AFF Fears and Doubts

Hello Steph,
My name is Joana and I am from Barcelona, I have been following you since you write High Infatuation: A Climber’s Guide to Love and Gravity and in the present moment I am nearly to finish your book of Learning to Fly.
I have been climbing for more than 10 years, and I have been really inspired by your writings, but this last one has carried me to try skydiving for first time in my life, I made a 1st tandem jump and I enjoyed the sensations, then I started two weeks ago my AFF course, a minicourse (tandem + 1st level). The 2nd tandem was better but the 1st level was very scary for me, I get very nervous when they opened the door of the plane, I tried to breathe and stay calm but I couldn’t, so I jumped off like a cat thrown by a window, with my hands scratching the air and my body position very tense, I couldn’t manage to check correctly my altimeter and my instructor opened my parachute, fortunately the landing was perfect.
I am not sure in doing the next levels of the AFF course, I need some more inspiration or some push, this is the reason why I wrote you, because I want to learn how to deal with this fears, this can help me in climbing harder and why not in personal life and new achievements.
Congratulations for the amazing books, I love the way you write about your feelings and emotions, true inspiration.
I wish you the best!

Hi Joana,
Thanks for writing to me 🙂 I’m sorry to hear you had a bad jump for your first AFF–most people I know have stories ranging from they can’t remember the freefall at all to being incredibly tense. I asked my boyfriend Ian about losing altitude awareness and not pulling, because he’s a skydive instructor–he said that’s exactly why you have instructors with you on your AFF jumps and why the system is organized to progress you through the levels when you and your instructor feel you are ready. The photo here is my first AFF jump 10 years ago, and see how there are two instructors holding on to all my arms and legs through the whole freefall….it’s exactly to keep you from doing anything you’re not supposed to do 🙂 Nobody does something perfectly the first try, and that’s why AFF is set up the way it is.

I’m not sure I can give you advice on whether you want to continue skydiving or not, but I think you may want to give it a little time before making an “official” decision. That’s one thing I’ve noticed in my time as a jumper: jumping is so emotional for people that they often need to officially declare that they do or don’t jump anymore after certain intense experiences. Things always change and we always change, and I don’t think you need to decide everything in black or white immediately. Doing another AFF jump or two, or not, doesn’t mean that you are committed to skydiving or not skydiving, it just means you are doing some jumps, or not. I would say don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself either way. All the decisions and emotions feel super intense right now and that’s part of the deal with skydiving and why the fear element is so powerful with it, but it won’t look the same over time.

The real question for you is whether you like skydiving and (or) feel it’s a valuable experience for you. It may not be possible to answer that right now because it’s all so new and overwhelming. I know that I found AFF very stressful, partly because I felt so much pressure to remember all the little things I was supposed to do and demonstrate on every jump, and I was incredibly relieved when I got to do my first solo jump and I didn’t have to remember a list of tasks and do them all in the right order. My AFF jumps were exciting and intense and inspiring for me, I’m not sure if they were “fun.” Often with BASE jumping at a new site, I enjoy the second jump (and third, fourth, fifth) a lot more than I enjoy the first one, because the first one was more about dealing with the unknowns than relaxing and enjoying it. When dealing with fear in any creature, whether human, dog or horse, repetition and gradual desensitization is always the answer–it’s not instant or even glamorous, but it is the secret.
I wish you the best!

2 responses to “AFF Fears and Doubts”

  1. Horatio Algeranon says:

    Not sure if it was based on an actual experience, but Einstein once commented that the thoughts he had about jumping off a roof and being in free-fall inspired his Equivalence principle which spawned his theory of gravity (general relativity) .

    He called the thought of being in free-fall the happiest of his life – though he may have had a different assessment if he had actually experienced it!

    Personally, I think I would probably be terrified to jump out of a plane and greatly admire anyone who can muster the courage to do so. It goes against our most primal instincts of self-preservation. After all, the apes from which humans evolved would never have gotten far if they had been jumping out of trees from the get go.

  2. Horatio Algeranon says:


    Amygdaless they are
    The soloist and flyer
    It’s really quite bizarre
    That risk is their desire


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