WAXAHACHIE, TX — One smart comment to one of his high school teachers helped Ivan Brigman discover a death-defying hobby he is still passionate about over 20 years later. In 1992, Ivan jumped out of a plane for the first time in his life after promising his physics teacher he would as soon as he graduated.
He had barely settled into his apartment at Texas A&M University, College Station, before scouring the phone book for a skydiving company. To his surprise he found Aggies Over Texas and was able to schedule his trip for that weekend. “After my first trip I was hooked,” Ivan said. “I went out every weekend after that.” Ivan’s first jump was also the first trip he ever made in a plane. It took 148 takeoffs before he ever returned to earth in a plane that only landed because of inclement weather. During his college years, Ivan worked toward various skydiving licenses, which would enable him to jump unsupervised in different environments (day, night, etc.). “You can’t jump out of a plane without an instructor until you have participated in classes and successfully met certain criteria,” Ivan explained. “I began jumping several times a weekend to reach that goal.”
Tandem jumps, jumping out of the plane harnessed to an instructor, is the most popular and easiest way to introduce beginners to skydiving.
Little knowledge of the equipment is required, and the full responsibility of the parachute is placed in a professional’s hands. “There are several licenses to work toward and ratings to earn. The ratings qualify you as a coach, instructor or instruction examiner. I have recently become an instruction examiner, who oversees training new tandem instructors.” Ivan spent a lot of time traveling to Granbury before he decided to build his own hanger at the Hillsboro Municipal Airport. After purchasing a plane, hiring people to pack parachutes and a pilot to fly the plane, Skydive 35 became an official U.S. Parachute Association drop zone. This shortened his commute, allowed him to jump more often and let his family take part. It took seven years after their wedding before Ivan’s wife, Tracy, would jump. “The conditions never seemed right for me to jump,” Tracy admitted. “One day everything worked out, and I thought, Why not? Now I jump twice a year with Ivan, on my birthday and one time for the family Christmas card.”
The feeling of her stomach rising in her throat kept Tracy away from jumping for years. Once Ivan explained the feeling of nausea only occurred when jumping out of something at a standstill, like a hot air balloon or helicopter, Tracy was more open to trying. “Since a jumper only accelerates to a speed of 140 miles per hour, only a few miles per hour faster than the plane they are jumping from, it does not cause a roller coaster like feeling to enter the stomach,” Ivan said. “There is little to be afraid of when jumping. The whole experience lasts up to seven minutes, and free falling only occurs for a minute, which seems like seconds, before the parachute is deployed. I’m not sure how to cure someone from being afraid of heights, but don’t let the falling feeling stop you from trying it.”
From movie sets to the ESPN X Games, skydiving has become more popular each year. The more popular it becomes the more technology advances, making the sport safer for participants. According to the U.S. Parachute Association the number of fatalities each year was cut in half in 2012 compared to 1998. Strong policies and strict training guidelines help give new skydivers peace of mind as they jump. “The only injuries I have seen or experienced are the occasional twisted ankle from not landing properly,” Ivan said. “It’s very unusual for there to be a fatality.” Ivan has jumped with all kinds of people, from 18-year-old high school seniors to 92-year-old dentists. His and Tracy’s favorite aspect of skydiving is the family atmosphere of the sport. “It’s the only place where you can find a high school dropout cohabitating with a doctor as best friends. Status has no meaning,” Ivan said. “After a weekend of jumping, we enjoy just sticking around and talking with everyone,” Tracy said. “We have cookouts at the end of the weekend that brings everyone together. It’s a social sport that forms one big family.” Ivan still jumps as often as he can, averaging at least 500 jumps a year. He finds time to squeeze in his favorite sport, skydiving, between spending time with family, running his construction business and managing Skydive 35. Ivan even took advantage of down time the morning prior to his wedding to skydive because he enjoys it so much. “I counted every jump up to 1,001,” Ivan said. “It was a great milestone.
Now I do it so often, some weekends over a dozen times, that it’s hard to keep up with the number.” When jumping alone, Ivan likes to experiment with different types of body flight. Skydiving offers limitless sport. Some of the popular disciplines of skydiving are free flying, canopy formations, wing suit flying, sky surfing and freestyle. Skydiving competitions are held worldwide for those licensed to jump alone or in groups of people. “Redbull and similar companies sponsor whole competitions dedicated to the sport,” Ivan said. “Each competition is based on something different with dozens of events. Some events are based on accuracy of landing, speed, jump form and choreography.” While Ivan continues to skydive, he does not participate in competitions. He has, however, made friends from all over the world who are competitors in the sport. Since it’s a worldwide sport, many people will travel all over to find the perfect weather for skydiving. Texas has proven to be a year-round jump zone for Ivan.
The weather rarely gets bad enough to cancel, there is not a harsh winter and once above the clouds the climate is a cool break from the warm land temperature. “Many people move down south to Texas or Florida during the winter to keep jumping,” Ivan said. “I’m very fortunate to get to jump year-round in Texas, so I haven’t needed to travel far. My plan is to keep on jumping for as long as I can. It’s an exciting sport, and I think everyone who can, should give it a try.”
Written by Sydni Thomas.