Do you ever dream of flying? Soaring through the clouds, perhaps swooshing past high rise buildings in a big city like Superman or through forests of trees and pixie dust like Peter Pan? Some folks have sincere anxiety over such thoughts, but then there are the dreamers, like many before us who not only had the dream but tested many theories of flight. Let’s muse over the history of this fascinating sport of how and when skydiving started!
The origins that bring us to our modern day of living, are compelling stories that connect us to the pioneers who made history – making those stories come to life by our participation in it. What makes skydiving so incredibly captivating is that many of the original pioneers are still living, or were friends of the pioneers and are here telling stories of the days of ole. And those stories bring life to a sport that is so incredibly impressive.
Much of the story of skydiving comes from when survivors like Sima Qian whom has the first recorded story of Shun, an emperor who escaped his cruel father by jumping off a high granary with two bamboo hats and survived. Then dreamers like Leonardo DiVinci who drew the infamous pyramid-shaped parachute in his notebook; and Fausto Veranzio who studied DiVinici’s design and reimagined his own version known as Homo Volans (“The Flying Man”). Unlike the others before him, it was recorded that Veranzio tested his idea in the year 1617 and survived. However, it wasn’t until the era of Andre-Jacques Gernerin that the parachute flying started to take shape.
Andre-Jacques was a French balloonist who began testing ideas in 1797. After his first experiment with a round canvas parachute built like an umbrella – which he survived – gave him direction to continue testing out more ideas.
The history of skydiving much began with ideas like these beginning with the parachute. The primary focus of these designs began with answering, how could man slow himself down from a fall. Freefall skydiving didn’t take hold until much later.
During the era of discovery, there seemed to be a mad dash to uncover those hidden ideas and test them, either to stake their claim in fame or simply to be a part of history. Gernerin’s ideas are the ideas that had taken shape, however, those ideas were more in parachute descent, not freefall as we know skydiving today. So who made the first freefall skydive?
As we continue to dust the pages on history, it is remarkable that man had continued to develop a love for being in the sky. Leslie Irvin was one of those people. The dream of flight was an innate part of his being, and he became the first person to make an intentional freefall jump – a century after Gernerin’s parachute development. Irvin invented the manual ripcord, and later created a company called Irvin Air Chutes in June of 1919.
The earliest recorded skydiving competitions date back to the 1930s, however, skydiving became an international sport in 1952.
It is still incredible to think that skydiving’s history is still incredibly young compared to other traditional sports such as football and soccer. There are a few pivotal moments that helped popularize skydiving and helped make the sport mainstream:
Point Break, starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves was released in 1991 and was a blockbuster hit. Although it was not the first movie released to the public about skydiving, it was one that sparked many to make their first jump and inspired many to become skydivers.
Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman released in 2007 and sent another surge of interest into skydiving. In fact, more often than not people say that skydiving is on their bucket list!
Social Media. It used to be that news stations would only cover fatalities, creating a looming perspective of skydiving. However, the advent of social media allowed skydivers to take control of how the sport was portrayed and became a way for skydivers to showcase the sport in a positive way.
Technology. Many industry manufacturers had continued to develop and pursue technology to increase safety in skydiving. Automatic Activation Devices (AAD’s), audible altimeters, streamlined parachute containers and deployment systems, performance-based parachutes, and more, helped increase awareness, safety, and interest in the sport.
Because of the dreamers like Gernerin, DiVinci, and Irvin who pursued the dream of human flight, today skydivers are continuing to make skydiving history by completing world records, developing different disciplines, and competing at world level competitions. The sport is still incredibly young and so much is yet to be discovered.
Are you the next person to continue to make skydiving history? All you have to do is start with your first skydive!
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