My Home Drop Zones

I consider myself to have had two home dropzones, Skydive Houston and Ground Rush Skydiving Club.

I started the student skydive program and did my first couple hundred jumps at Skydive Houston in Waller, Texas, starting in May 2009.

The previous year I had chosen a 5th tandem skydive for my Mother’s Day gift.

My tandem instructor asked me why I kept paying for tandems when I could put that money toward becoming a licensed skydiver instead. I laughed, thinking he was joking. Moms don’t become skydivers! Ridiculous idea!

But the seed was planted.

I remember that day when I watched all the regular skydivers while we were on a weather hold. I didn’t mind the wait at all because I was fascinated with the camaraderie and family-like teasing among the jumpers.

This was a special drop zone in that it did not separate the tandem students from fun jumper areas.

Of course, this left fun jumpers vulnerable to parachute lines being stepped on, but it also allowed newbies like me to see the most appealing part of being a skydiver, the skydiving family.

“My tandem instructor asked me why I kept paying for tandems when I could put that money toward becoming a licensed skydiver instead. I laughed, thinking he was joking. Moms don’t become skydivers! Ridiculous idea!”. 

Almost exactly one year after my 5th tandem jump, I had saved enough money for the student program.

The first jumps are a bit of a blur to me, as I was fighting fear so large; every jump seemed an impossible task. I can’t say I ever enjoyed any of those student jumps while they were happening.

Because I always wanted a perfect jump (as well as survival from intentionally flinging myself out of an airplane at 12k feet), my stress level was very high.

I had to fight nerves before getting on the plane, fight panic during the flight, and retain focus during intense sensory input during the actual skydive.

The strongest thing that kept me going back every weekend was my will to complete it.

I wanted all of it: the family, the fear-conquering, the adrenaline high, and the ability simply to say I did it.

© Photo by Jeffrey Patricio.
© Photo by Brian Clark.

Skydive Houston

The best thing about Skydive Houston was the inclusion.

On my first student day, I was asked if I was sticking around for after-jump beer drinking.

This end-of-day celebration time was like an extension of the pure joy of the day. It was a sharing of videos and the day’s jump stories.

It was a reluctance to let go of every unbelievable moment we had experienced together.

The 6 Beer Commandments © Photo by Michelle Barrett.

That’s also when real bonding took place.

Of course, being invited right away as a first-time student also meant that I would be buying a lot of cases of beer for the other fun jumpers, since every “first” (first jump, first accuracy, first night jump, first pack job, etc.) meant that I owed a case of beer (These rules are outlined in a sport-wide accepted list called “Beer Rules”).

Regardless of the beer greed, I still felt immediately welcomed into the family.

As I made it through the student jumps and into fun jumper status, I not only became very comfortable and familiar with the Skydive Houston playground but also fell deeply in love with it.

For any jumper who did not have the absolute privilege and honor of being part of such a magical place, the joy of it can’t be explained.

Beginning as a 38-yr-old skydiver with kids, I did not advance quickly, nor did I demonstrate any “natural,” easy skill in freefall or canopy piloting. I wasn’t in the sport for competition or to outshine anyone else, and I certainly wasn’t part of any intimate “inner circle.”

Despite this, there was never a time that I felt any real division between myself and the superstars of the sport who jumped there regularly.

The beauty of Skydive Houston can never be summed up in a simple explanation.

In my later visits to many other DZs, I would hear Skydive Houston referred to as a “party drop zone,” but in my opinion, that isn’t the reason regular fun jumpers still get misty-eyed when reminiscing about past SDH weekends.

I struggle to even put it into words.

I can tell stories about the pool and many of the epic moments in it.

SCR ceremony participants jumping in to wash away the beer they’d just been soaked in, water training fun (I did mine in January, where the water was cold enough to make it a real test), and yes, endless, never to be spoken of, party moments.

There was Fast Andy, the drop zone goat, who was gross and hilarious.

We regularly had an Otter airplane, offering large plane rides and allowing fun jumpers the ability to get in multiple jumps a day.

Fast Andy the DropZone Goat © Photo by Marian Sparks.

There was a swoop pond for us to watch the speedy, skilled canopy fliers. There was the clubhouse with full bathrooms/showers, a kitchen, carpeted packing areas, a well-run manifest with “have fun and be safe, everyone” direction for every skydive load.

And best of all to me, there were always many, many experienced instructors, tandem masters and old-school fun jumpers around.

The stories I absorbed from so many of them cannot be overvalued.

This picture is to illustrate what a swoop pond is.
© Photo by Oskari Kettunen on Flickr.

Some of my favorite days were weathered-out days full of waiting. Since all the staff members had to stick around in case the weather improved, it became education time for me.

I learned from every single story, video and animated skydive reenactment. I learned how to pack from about 5 different expert skydivers.

Any time I felt unsure or doubtful of my place in the sky or my ability to excel in a certain area, jumpers with thousands of jumps would share their stories with me and cement my right to share in the pure thrill and joy of skydiving.

The love I feel for every one of those experienced skydivers who shared their skills & knowledge with me is immeasurable.

And it certainly wasn’t just for me.

All new jumpers were welcomed into the fold just as graciously. It seemed to be an unspoken part of the place.

Ground Rush Skydiving Club

As I mentioned, I count myself incredibly blessed to have had two home drop zones.

In my meager 7 years in the sport, I visited 13 drop zones.

I loved moments from all of them, but I learned the most and gained the majority of my permanent skydive family members from Skydive Houston and Ground Rush.

I was introduced to Ground Rush on April 17, 2011.

Skydive Houston had moved locations and gone through some changes that made it difficult for me to feel comfortable there again.

Michelle and Robert Rocke the former DZO of Ground Rush.

Being a weekend-only fun jumper, I felt best at smaller drop zones. Enter Ground Rush.

With a giant landing area and friendly, welcoming fun jumpers, this Cessna DZ was perfect for me.

I didn’t need a big, fast plane or a race for many jumps.

I always packed my own, I wasn’t interested in competition, and with only 124 jumps, I was still a new skydiver with little experience.

The pace, the camaraderie, and the inclusion were just as immediate as they were in Skydive Houston, and even more intimate.

With a smaller group of fun jumpers, a smaller airplane, and shared dinners out after jump days, the bonding came fast and furious.

At least, that’s how I see it.

From the lovable DZO (drop zone owner) who was a bit grumpy if fun jumpers showed up late, to the superstar skydive demo team (professional stadium and event skydivers), I made the decision early on to forcefully insert myself into their family, like it or not.

I didn’t exactly ask to be included in demo events or any other activities. I just told them I was coming.

I was at every jump day or skydive demo event I could make it to.

The reserve pull © Photo by Jeffrey Patricio.
© Photo by Michelle Barrett.

At Ground Rush, I got one of my most thrilling flights ever – a spontaneous ride in a working crop duster.

I got to see the hero status of skydivers in the eyes of kids at demo events.

I got to experience a quality of fun, relaxed jumps (absent from larger, more controlled DZs) that were simply for the pure joy of flight.

And even though a few of them may argue it now, my Ground Rush fellow jumpers learned to love me back.

Because of my time there, I gained the most valuable part of my skydive years – permanent lifelong family members who have my back.

I could write novels about my skydive years – the people who influenced me in profound ways, the massive fears I overcame, the indescribable beauty I’ve seen in the sky, and the extraordinary moments and memories I now own.

Even if I spend the rest of my life expressing gratitude for those moments, it will never be enough.

For a skydiver, a home drop zone is a place of growth, learning, and extreme love. I am forever grateful for mine.

“For a skydiver, a home drop zone is a place of growth, learning and extreme love.”