First I shall acknowledge the obvious. I live in Northern California. We don’t really have an off-season, especially given the epic drought we’ve experienced the past several years, which has led to drier-than-normal winter months and an increase in our ability to skydive almost any weekend we want.
That said, my own skydiving does tend to ebb and flow with the rhythms of the year, and the autumnal months are often quite slow for me, especially if (like this year) I’ve been training hard in the spring and summer. If spring is the season of renewal and re-invigoration, for me, fall is the season of reflection and pondering and questioning.
I’ve often wondered (and been asked) how long I’ll skydive, and my answer is always “I don’t really know.” Having just passed the 10 year mark, I suppose I’ve hit the semi-official status of “no longer a tourist,” so I got that goin’ for me, which is nice. I know many people who have said “I’m never going to quit – I’ll skydive for the rest of my life!” Of course, many if not most of those folks said that within their first year or so in the sport, and have since moved on to other things.
As for me, I imagine this stuff has an expiration date for me, I just don’t know when it is. I do hope, of course, that it’s an expiration in the sense of just winding down and no longer finding a place for it in my life, not an expiration in the sense of actually expiring whilst skydiving. I also hope that it’s not some catastrophic injury that causes me to end my time in the sport. I really do hope it’s just that the winds are changing, and there’s no longer “a skydiving sized hole in my life.”
Which brings me to this autumn. Like most autumns, for me, I’m checking in with myself on the risk/reward equation and validating that yes, given current circumstances (both in the sport, and within myself) it still pencils out for me. So far, so good on that one, even though sometimes I can let the grumpy-old-middle-aged-skydiver-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn thoughts run amok and I find myself thinking things along the lines of “This goddamned GoPro/YouTube generation of DGITs is gonna ruin it all for the rest of us with their complete lack of common sense and inability to make valid evaluations of their own mortality.” But so far, I haven’t convinced myself that the risk of someone else doing something that will put me at risk of death or serious injury has increased enough to cause me to be ready to walk away.
And then there’s the risk that I will do something that will put me (or perhaps others) at risk of serious injury or death. Has that changed in any meaningful way for me? I’d have to say, no. I’m still on my big-ass conservative canopy. I’m still a belly-only flyer who keeps mostly to small-to-moderate sized jumps. I try to stay super-conscious of complacency slipping in, which can happen when you’ve been at this as long as I have and the day-to-day stuff becomes routine. So yeah, I feel like I’m personally still in a good place to continue skydiving as safely as possible.
With an affirmative response to the “will I keep jumping for now?” question, then I navel-gaze about the more existential questions of “how shall I spend my money and time in the upcoming year?” Those are tougher questions that I’m still wrestling with. I love FS and I enjoy competing. I’ve also come to the realization that even if I continue to throw significant amounts of money and time (jumps, tunnel time, coaching) at formation skydiving, I’m one of those people who will only ever make slow, incremental improvements.
The question then becomes – is investing in my own improvement kind of like putting my money into a savings account in today’s economy, where there’s a positive return on that investment, but it can’t keep up with the broader changes in the market (inflation). If I’m improving by X% this year, but the best weekend FS skydivers are improving at X+Y%, am I always going to feel like I’m on a hamster wheel? I don’t have aspirations of being on an open-class 4-way team, but it’d be nice to feel like I can grow my skills in a way that keeps up with the “market.”
So there I am on a fall day, pondering the next steps… try to find another 4-way team opportunity? Double down and sign up for a half-dozen tunnel camps? Take a step back and just fun jump for a while? Is just fun jumping enough for me anymore? Get back into organizing more regularly and maybe coaching some brand-new jumpers? All interesting questions to ponder, with no clear or easy answers coming my way.