Skydiving is a sport in which participants jump or fall from aircraft at altitude. They can perform an assortment of aerial maneuvers before deploying a parachute to slow their descent, allowing them to come gently to rest on the Earth below. The sport is also known as parachuting, in a reference to that vital piece of safety equipment. People at different levels of physical fitness can participate in skydiving, as long as they are ready for an adrenalin-packed sport which can be both terrifying and exhilarating.
The roots of the sport are actually much older than many people realize. Several medieval inventors developed rudimentary equipment which could have potentially been used for skydiving activity, and in 1797, Andre Jacques Garnerin jumped from a hot air balloon with a parachute, marking the first incident of truly modern skydiving. The sport was further refined throughout the 1800s, and many militaries adopted it in the 1900s.
In the military, skydiving was originally intended to be a backup safety mechanism for airmen. If a plane became disabled during flight, the pilot could deploy a parachute to save his life. Intrepid pilots began to skydive recreationally as well, and in many countries, further applications were considered. Many modern militaries use skydiving for troop deployment, for example. Wildfire fighters also skydive to reach remote sites, so that they can be on the ground quickly.
The potential of skydiving as a recreational sport was also quickly realized. Both women and men participated in the development and refinement of it as a sport, and continue to do so. Sport skydiving is characterized by performing with a sense of flair as well as safety. These people also perform stunts in films and for product promotions. Group skydiving is also often performed as a sport, as is wingsuit flying, a variation that uses a specially designed flight suit to more closely mimic the sense of flying.
Several safety measures are taken to make skydiving as safe as possible. Skydivers regularly check their gear to ensure that it is in good shape, and most skydivers carry a backup parachute. In some cases, the backup will deploy automatically if a skydiver reaches a certain altitude. Both primary and backup parachutes are controlled with steering lines, allowing the skydiver to control his or her descent. Internationally, several organizations promote safe skydiving, offering classes and certifications in the sport.
For people who want to experience skydiving for themselves, numerous companies around the world offer opportunities. In general, people take tandem jumps their first few times out, so that they can learn the basics before taking over on their own. Good training also involves ground schooling as well, to make sure that the skydiver is safe, secure, and ready for a solo. Some companies also offer standalone skydiving experiences for people who just want to try it out.