Confessions Of A Professional Skydiver

Lots of people enjoy or at least have tried skydiving. They include President George H.W. Bush, who famously parachuted from a plane 10,500 feet above the ground to celebrate turning 85, following similar jumps on his 75th and 80th birthdays.

Some lovers of the sport attempt to turn it into career by teaching, but it isn't easy. Becoming a qualified instructor "requires a lot of time, commitment, training, money, and a lot of sacrifices ... to build your experience and attitude," according to

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On a forum posted on the website in 2009, a contributor named Chad wrote that making a living from skydiving requires full-time work. Instructors get paid by the jump -- not by the hour or salary, he said. Typical pay is $20 to $40 a jump, meaning that even those at the upper end of that range aren't likely to make much more than $20,000, based on 500 jumps in a year. Instructors can make a bit more if they also prepare parachutes or videotape jumps.

Another way to earn a living through skydiving is to find a corporate sponsor. But fewer than 100 people in the U.S. likely make their living through professional sponsorships -- and those are hard to come by, according to the U.S. Parachute Association, which claims some 34,000 members.

One of those who does is Richard Ryan, a self-described thrill-seeker, who's only been involved in the sport for a year. Ryan has found a way to make a living from skydiving by incorporating products or getting corporate sponsorship for his videos, he recently told Discovery News. "I never want to sell out to my audience. But I also want to get paid to do something."

Ryan said skydiving was a sport that until recently didn't appeal to him. "I never actually wanted to skydive," he told the website, adding that he wasn't much interested because he thought fans of the sport were "a bunch of crazy adrenaline-junkies going out and cheating death every jump."

But then last year he saw the movie "Act of Valor," an action thriller about a group of Navy SEALs assigned to recover a kidnapped CIA operative, which features a HALO jump.

HALO stands for high-altitude, low-opening, and it involves jumping from an airplane flying as high as 30,000 feet and delaying the parachute's opening as long as possible. And for Ryan, it's a rush. He recently sought to replicate the jump featured in the movie (see video below).

The 31-year-old Ryan said that he's now jumped about 350 times, more than making up for lost time. His highest jump so far has been from about 29,500 feet. From that height, jumpers spend about 2½ to up to 6 minutes falling, depending on their position during descent and what they're wearing.

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While thrilling, Ryan's jump pales in comparison to Felix Baumgartner's attempt a record jump from 120,000 feet (about 23 miles) Tuesday, which was thwarted by gusty winds and postponed, New York's Daily News reports.

The adrenaline rush that comes from skydiving is "definitely a plus," Ryan said. He adds that he benefited from rigid training and lots of practice, which many first-time skydivers don't get. "By the time I was jumping on my own, I was very confident and comfortable, so it wasn't a panic adrenaline," he said. "It was a fun adrenaline."

Asked whether human beings' innate sense of self preservation would prevent most people from jumping from a plane, Ryan said he believes it's a safe sport. According to, a website for skydiving enthusiasts, worldwide, 56 people died in skydiving accidents last year. So far this year, 25 people have died, including David Winoker, a 49-year-old real-estate agent who died in June along with his instructor after a parachute malfunctioned during a jump in upstate New York.

Despite such accidents, Ryan said. "I can honestly say that I am 100 percent confident that I would be willing to have someone I really love skydive. It's just so safe once you go through all the courses."

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David Schepp

Staff Writer

David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.

Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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