Published: March 28, 2017
It may not surprise you, given our proximity to the awesome film program at Syracuse University, that a whole lot of aspiring filmmakers arrive for a tandem at Skydive Finger Lakes with a sports camera strapped to some part of their body. The truth is that--while we'd love to see the footage from that duct-tape elbow-cam--we're strictly not allowed to let any students jump with their own cameras. We're not into enforcing the law without giving you the background, so here's a thorough explanation why.
1. Cameras Have A (Well-earned) Checkered Past In Our Sport.
Enterprising artists have wanted to capture their jumps on film since the very first time someone deployed a parachute. In fact, the very first cameras used in the context of skydiving were gun cameras from World War II, chopped from the fronts of fighter planes and carried in freefall by the very, very brave (and kinda crazy) jumpers who pioneered the art. These cameras were heavy. They ate film like regular little monsters. They interfered with the jump in pretty much every way possible. They were the original hazard by which the standards of all other hazards are judged.
Luckily, because cameras have gotten so small and so light, the worst of it is over. Today, your normal sport skydiver doesn't have to worry about his/her camera being heavy enough to snap his/her neck. (That used to be a very much a Thing.) That said: even the teeny, featherweight footage-snatchers of today are demonstrably hazardous. Size definitely matters, but that's not the only thing that counts against 'em.
2. Our Governance Has Made Careful Rulings About Camera Use By Everyone In The Sky.
Keeping tandem students from recording their own skydive may seem like a sneaky way to net a little extra profit from every jump, but that is not why we enforce the ban. We didn't make this up! It's on the books of the United States Parachute Association, who created the rule with a firm eye on your safety. Since the earliest years of the sport, the USPA has made careful note of how cameras affect skydiving--and what they found, they felt the need to make rules about.
3. They Can Get In The Way Of Your Parachute.
Modern, square parachutes are built to fly efficiently. In the old days, if a camera got wrapped up in some lines, it would cause a problem, sure--but the parachute wasn't flying like an airfoil; it was flying like a bedsheet. Now, we need to worry about what happens when even the smallest camera snags even a single one of the parachute's lines. A single snagged line can prevent the parachute from being able to properly open and fly. That, very obviously, puts the people under that parachute at severe risk.
Line snags that occur on account of wayward cameras remain quite common in situations where the camera-holder doesn't have the skydiving experience to know where his or her camera should and shouldn't be. The cameraperson also needs to have the correct camera mounts (and the knowhow!) to keep the camera clear of the delicate deployment process.
4. They Can Get In The Way Of Your Emergency Procedures.
Another key point that the USPA has taken note of over the many years it has been studying the issue: Cameras are dangerously distracting. They very easily sneak into the path of proper responses to emergency situations. They intrude so much in the way of safety that the USPA has laid down a recommendation: No skydiver with fewer than 200 skydives may wear a camera in the air. Make no mistake: When you're on a tandem, you're a skydiver, not a passenger on a roller-coaster ride. As such, you're bound by skydiver rules.
When all is said and done, the wisdom is simple: a jumper with less experience than that lofty 200-jump number really can't handle the camera and a skydive at once. (If that sounds ridiculous, just wait until you make that skydive. It's a lot more everything than you think it'll be.)
5. They Actually Detract From The Experience. A Lot!
So what's the straight dope? This. Not only is it the law of the skies, it's safer, more satisfying and way more fun to make a skydive when your full focus is just on jumping. And no worries! Our awesome videographers will make sure you leave the dropzone with the footage you're jonesing for.
I drove all the way up from Philly due to their stellar reputation and lake views.