It’s a Wonderful Sport! (And More People Should Know It)
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Friday, May 24, 2024
It’s a Wonderful Sport! (And More People Should Know It)

It’s a Wonderful Sport! (And More People Should Know It)

By Director of Sport Promotion Shanon Searls

Industry News
Sunday, February 20, 2022

A lot of people are puzzled by the title “Director of Sport Promotion.” What is sport promotion, anyway? What does promoting the sport entail? What is USPA trying to achieve with this department? Basically, what’s the point? The easy answer is, “because skydiving is freakin’ awesome and to keep it alive, we need to make sure everyone agrees!” On top of that, two of the elements of USPA’s threefold mission include promoting safe skydiving through training, licensing and instructor-qualification programs and promoting competition and record-setting programs. (The third prong is “to ensure skydiving’s rightful place on airports and in the airspace system,” which the Sport Promotion Department helps do, too.)


“As skydivers, we know how fulfilling and life-sustaining our sport is. USPA’s sport promotion efforts help expose our sport to millions of people, some number of whom will choose to join us and grow our sport.” -Former USPA Executive Director and Incumbent National Director Ed Scott. Photo by Ray Ferrell.

USPA has two audiences: members and everyone else in the United States. Promoting skydiving to members—those who already know and love the sport—is easy. It generally includes disseminating safety information, encouraging skydivers to improve their skills at camps and through instructor-training programs, providing a way to test oneself against peers at competitions, alerting members when skydiving is under threat, building community and encouraging interaction by showcasing events and travel opportunities. We do all this through publications such as the Skydiver’s Information Manual, Instructional Rating Manual and Parachutist; websites such as uspa.org and parachutist.com; social-media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram; and e-newsletters, which include the monthly Update and Professional, as well as emails to new-members and A-license recipients.

Promoting skydiving to everyone else in the U.S. is trickier, yet it’s a valuable component of our organization and the health of our industry. Simply put, the more people who go skydiving, have positive associations with it and see it as a legitimate sport and hobby, the fewer barriers will be placed in our way, and the more we’ll get to do it! When skydiving appears in a positive light to the public, fear of our sport diminishes, which in turn gives the sport freedom to grow. Remember the fight to preserve Dillingham Airfield in Hawaii for skydiving and other activities when it was threatened with closure? The Sport Promo Department supported the Government Relations Department and created a documentary that we blasted to our members. These efforts led to thousands of people contacting the Hawaii legislature, and we ultimately prevailed, saving the livelihoods of more than 130 people in Hawaii (and two drop zones that each introduce more tandem students a year to skydiving than anywhere else in the country). Due to these efforts, members and first-time skydivers alike benefit by continuing to have access to the exhilarating experience of falling through blue skies.

Skydiving in the Media

We’ve all seen skydiving portrayed in the media, too frequently news coverage of fatalities, injuries or even minor malfunctions played up for maximum dramatic effect. As a licensed skydiver, you’ve no doubt seen how inaccurate this coverage can be with reporters misunderstanding terms, misstating facts and attributing every incident to “the parachute failing to open.” It’s our job to familiarize the media with our sport, to provide them with more accurate information when we can and to remind them that for every negative report about skydiving, there are 10 positive stories to go with it.

It’s true—there are incidents in skydiving—but the data doesn’t lie. In 2020, there were 0.39 fatalities per 100,000 jumps, and in 2019, there were 0.45 per 100,000 (11 fatalities in approximately 2.8 million jumps and 15 fatalities in approximately 3.3 million jumps, respectively). Tandem skydiving has an even better safety record, with only 0.20 fatalities per 100,000 jumps (one for every 500,000) on average over the past 10 years. But seeing a bad tandem landing on a cheesy reality TV show or reading about Skydiver Joe’s harrowing collision with powerlines can overshadow these facts in a non-skydiver’s mind. That’s where USPA comes in.

Let’s face it, most people don’t understand skydiving. We all have family, friends and co-workers who assume we must be crazy for leaping happily out of planes, yet still ask us what it feels like. They probe us to divulge our most frightening moment and pose the dreaded question, “Has your parachute ever failed?” Just thinking about skydiving makes their palms sweat, and most of these conversations end with, “That’s crazy, I could never do that.” Yet, we all know that they can in fact do it and most probably should! Skydiving is an enriching first step into facing fears. It creates confidence and spurs personal growth, and it’s a seriously rocking good time in a vibrant community! USPA wants the public to know this, which is why it created the sport promotion role.

Not everyone understands that skydiving is a sport. Non-jumpers have surely asked you how skydivers even compete. To most members, the answer seems obvious, yet journalists and other non-jumpers usually need an explanation. Enter USPA’s Sport Promo Department! We are here to remind local, national and worldwide news outlets that not only is skydiving most definitely a sport, it’s a thriving and prominent one with tens of thousands of participants around the world. We provide a quick rundown of the types of competitions and let them know that USPA members are some of the fastest speed skydivers, the best wingsuit flyers, the most talented formation skydivers and the best canopy pilots in the world.

Sure, not all 40,000-plus USPA members identify as athletes, but all must possess a certain level of athletic ability to participate. Skydivers also must be mentally adept, as each jump requires the ability to create and execute a safe flight plan, as well as the ability to tap into training to swiftly address potentially life-threatening issues. It’s our job to let the public know that there’s a lot more to it than just falling!

Wall Street Journal, New York Times and CNN, Oh My!

Skydiving has amazing visual imagery, and giving people the ability to see it—providing a taste of its excitement and beauty—has always drawn crowds to drop zones to experience it for themselves. In the 1960s, the TV show “Ripcord!” and the movie “The Gypsy Moths” motivated people to make their first jumps. In the 1990s, “Point Break” delivered a four-minute skydive heard ‘round the world! And countless James Bond films delivered action-packed skydiving scenes that drew jumpers to DZs all over the world.

Now, with social media, images of the sport are more accessible than ever. Whether it’s scenes from a big Hollywood blockbuster or footage of cool stuff over a small local DZ, the Sport Promo Department tries to get those images out there! For people who seek experiences, these images draw them to the drop zone to expand their horizons ... literally and figuratively. Whether viewed by first-time tandem students or licensed skydivers, this positive publicity strengthens our sport.

2021 was a show-stopping year for skydiving in the media. USPA, which has worked with public relations firms on-and-off for more than 10 years, rebuilt its strategy in 2021 and hired a public relations firm to help. It worked! Thanks to outstanding performances from our impressive members, USPA landed positive stories about skydiving in major national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Outside magazine, CNN and countless local news outlets.

We hyper-focused on our U.S. Parachute Team’s attendance at the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Parachuting Championships (where we dominated), as well as the competitors who attended the 2021 USPA National Championships—and boy did they deliver! We leveraged the stories of some of our top athletes, who are quite literally changing the game of skydiving. One example is the coverage of speed-skydiving athletes Maxine Tate and Kyle Lobpries, who gave us something amazing to talk about, each setting world speed records of 285 mph and 318 mph, respectively. (This news was so incredible that when we posted it to our Facebook page, some licensed skydivers didn’t even believe it was true!)


“Active sport promotion is a benefit to the everyday skydiver and the organization! The more positive stories about skydiving in the news sends tandem students to the drop zones, which is helpful for drop zones and skydivers. The non-skydiving community gains understanding and acceptance for our sport, helping all aspects of USPA’s mission and ensuring skydivers access to their local DZs!” -USPA President Chuck Akers
Photo by Mike McGowan.


“Sport Promotion is the face of our entire sport. Promoting skydiving not only puts us in touch with our members, competitors and instructors to better support them, it allows us to connect with future skydivers, which is such an integral role for our organization and the future of skydiving” -USPA National Director and Sport Promotion Subcommittee Chair Melissa Nelson Lowe

We also kept our ears open for amazing stories from our members, such as Kevin Haugh integrating skydiving into his triathlon training, Pat Moorehead’s making nine jumps on his 90th birthday and Chris Gieler’s making his journey as a father and full-time tandem instructor while becoming the world’s best wingsuit pilot. Together, USPA staff and USPA members showed the world how amazing skydiving can be!

Once You Have Tasted Flight

Skydivers are amazing, and we know that our community is rife with incredible people who have marvelous stories to tell. We want to help you share these stories with the world! USPA is focused on progressive promotional efforts, and we are hoping to emphasize our sport at the local level, sharing stories of how individual DZs and USPA members are supporting their local communities or how they are shining brightly as community members (and skydivers).

Skydiving may not be for everyone, but for those who have experienced the thrill of crossing the threshold and exiting a perfectly good airplane, the journey is like no other. Leonardo da Vinci said it best: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” This quote may be well-worn, but it will forever ring true to anyone who has had the opportunity to taste flight, especially skydivers!

Do you have a motivational or warm-hearted story to tell? Are you hosting an event that supports veterans or raising funds for a local charity? Are you using skydiving to help teach science in school or do you dominate in other sports, as well? Please help us promote the sport of skydiving and share your story with us by contacting sportpromo@uspa.org.

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