College Skydiving Clubs: How and Why to Start One
By Christy West
Have you ever wished your school had a skydiving club? Stop wishing and get it started! Founding a college skydiving club is a unique and memorable item on a resume—it’s a great way to stand out from the crowd during school and after graduation while supporting your favorite sport. And you’ll have a ton of fun skydiving with your friends and introducing others to skydiving, guaranteed!
“It's a great way to channel your student activity fees into something you may be doing already or to simply help introduce other students to the sport you love,” says Ian Bobo, Flight-1 instructor and former president of the Georgia Tech Sport Parachute Club.
And what’s more, you have the chance to compete with your friends against collegiate skydivers from across the country at the annual USPA National Collegiate Parachuting Championships—the oldest skydiving competition in the country, dating back to the 1950s.
Starting a skydiving club may seem like a daunting task, but that’s not necessarily true. Clubs can range from casual groups that mostly just coordinate rides to the drop zone and maybe receive discounts at their home DZs to school-funded clubs that run their own drop zones or clubs that work with their universities to run skydiving courses for credit. What should your college skydiving club be? Well, what do you want it to be? Read on for ideas and tips for kicking off the best club ever.
This article draws on the experience of four former or current collegiate skydiving club members:
- Jesse Magana of the Kansas State University Parachute Club (aka Skydive K-State, a club in existence since 1964). Magana has been involved in the club since his first jump in 1987 and served as equipment officer, club president and now as its USPA Safety and Training Advisor.
- Douglas Hendrix, member and former president of the UConn Skydiving Club (in existence since 2007) at the University of Connecticut.
- Ian Bobo of the Georgia Tech Sport Parachute Club (in existence since 1969). Bobo was part of the 4-way formation skydiving team Laminar Flow that won the 4-way event at the National Collegiate Parachuting Championships from 1991-1993. He is now a Performance Designs Factory Team pilot and Flight-1 instructor with more than 19,000 jumps.
- Christy West, one of four founders of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Skydiving Club (in existence from 1998 to 2012). She is now the marketing and communications director at Skydive Spaceland—Houston in Rosharon, Texas.
Clubs can be any shape and size. Check out the variety of clubs mentioned just within this article:
- Kansas State University Parachute Club (KSUPC): Operates its own drop zone with a Cessna 182 that the club has owned since 1999. It also owns seven student rigs and one transition rig with smaller canopies. Officers run the drop zone and its training, equipment maintenance and aircraft maintenance programs. Dues are $20 per semester, and gear rental is a mere $5 per jump. Additionally, the club keeps $5 of each tandem jump, which along with university funding helps pay operational and collegiate competition expenses. The university provides rooms for meetings and static-line first-jump courses and some degree of competition funding from the sports club pool. Members compete at Collegiates every year.
- UConn Skydiving Club: The university recognizes it as a sports club similar to club soccer, basketball, etc. The club receives funding from UConn Club Sports and the Undergraduate Student Government. The club has accumulated 10 complete Aerodyne Research Icon systems for members’ use. They typically also receive two wind-tunnel memberships, a handful of jumps for each member, gear-maintenance funds and funding for entry fees for Collegiates. Club members must be licensed skydivers (or working toward their licenses) and pay dues of about $300 per semester (depending on university funding). They receive jumps, tunnel time and free gear use to offset the fee. Members compete at Collegiates every year (and medal in most events they enter).
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Skydiving Club: Simple student organization with no university support or funding other than meeting room space for regular informational meetings and occasional tandem classes. The club mainly coordinated rides to its home drop zone (first Skydive Madison, then Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois), hosted after-parties and just had a good time flying together. It also held infrequent bar or movie nights on weekdays and hosted a Leapfest every semester to encourage groups of 40 to 90-plus people to make their first skydives. Occasionally, members competed at Collegiates, paying their own way. Members paid about $25 per semester in dues, which gave them access to an exclusive discount program with Skydive Chicago (the dues paid for themselves with the first-tandem-jump discount, so the club had a lot of members).
Why Start a Club?
“I guarantee [starting a college skydiving club] will be the best thing you will do in your college career,” states Hendrix. “There is nothing better than going through a week of school filled with exams and homework and then on Friday afternoon going to the airport and making that sunset jump. Nothing else matters except for that moment.”
Magana adds, “The great thing about starting a club is seeing people move through the training program, get licensed, get instructional ratings and help the next generation of club members.”
“The best thing about being a part of a club is the camaraderie shared with other students who are equally passionate about the sport, either competition or teaching others to skydive,” adds Bobo. “For me, it was a proving ground of lifelong friends and teammates.”
If you’re considering starting a skydiving club, investigate your school’s guidelines for clubs and club sports. If you just want to be a club without asking for any funding, the rules are often pretty simple. But if you’d like funding from the university or recognition as a university club sport, things may be a little more complex, and they’ll vary from school to school. You might also be required to have a faculty advisor to help you with university guidelines and communications; try to find one who skydives or who is interested in making a jump.
One of the biggest hurdles collegiate skydivers can expect to face when pitching a college skydiving club or team to university management, unsurprisingly, is liability concerns. However, Bobo and Hendrix both say that this is just a matter of getting in front of the right person to pitch the concept. Don’t quit after one try!
“Find someone in the college management or student council who wants to make a skydive. Get them interested first,” says Bobo. “Get in touch with as many current college club presidents as possible and use their history to back your approach with the college admin people. Reference the USPA National Collegiate Parachuting Championships as a competition field for school representation on a national stage.”
“It’s all about finding yourself in front of the right person to talk to,” agrees Hendrix.
Also try to see your club from the university management perspective; consider the benefits the club can offer to the school. “The university sees us as a very unique club and uses us for marketing whenever they can,” says Hendrix. “Pictures of us skydiving in various forms have appeared in many locations, including the covers of magazines sent to prospective students, the side of a transportation bus on campus, spots on its website and even paid UConn advertisements on TV and in magazines.”
“Don’t give up,” Hendrix urges. “Take meetings with as many different people as possible. Sit down in front of them and talk about how a skydiving club would benefit students and the university. All it takes is one person to push the idea through to the next level. I tried to organize a demo jump into campus for over a year, and I finally found the right person to talk to who believed in the idea. Get as many people as possible excited in the idea of a club.”
Your Home DZ
Your home drop zone has a huge impact on your club’s operations and success; most clubs cannot run their own drop zones. Pick a convenient DZ where you feel comfortable with management, and make sure it’s one that can handle the volume of business a club tandem event can generate. For example, the UWSC started life at a small drop zone. The relationship worked well most of the time, but the DZ could not handle the volume of the first-timer events if there were any hiccups such as brief weather holds. The club took the fallout for any issues, so it found a long-term home at Skydive Chicago, which could take anything the club could throw at it times 10.
Take a trip to your prospective club DZ if you haven’t visited it yet, and set up a meeting with the drop zone owner or manager to discuss your relationship. You each offer benefits to the other. The drop zone can offer you jump tickets and training services (ideally at a discount to assist college students with limited budgets), while your club can help the DZ by bringing in new business and marketing your experiences. However, begging for handouts because you’re “broke college students” without offering anything in return doesn’t go over well with business owners; they want to see a return on the discount they give you. You are business partners who benefit each other.
Be clear on the expectations from both sides; for example, you’ll expect good training, gear and aircraft to jump from and the ability to handle the numbers you bring. Your drop zone will expect loyalty from your club, especially if it provides a discount for tandems and student training, so bring all your student business to that home DZ. You will (and should!) travel to experience other DZs once licensed, but in exchange for your discount and whatever other benefits the DZ may offer, your club owes the DZ loyalty and marketing value in return.
Starting and running any college club comes with challenges, mostly due to annual turnover of members and funding challenges. “As in any organization or club, it seems like only a few people participate when there is work to do but everyone shows up for the fun,” says Magana. “Somehow we manage to get things done when push comes to shove.”
Along these lines, having a core group of officers who are highly motivated to see the club succeed is key. It’s tough to run this kind of endeavor solo.
Leadership transitions can be another challenge, adds Magana. “These can be difficult especially if the outgoing officers—mainly the president—don't prepare the incoming officers for the required duties of their positions,” he adds.
Bobo and Hendrix both say that the hardest part about running the club was dealing with funding applications for each semester, and Hendrix adds that recruiting new members is also a big challenge. This will vary a bit with the club dues and structure, of course.
“The funding is difficult because there are strict deadlines and forms that must be filled out correctly to receive funding,” says Hendrix. “Without funding, it would be extremely difficult to continue being a club.”
Another potential challenge is maintaining a professional appearance to stay in the university’s good graces, particularly if you are receiving support or funding. “Remember you are representing your university when you travel for competition,” advises Magana. “A post or picture [in social media] that’s in bad taste can land you in hot water with university officials in a hurry.”
Getting the Word Out
How do you reach out to potential new club members? Every way you can!
“We try to get as many forms of advertising in front of students [as we can], because the most common thing we hear is, ‘I didn’t know we had a skydiving team!’” says Hendrix.
Clubs have found the following strategies to be useful in reaching out to potential new members:
- Sidewalk chalking around campus before meetings and events (high visibility, very low time and cost commitments)
- Regular informational meetings. “Convince students that skydiving is not out of reach and it is the most freeing experience one can have,” says Hendrix.
- Tandem events to get first-timers to jump in big groups (camaraderie)
- Low-cost banner (a twin bedsheet and a can of spray paint) attached to a vehicle parked in a high-traffic area by the student union building to promote the club on meeting days
- Club activities, carnivals and fairs
- Student newspaper advertisements (clubs often get reduced rates)
- Social media and word of mouth
- Demo jumps onto campus or into games
- Flyers around campus
- Emails to the student body
- Wind-tunnel trips for those who are nervous about trying actual skydiving or who have already been there! Kids who spend a lot of time in tunnels while under age 18 are natural fits for skydiving clubs.
For more help with starting a college club, tap into other clubs to learn from their experiences. “If you are passionate about skydiving, you will make your club happen,” says Hendrix.
USPA provides guidance on starting a club at membership.uspa.org under the Group Members tab.
About the Author
Christy West, D-21464, is an active competitive formation skydiver and coach with team Spaceland Lite and a national formation skydiving judge. West was one of four founders of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Skydiving Club.