating!

AFF Level 4+5

After passing level 3 the student begins to jump with only one instructor. Level 4 contains 90° turns, level 5 contains the first solo exit and 360° turns. After telling my instructor about my progress in the wind tunnel he decided to combine those exercises in one jump. I was pretty excited. It was my first jump on the bigger Twin Otter plane and I had to get stable on my own, since my instructor wasn’t holding me anymore. Despite my sloppy exit I did this job quite well. I was falling on my own, my instructor in front of me – amazing feeling! I accomplished my turns and passed both levels.

AFF Level 6

On my next jump I had to perform a backflip. This exercise helps to get stable after losing a stable body position. I didn’t give enough impulse, so I ended on my back. With a proper arch I got back on my belly. Then I had to “track”, another fundamental skydiving skill. It’s a fast forward movement mostly used to separate from other skydivers before deploying the parachutes and hereby prevent a collision. But it’s also a lot of fun. This skill basically turns the “falling” into “flying”, which feels incredible! One more turn and I have passed another jump.

AFF Level 7

The last level has the same sequence as level 6. But now my instructor was not in front of me to tell me when to do which exercise. He was above me, so I didn’t even see him. The goal was to prove that I could jump without an instructor. So I repeated all exercises. First I tried another back flip. It was better, but I still landed on my back. After recovering I didn’t wait to be fully stable and started to track immediately which ended in unexpected turns. I noticed my mistake, got stable and tracked properly. There was still enough time to turn twice. Then my instructor appeared in front of me and shook my hand to congratulate me on my good jump. I stuck my thumbs in the air for a split of second and deployed my parachute. I knew I just passed this jump and would be able to do solo jumps from now on.

Instructor jump

Indeed, I have passed my final AFF level. But since I combined level 4 and 5 there was still one jump left which I’ve paid for. My instructor offered to practice some skills that are useful for jumping with other skydivers (allowed after getting a license). First we did a new exit. We were both standing outside the plane and jumped at the same time. I concentrated too much on the synchronization which led to the worst exit ever. After getting stable we started our sequence: check altimeter, dock to my instructor and turn 360°. Then my instructor was either higher or lower than me. I had to adjust my body position to get to the same level. Fortunately I have practiced this in the wind tunnel the day before. We repeated this sequence 2-3 times (I’m not sure, since the video data was corrupt..). It was the most fun jump so far!

Solo jumps

After passing the AFF course I was allowed to jump without an instructor. It felt strange at first. But then I experienced the freedom all skydivers were talking about. There was no more pressure, I just did whatever I wanted to (following safety rules of course). I jumped 9 times in the following days. I mastered the back flip, learned a barrel roll and failed at front flips. I also did some long distance trackings. I just love that high speed feeling!

But it didn’t always go as expected. On my third solo jump the wind was quite high and I didn’t make it back to the drop zone, so I had to land on a muddy field. It was a little difficult to get to the nearest street. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one landing outside. In fact it happens often and there’s always a guy who picks you up right away. I had to clean my clothes and take a break, but it was an interesting experience after all.

On my sixth jump I had a line twist. I had some on my static line course, but this time it seemed like the lines just wouldn’t untwist. After ca. 15 sec, which felt like eternity, they finally did and I felt relieved.

Conclusion

I’m really happy that I didn’t give up my dream after failing at the static line course. I’ve met a woman with a similar story. She didn’t do well at static line jumps so she switched to AFF. Now she was doing some formation jumps. This was really inspiring. In fact all the skydivers were. I’ve met a lot of awesome people from all over the world. Their cool attitude made the flight more relaxing which helped me a lot.

I’m also glad about taking the course in Empuriabrava. It’s a great drop zone and the view is just amazing. The weather wasn’t always suitable but I still was able to jump 17 times, which was more that I’ve hoped for. And yet it was not enough for a skydiving license. So I’ll stick to my plan: do some more jumps in Germany and get the license there.