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Fuckin’ Tandem Humor

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Originally printed in issue #58 (October 2014) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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Skydiving can be pretty fucking intense. On only very few occasions during my career as a tandem instructor did I encounter a first-time tandem student who didn’t show at least some trepidation or fear when faced with the reality of their decision to jump. By and large, the best way to counter what can sometimes be a debilitating amount of “Holy Fuck” is with humor.

The trick, as I and nearly any tandem instructor out there knows, is finding the type of humor each student will respond to, without either not being funny enough, or being way too inappropriate. I, and I’m sure every instructor out there, have most certainly done both, but with enough time you find out how to get really good at reading your student in a matter of minutes.

As instructors at Skydance Skydiving in California, my good friend Dan and I could always fall into a rhythm, playing off each other to keep the students so preoccupied that by the time they remembered they were supposed to be flipping shit, they were already in the door. Most of the time, it was a great way to deal with most of the nervous students out there, but every once and a while he and I would manage to go just a bit too far. (See Fuckin’ Pilot article “PC Line Dancing” in Blue Skies Mag #10, in which you’ll find the choice line, “So I’m fuckin’ this guy in the ass the other day …”) Yet even with the occasional line crossed, teaming up on scared students is by far the easiest way to calm their nerves.

Simon Wade, a tandem evaluator (the very one who gave me my tandem rating) and Brit working in the States with the trademark dry English sense of humor, was one of my favorites when it came to diffusing the tension students on the ground waiting to take the leap were feeling.

Me, filming: “So Simon, what’s going on here today?”

Simon: “Well mate , it appears we have to take this young woman on a skydive today.”

“So how you feeling about this one then?”

“Honestly? I’ve got a pretty bad feeling about this one. I mean realistically , just how many times do you really think we can get away with this?”

Almost without fail, both from the terrible acting, and the poor taste in humor, the tandem student would start to loosen up enough to start enjoying the experience and let go of the whole “I could die” thing, but quite a few would still require that constant humorous approach through the entire experience to avoid facing the chance of riding the plane back down.

Once you’re in the aircraft, in a loud environment with engines roaring, bouncing around in a bit of turbulence, crammed next to a bunch of people, students are gonna start to get scared but humor can almost always diffuse it before it goes too far. As soon as you have a grown adult climbing onto your lap to get hooked up, the number of jokes at your disposal is almost limitless, and even one instructor being boisterous and entertaining with his student can be enough to get the entire load to relax. Take my very good friend Simeon Lott for instance …

“I’m just ready to go skydiving,” said Simeon to the camera in the best English/flamboyant accent he could possibly muster. The English part of the accent was easy because he is English, and the flamboyant part kept going because all of us were laughing hysterically. He was dressed from head to toe in the brightest pink jumpsuit on the planet, and sporting a very large floppy-billed fuzzy pink hat with feathers around the rim, which even had a chinstrap, thanks to the rigging loft. For that entire day, not one tandem student on any load that included Simeon ever came close to feeling serious fear, because each and every one of them was way too busy waiting to see what Sim might do next.

But the humor doesn’t stop just ‘cause you managed to get them out of the door. Once that canopy is open, there’s the very real chance that they may still lose it! As soon as they get a view of their feet and the ground a good 4,000’ below them with nothing in between … I used chest-strap adjustment after opening as a great way to relax a nervous female student, by telling them I was gonna loosen it up to avoid the risk of smothering them with their own boobs. (Of course it only worked if they actually had any.) A clearly poor and transparent attempt at humor of course, but when you have a captive audience like that, they tend to be a hell of a lot more receptive!

Then, at times, the humor wasn’t just for the student, but to help diffuse high-stress situations for me. During one of my tandem malfunctions, dealing with a fucked-up tension knot, I used a bit of humor to get myself to chuckle a bit.

“Hey Amy, could you look up and tell me what color that parachute is?”

“It’s blue and white. Why?”

“Cause I fucking HATE blue!” CHOP!

The really funny part didn’t actually happen until Amy stopped screaming, looked up at the fully open reserve and shakily said, “But THAT one is BLUE TOO!”

Humor in our sport is overflowing, and by and large, skydivers have a great sense of humor. Using it is a great way of making sure that each and every student you take, either as an instructor or a camera flyer, will get the absolute most out of their experience without letting their fear get in the way. Just ask any tandem instructor for a list of jokes they put to use every day. You’ll probably be amazed just how many they’ve got.

A few poor excuses for tandem humor you’re welcome to try:

“Dude, you wanted me to remind you to take your pills today.” He replies: “I did, 12 every two hours, right?”

“Did they give you your hook-up ticket? You’re on your own if you don’t have a hook-up ticket!”

“Alright big boy, hop up in my lap now. Just do me a favor and stay really still. The Viagra still hasn’t worn off … ”

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