Skydiving in the Algarve- April 2017

When I last wrote blog posts, I was just an AFF student…and quite a lot of jumps later, and just recently getting my C Licence, it has been a hell of a progression since! As a brief wrap up, I’ve gone and gotten my FS1 and TR1- the latter of which I’ll talk about in another blog post to come. But I digress, onto what I did in April 2017, my first jumping holiday! Similar to how Varin has jumped in her home in Norway, Robyn in Japan and previous club members in the US and Spain on trips out there, I myself got to go onto a BCPA Tour abroad to the Algarve, in sunny, sunny Portugal, to experience jumping somewhere different from the sometimes miserable UK….

So why should you do a skydiving holiday? There’s sunnier weather when you head abroad to the Algarve, that’s why*!   And the chance to go on a holiday with fellow skydivers from other universities that you’ve never met is always a lovely thing to do, finding out how it works at other clubs, and getting into a community of like-minded skydivers who want to crank as many jumps as possible, and progress and do fun stuff for a week and half, breaking away from uni and other problems. From brand new AFF students to FS coaching to big-way organising, whatever you want to get done can happen out here- a condensed opportunity to do nothing but jump for a week and a half….which sounds like a good holiday to me!

*But the wind can be interesting- some days may be really sunny but are washed out with wind, others there may be absolutely nothing in the Algarve- be aware! Spain is less prevalent for this, but Empuriabrava suffers the same symptoms, from what I’ve been told. Take that with a pinch of salt.

I’ve put the Tour Video below, just for reference- just to give a whistle-stop overview of what goes down on one of these trips (credit to Robyn Dean/BCPA).

The dropzone of choice was none other than Skydive Algarve- a dropzone that operates several Dornier G92 skydiving planes, taking 15 people to 14,000 feet in about ~12 minutes or so. There is Skydive Seven quite literally next door in a hangar that is sited by Skydive Algarve’s, if you’re interested in jumping a Pilatus Porter (and if you get the chance, do, it’s a weird exit and a new plane to add to the list!), but it doesn’t have the sheer lift capacity of Skydive Algarve, or the Load Organising or coaching that the aforementioned has got. The trip cost £450, and I budgeted about £1,000 for jumping (aiming for 30)- but as I ended up doing 39, I found that I spent a little more than planned. No big deal- I came out to do as many jumps as I could, hunting down my C Licence, and I did exactly that, with the DZ being excellent if you want to do nothing but jump all day long (with good/cheap cafe facilities too, I may add!).

vlcsnap-2017-04-23-00h13m11s403

(Credit to Paul Colman)

We arrived in Faro Airport late on a Monday night, and with the Tour equipped with a squad of identical Seats (I’m not joking, about seven brand new identical looking Seat Ibizas!), we arrived at a hostel in Alvor early in the morning. After a crap night’s sleep, and a DZ brief and kit/docs, I was up in the air at 10am.  With the first jump out there being someone’s 250th….a 10-way hybrid. I didn’t even take in the view on the first jump out there, but safe to say, I could tell I was going to love this trip! I hadn’t even unpacked at the hostel till that night…and realised I was in for a lot of sun, sea and skydiving.

Every day was packed with jumping- waking up at 8am, arriving down so the RAPS/AFF students could get refreshed, and putting something together afterwards, with no great rush. Jumping went on every day to 8pm apart from when wind prevented us- and even then, I was able to comfortably average 5-6 jumps a day, with this being a very relaxed approach (some 4-way team training groups could do almost 10 before I’d even done my third!). Every jump was something new- be it a solo track playing about with angle, to bigways with Sian and Milko, in some of the best FS LO I’ve done and learned so much in,  to carnage jumps or hybrids, shuttlecocks and train exits, a wingsuit rodeo (the picture of which is below), to just some calmed down smallway FS organizing. I also got the chance to jump at Skydive Seven a couple of times- which was very, very quiet (given all the attention next door)- simply for the thrill of jumping a Pilatus Porter, with it’s door the wrong way around…and meeting a slightly different crowd which was fun too. Each jump was something different, and even on a few evenings when we got blown out, we did three to four jumps a day, with the most I did being seven (but was one of the best days!). The views are off the chain- there’s no words to describe what you see from the plane or under canopy, the coastline going all the way to Cape St Vincent down to Faro, endless beaches, rocks and caves, towns and mountains in the distance, the air still warm at altitude and the river by the DZ going into the ocean an incredible sight on a sunset jump. The evenings were filled with going out for food, light drinking (sometimes heavier), and whilst I was spending a lot of money, I can happily say it was money very, very well spent!

vlcsnap-2017-04-22-23h51m12s496

Of course, there were some things to keep in mind, and are worth mentioning here when going out to a foreign DZ that isn’t BPA-regulated (even if it follows the rulebook). Going to a new DZ isn’t all fun and games, and there’s a lot to keep in mind. Paying attention to different conditions abroad is critical, and sticking to BPA rules is a good rule of thumb, whether DZ enforced or not- doing gear checks on other jumpers and only being involved in jumps you’re qualified to be in, being aware of wind conditions that you are comfortable with jumping in (though Algarve has a good system of limiting jump numbers for certain winds), as well as the different effect the humidity and air pressure may have on your canopy, as well as the proximity of the coast is worth keeping in mind at the Algarve, given that it may mean the conditions evolve rapidly.

vlcsnap-2017-04-23-00h27m08s493

(Credit to Cara Pritchard)

All of this makes you think more about your own decisions as a skydiver (this is particularly relevant from my personal experience if you’re qualified- and should be again, taken as a comment of personal experiences rather than instruction), rather than what you are used to following in the UK- and local conditions can change how a relatively docile canopy you’re comfortable with in the UK may perform. For example, my PDF Electra 170, inside a rented rig I took for the trip, was far more twitchy and responsive in Portugal than back home, with winds more unpredictable and a landing area that was completely different, a small square with a strict pattern and numerous hazards that need to be kept in mind. Some of my landings were bad in the initial few days as I accustomed to the DZ- and I took the hint to ask a Canopy Coach, or someone who filmed my landings for a second opinion, to make sure I didn’t do it again to lower my risk of hurting myself on landing, and fly my canopy better on landing. Being cautious and careful is crucial, in relation to yourself as well as other skydivers, whether on jumps or under canopy- on our Tour, we had a couple of minor injuries that prevented people from jumping for the rest of the trip, which was gutting. Being sensible and adhering to what is safe in the UK should still apply while abroad, as nothing has changed; if anything, the change in scenery, hazards and landing patterns make it more important to be careful and stick to the regulations that you normally have that keep jumping safe, even if they’re not enforced where you are.

Beyond all of this, what else can I say? If the wind goes over, there’s still so much to see, from the town of Alvor to the beaches and coastal cliffs, which offer a stunning view! There’s the local nightlife (there is a pub, and another one right next to it at the bottom of the town’s hill with 1 Euro/90 cent pints- that should tell you enough about the type of nightlife that exists in Alvor…), a waterpark, as well as a local karting circuit, and tours of the local area by boat, off-road and bicycle. There’s lots of nice Cafes, and people are friendly, car hire is cheap, and you’ll find it easy to get around. Point being- there’s so much to do, you’ll find something awesome to do if you’re not jumping, and most of the time, someone to do it with! The weather is ridiculously hot in April, at around 20-27 degrees C, so bring a hat, sunglasses and suncream if you can- I can’t imagine how hot it is later in the summer, where it regularly goes over 30!

Other stuff- bringing a rig abroad can be done by just taking it in hold luggage, though if you’re not comfortable with that, it can be taken on-board as hand luggage, given it fits the requirements for size (and weight potentially). That said, it’s a good idea to keep an X-Ray Card for your AAD, and some paperwork explaining that it’s a parachute system, and shouldn’t be interfered with unless you or another member of your party are present to explain the situation, either way you do it from personal experiences. As hand luggage, I saw it was a bit more difficult to get through compared to me having it in the hold- though this is a personal choice, and I don’t think anyone had any issues, apart from coming back through Faro (which were relatively minor).

Overall, the trip was amazing, and I can recommend it to anyone in this club or anyone else reading it elsewhere from other clubs/prospective members, whether you go on your own or with the BCPA, you’ll find the chance to get lots of jumping done, see a new country…and quite literally fall into it! It’s an amazing experience, and I’d love to go again next year if given the chance (though I’ll have to see how my bank account feels about that..)- whatever level of skydiving you’re on, there’s something to do, and lots of jumps to be had.

Leave a Reply