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On The Coast: The Meaning Of Safety When You Work As A Skydiving Instructor

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Skydivers over Ocean City, Md.
Skydive OC
Skydivers over Ocean City, Md.

Josh Dolan remembers well the moment he was first drawn to skydiving. It was 1991, when the movie Point Break was released.

"Patrick Swayze was doing backflips and freefalling," he remembers. "I think that was the first movie where people saw in skydiving that you could really fly your body and link up with your friends. I went with a couple friends to see that movie and was like, oh yeah, we gotta try that. That looks crazy."

Dolan, the chief instructor at Skydive OC in Ocean City, Md., began doing jumps as a hobby, but it wasn't long before he found skydiving could be a career. He's made thousands of jumps over the past two decades, and says safety is always paramount.

"You have to pay attention to where your wind direction is, and we do that through observations and through forecasts. We have to pay attention to... we call them our 'outs.' In other words, if you don't land in the airport, where are you gonna land?"

Figuring that out can be pretty tricky, especially when you're skydiving near the ocean.

"I can tell you, we've gotten good at analyzing winds. We can analyze how fast the airplane's going airspeed-wise, how much air is hitting the airplane and how fast we're moving on the ground. And we can decipher, 'Hey, OK, the wind really is out of the east at 25 knots, so we're going to plan our exit point on that heading, over the east.'"

He says many first-time skydivers assume they don't have to do much work, that a tandem dive with an instructor is "an amusement park ride, that it's a roller coaster ride, that you can go out and get radical. And it's really not. This is a training dive. We're required to teach you certain things, to teach our students certain things. It's not a lot of instruction, but what we teach is really important," he says.

But even though the focus is on safety, he says watching people experience the elation of their first skydive never gets old.

"That's the best part of the job," he says. "After landing and seeing you've made a great impact for their day and maybe their life. For the rest of their lives they can say 'Hey, I jumped out of an airplane.' You don't have to be an army commando airborne ranger to tell your grandkids you've jumped out of a plane."

[Music: "Sea of Love" by Tom Waits from Brawlers / "Safe and Sound" by Rebelution from Courage to Grow]

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