By Craig Smith
If you have ever stuck your hand out of the car window, letting the wind catch it and gently swish it around, then you have had a subtle glimpse of what it’s like to skydive. Now if it were your whole body, rather than just your hand, stuck out that car window, and your car went three times faster, then you would be closer to that feeling.
“Most of us just like to fly,” says Matt “Chang” Madden, explaining the main allure of skydiving. A member of the Massachusetts Sport Parachute Club, Madden is on the staff at Jumptown in Orange, where he sees all types of people flying through the air. “We have Ph.D.s, FBI agents, full-time skydivers, military people, and people that are just on the opposite ends of the political spectrum.”
Madden says that many skydivers do tend to have one thing in common, though: “We like to go fast.” Skiing and snowboarding are popular alternatives for skydivers when winter comes.
But skydiving isn’t just for extreme sports enthusiasts, Madden says, noting that “It’s changed my life in a fundamental way.”
Madden jumps from 8 in the morning to sunset and says that the “things you get to see are unreal.”
Even more unreal, he says, is the feeling while wearing a wing suit – a jumpsuit that creates lift for the skydiver, helping them soar at a very slight horizontal angle for a very long time. “You can fly a couple of miles,” Madden says.
Skydivers are attracted to the rush of the jump. “For me, it’s like skiing,” Madden says, although it didn’t feel so comfortable at first. “It took about 10 or 20 jumps to not be scared anymore,” he says. But now, as a veteran of 300-plus jumps, it’s more of a matter of perfecting his skill and focusing on the technical aspects of skydiving.
Professional skydivers have to be in good physical shape, Madden says; he is very tired and hungry at the end of a long day of jumps, with only time in between jumps for a few snacks here and there.
The image of someone falling from the sky doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of safety. But Madden says, “If you look at the numbers, skydiving is very safe.”
He notes that spectators are welcome to “come hang out at the drop zone” and see how safely people land.
“We practice all the time,” he says, and if something goes wrong, “we are trained for it.”
“Once every two years someone refuses to jump,” Madden says. But when he sees others jump for the first time, he recalls his own first-time rush, he says. He looks at their faces and knows “they’ll be high off the feeling for days.”