Giving Skydiving a Positive Image—One Step at a Time

by

Skydiving has come a long way from the days of the general public seeing us as a bunch of reckless daredevils with a death wish. But there are still plenty of people out there who don’t understand what skydiving and skydivers are all about. As an organization, USPA needs to take whatever steps we can—both big and small—to change the public’s misperceptions and inform the media and the general public about our sport.

Recently, an article appeared in the “Fairbanks Daily News Miner” in Fairbanks, Alaska, that disparaged skydivers. This unrelated news article about traffic violations included a quote from the Fairbanks police chief’s memo to his department: “Our profession has only recently come to appreciate the irrefutable correlation between collisions and crime, a relationship that is explained easily: Risk-taking behaviors of any sort — gambling, skydiving, careless driving or committing crimes — need a place and opportunity to happen.” A concerned USPA member in Alaska forwarded the article to USPA, expressing his dismay at skydiving being grouped with reckless and criminal activities.

This seemed like a great opportunity to educate the police chief, his department and the newspapers’ readers about our sport—even in a place with minimal skydiving activity like Alaska. As USPA President, I sent a letter to the police chief and the newspaper explaining that skydiving is a legitimate aeronautical activity and hobby and that skydivers are a diverse group of people who are upstanding, contributing members of society. You can read the letter here.

An off-handed statement like the police chief’s may not seem like a big deal, but it’s in small ways like this that people can get the wrong impression about skydiving—especially when it’s directed to those whose job it is to enforce the law. USPA and all its 34,600 members need to take every opportunity to help the general public understand that ours is an amazing, life-changing sport and that we as skydivers are responsible aviation enthusiasts.

Jay Stokes
USPA President

5 Responses to “Giving Skydiving a Positive Image—One Step at a Time”

  1. Mike Schultz Says:

    Well done, Jay! I’ll bet Chief Zager is rather elderly, retaining memories of D.B. Cooper. He need only look across town to Ft. Wainwright, where the Alaska Smokejumpers work.

  2. Mary Gatzkiewicz Says:

    Hi Jay, I saw your letter to the editor in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and thought you’d like to know some details and background. My name is Mary Gatzkiewicz (formerly Woods, Wallace), D-1934. In the late 60′s (I’m not absolutely sure of the dates, but probably in ’67 or ’68), our current police chief, Laren Zager, was one of our parachuting students in our parachute club, the Gold Nugget Skydivers. We used a strip at North Pole, Alaska, where the oil refinery sits today. Laren took our standard one-week course, where we stressed SAFETY, SAFETY, SAFETY, and also how to pack your own parachute, since we didn’t have enough time to pack them for everyone.

    Anyway Laren made his requisite 5 static line jumps and went on to freefall. He was a student at the University of Alaska at the time, and he was a very quick study. Since the plane we used was headquartered in Fairbanks at Ft. Wainwright, about 12 miles away from our airstrip and DZ, on occasion a jumper or two would fly with the pilot from there out to the DZ. Those who were certified to do so could jump, others landed with the plane and were taken up by a jumpmaster.

    So one day Laren rode out with the pilot. At the time he was not cleared by us to jumpmaster himself, and he had never spotted before or dropped a windstreamer, although we had done so in his presence and explained how it worked. He was supposed to land with the plane and then go up on a lift with a jumpmaster to start to learn spotting. Being the precocious student that he was, he dropped the windstreamer, calculated where his exit point should be, and jumped out on his own. He did quite well. We did chastise him for jumping the gun on solo jumping, but we couldn’t deny that he had done a good job. I don’t think he made a lot of jumps, but he did become a pilot later, moving over to the dark side, as it were.

    Since I work at the City of Fairbanks where he is the Police Chief, I see Laren on a regular basis, and we have worked together some since I’m in the IT Department. I consider him a friend. The other day I saw him in the hallway and called him out (in a friendly manner) on the skydiving/risky behavior issue, since everything we had ever stressed had been safety. He said at that time he had also heard from someone else in the state about the same issue. I just reminded him that he of all people should know that skydiving is one sport where people are extremely risk-conscious and risk-averse. I gave him my old song and dance about how they don’t make a perfectly good airplane, and that as a pilot he should know that the most dangerous parts of flying are take-off and landing, where 90% of the accidents occur. If you divide them evenly at 45% take-off and 45% landing, it’s easy to see that skydivers avoid 45% of the risk of flying by avoiding the landing!

    It’s been many years since I personally jumped, back in the days when the PC was almost still king. But I still feel the need to correct wrong notions about our sport when people make comments such as these, even though in his case I don’t believe his intent was to disparage skydiving.

  3. Doug Garr Says:

    Hey, a lot of skydivers play poker, too. Skilled players do not consider it gambling. And gambling itself — where the house has an insurmountable advantage — is legal and not normally reckless or criminal.

  4. M1ke (@M1ke) Says:

    A very worthwhile point to make; making more information easily accessible to journalists who wish to write about skydiving would really help public perception of the sport.

    We should also encourage the sport’s inclusion in the press outside of incident scenarios. Writing about local sporting achievers, successful businesses and interesting topics is often on the agenda of the papers and skydiving can fit all of these categories.

  5. ChrisD Says:

    “As an organization, USPA needs to take whatever steps we can—both big and small—to change the public’s misperceptions and inform the media and the general public about our sport.”

    I see this statement as an excellent starting point for some long range goals. However so many well intentioned endeavors get lost because they don’t have measurable and specific activities to follow thru on. Reading about how you changed a disparaging letter to a favorable outcome by taking the time to educate the public is a excellent start. But for the majority of skydivers, they don’t have the opportunity of a news article to react too on a regular basis.

    Nor do I feel that the many lobbying efforts and opportunities for favorable press and education get publicized here. Is there in fact a list or place that keeps information about the various opportunities that skydivers can present their side of the story and promote skydiving? As some examples: Jumptown participates in a local parade each year, The FAA offers open houses at many small airfields on a regular basis, but I don’t see any skydiving representation. Is there a mechanism for promotion that can be published somewhere so that any skydiver can participate? Do we have a master list or even a wish list of public events that skydivers, dropzones, and manufacturers can participate in?

    I think it’s time to take some of these long range goals and make them achievable and realistic. A definitive plan, something tangible and solid that skydivers can participate in as compared with blanket statements. The nuts and bolts of how to set up a display at the next local airport Fun Day or AOPA event. How to handle noise complaints at community meetings. How to help airports when they are disappearing at an alarming rate. The next step.

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