AFF Skydiving Video: Tunnel AFF student Derek Ford's 4th solo jump, complete with backflips.
We spoke with Derek Ford and Matthew Barclay the day they had their first solo skydive (Derek's done a tandem before, but it was Matthew's first time ever jumping out of a plane). Derek and Matthew have known each other for two years; they deployed together. While in Afghanistan they were looking for something to do when they got back to the states – and getting their skydive license was the way to go.
When we sat down for this quick Q&A, they were pretty pumped to have just been in the air, and they were fresh off of ground school and tunnel sessions the day before. If you're thinking of getting your AFF, or even if you're currently a practicing AFF Instructor – this post will give you an idea of what this facet of the skydive licensing process is like from a newbie student's perspective.
In this Q&A, Derek and Matthew share the highlights of the past two days of their Tunnel AFF instruction with the SDU team, revealing that learning to relax (in body and in mind) - something so important to the sport of skydiving - was a little hard to get the hang of at first (of course, with them coming straight from deployment in Afghanistan and all, I guess that's pretty understandable).
What brought you to skydiving? Was it on your bucket list?
Derek: "It's always been on mine, yea."
Matthew: "While we were there, it became – while you're deployed you tend to make plans for of what you're going to do when you come back – so originally it was going to be the entire squad that was going to do the skydiving license, but we're the only ones that followed through with it."
Seriously? So should we call them all out on the Q & A blog then, just write down a list of names of people that wussed out or didn't follow through?
Derek: "Oh my god that would be wicked funny: I'll do it, Shane would be so mad."
I don't want to piss anyone off in the United States military now...but – so tell me about the actual jumps today: The first one - were you guys relaxed enough or what?
Derek: "No, the first one, I wasn't relaxed. No." Laughing
Matthew: "You step outside the plane and you're just like: 'wow'."
Derek: "It was tense..."
Matthew: "Yes, tense." Laughing
OK, so a double quote on the whole tense feeling then, but how did you feel when it was all over and done with?
Derek: "I was like, I got this!"
What did you start learning in ground school that really stuck with you?
Derek: "Relaxing. Learning to."
Matthew: "Yea, relaxing, definitely. And body position. Your body position and exactly how to hold it."
Tell me about your first time in the wind tunnel:
Matthew: "It was interesting." He laughed. "When you first get in there, just trying to figure out how to relax...But once you do enough time and take enough rotations in there, you start to."
How long did it take until you felt comfortable and at ease flying in the wind tunnel?
Matthew: "Within the first two or three rotations there was a huge difference."
Having gone on a tandem [to Derek], what was the wind tunnel experience like for you?
Derek: "The wind tunnel felt totally different than a tandem. Tandem is so controlled – you're just there for the ride...While you're [in the tunnel] you can see yourself progressing, and it gets you pumped up. Everyone's just really cool. Each time it was like, 'Hey, good job just tweak this little thing,' and you do it."
So what's Rob doing in the wind tunnel with you?"
Matthew: "He's just standing in the tunnel with you. Watching and training. I don't know how he does it. Then the instructors that work the wind tunnel; there's one of those there with you as well."
And you watch your videos throughout the whole process, right?
Derek: "Yea, after every jump, and even in the tunnel, there's a monitor right there, so once you get out of the tunnel your always one behind: You get out, you look up, you see the person's in front of you – and then yours will come up and you get to watch yours."
Matthew: "You can see, 'Oh my leg was too far forward or too far back, or I was trying to swim through the air, or whatever mistakes you were making."
So what were your biggest mistakes?
Matthew: "In the tunnel... it was basically relaxing."
And what would you say to the next guy down, meaning, what's a good tip for learning to relax if he or she is having the same issue?
Matthew: "Just knowing that you've got guys right there, just to know if you somehow lose control, they're trained to grab you - in the tunnel. And in the air you've got guys right there who are trained to grab you and get you under control."
And Derek, what was your biggest thing to overcome?
"I'd say probably relaxing was my biggest thing. Just to relax my arms, I don't know why but my arms are always really tense."
Well you guys are coming from a pretty regimented environment where you're probably not told to "just relax" very often...
Derek: "Yea, that's a lot of it - everything's always very tense, and your always very upright, you know? And so then to be told 'just chill,' you know?"
At this time Derek, 23, has one year left in the army and Matthew Barclay, 29, has about 6 months left. Derek's been in 4 years and Matthew, 6 years.
Would you say that the military aspect is kind of the whole disconnect between the relaxing thing? Like as far as coming from that rigid environment after 4 and 6 years?
In unison: "Yes."
Despite some trouble relaxing in the beginning, they got the hang of it: Their first day jumping Derek did 4 jumps and Matthew did 3...
Derek: "My last one, got to do backflips!"
Matthew: "Yea my last jump for sure, didn't get to do back flips, though."
Any final thoughts you want to offer future Tunnel AFF students about the course?
Matthew: "Don't be afraid to ask for help."
Derek: "Everyone's always willing to help. Very good crowd."
Lots of respect and a big thanks goes out to Derek Ford and Matthew Barclay for letting us profile their Tunnel AFF experience with Skydive University!