Laura Hampton is a professional skydiver at Skydive Langar. She is part of the British skydiving team representing the UK at the World Championships, so we caught up with her ahead of the competition to talk first dives, reactions from clients and why a skydive is one of the best gifts someone can buy.
Please tell us about your first ever sky dive- when was it and how did you feel at the time?
My first skydive was in 2008, a tandem (attached to an instructor) while I was at university. It was part of a group organised charity event and myself and two of my housemates were taking part.
I was nervous, of course, but also felt like I had some idea of what it might be like, as my mum had done a few tandem skydives previously. I was also very excited to experience it for myself, and knew my fear of heights would give me an extra adrenaline boost!
The ride to altitude was a lot of fun, thanks in part to the instructors and camera flyers keeping us entertained with their chat, and in part to the beautiful views over the Vale of Belvoir, where Skydive Langar is situated. I'd never been in a small aircraft before, so the experience was very new and different.
At our exit altitude of 14,000 feet, I remember my palms getting very sweaty and my brain going into overdrive, flitting between feelings of fear and 'you have to do this, it's for charity!'. Once I was in the door, hanging out of the aircraft with my instructor behind me and camera flyer to my left, there was really no going back - and that's the point that (and this is no exaggeration) the course of my life changed.
There are no words capable of describing the feeling of freefalling at 120mph through the air. The complete freedom and lack of worry is exhilarating and everything is about what's happening in the moment. I was hooked and I've continued ever since.
Now that it is part of your everyday life, do you still get nervous before a dive or are you totally at ease when you do it?
I certainly still get nerves, but they're different now. When I first started, it was very much the fear of heights that was front of mind but today, it's more about performance. Whether I'm performing with my team in training or in competition, instructing someone who is learning to skydive or filming a tandem skydiver, there is an element of nerves that comes from the desire to perform well. But then, the training is so comprehensive and the equipment so up to date in all aspects of what we do that nerves are more of a background byproduct than something that dictates our jumps. 99.9% of what we feel is just pure happiness!
Why do you think everyone should do a skydive at least once in their lifetime?
Simply put - to experience it! There really are no words to describe it so until you've tried it for yourself, you'll never know the feeling of absolute freedom that can only ever be achieved when you throw yourself out of a plane. To add to that is the feeling you get afterwards that anything is possible - when you've jumped from a plane, there's really very little else you can't do.
Why does a skydive make the perfect gift for someone?
If you think the feeling of skydiving is something you want to feel for yourself, then why not make that happen for someone else?! Especially since Covid, we've seen the experience economy really grow - meaning people value time and experiences over material goods. Rather than filling your house with more 'stuff', you can experience something life changing that will stay with you forever. What better gift is there?
You will be representing the UK in the World Championships this year, so how are you feeling ahead of this?
Excited and ready! It's my first World Championships but I've been competing with my team for 7 years now and we've never felt better trained or more prepared. We're ready to do ourselves and our country proud!
How long does it take to train to be a skydiver and what does the training involve?
People can go from never having jumped to achieving their full skydiving licence in as few as 18 jumps, which can take as little as a few days to complete, depending of course on weather and personal preference. For me, it was 18 jumps and just over a week.
The process is all built around laying the foundations for skydiving skill and building new skills on top of those, with every jump providing another opportunity to develop in experience and ability. For most people these days, Accelerated Freefall (AFF) is the best option, meaning that the student completes a full day of ground school before making a minimum of 7 jumps with instructors and a further 10 'consolidation jumps' with supervision. AFF allows people to jump with their own parachute, from an altitude of 14,000 feet, from jump number 1.
At what point in your life did you know that this was your calling?
I have always loved skydiving and dreamed that I could one day make it my full time job, but it's taken a few years for me to create a role for myself that aligns with my own purpose and values. While skydiving is so much fun, I wanted to get myself to a place where I felt I had the experience and knowledge to be the very best instructor and coach I could be and it's only after 14 years of investing in my own skills that I feel I'm in the best place to help others.
It was actually during lockdown that I finally felt I had the financial savings I needed to take the 'leap' (excuse the pun) and to quit my full time job as a PR Director in favour of becoming a full time, professional skydiver.
What is the best reaction you've had when taking someone out on a skydive?
Every reaction is unique. A lot of how people react comes from their reason for doing the jump in the first place. For example, for those people who jump to overcome fear, the sense of achievement and empowerment they get is amazing to see. For those who do it for charity and for a cause close to their hearts, the gratitude they have for the experience is awesome. For those just doing it for the absolute fun of it, the smile they have in freefall and once they land is unequaled. I love every jump I do, and hope that those jumping with me feel the same!
If someone was to purchase this experience- what does a typical day look like?
If someone wanted to try a skydive as a one off, the best way is through a tandem skydive. They turn up at their booked time and on arrival will be welcomed by a member of our reception staff. They will then be invited to a brief with one of our tandem instructors, which takes about 15 minutes and which covers everything from the body positions required for exit, freefall and landing, and the basics of how the whole skydive will work. Next, they take a ride to our exit altitude of 14,000 feet, which takes about 15 minutes. Freefall is about 1 minute, followed by 5 minutes under the parachute, enjoying the views and potentially having a go at steering! After they land, everyone is welcome to stay around and watch and enjoy our facilities, or simply head off to enjoy the rest of the day.
If someone wanted to learn to skydive solo, that's a slightly bigger undertaking in that the 15 minute brief becomes a full day of ground school to educate them on all the skills required to jump safely, followed usually by a week or so of student jumping. Once the skydiving licence is achieved, they can jump anytime and it's like getting a bus - simply turn up, ask to be added to a plane and go have fun!
What is next for you beyond the World Championships?
Following the world championships, I'll be continuing my focus on that team and also have another competition coming up with a much less serious team in a different discipline of skydiving, which will be a lot of fun. I'm also excited to continue to immerse myself in my job as a professional skydiver; I'm only 6 months into that role right now and there's so much more to achieve, I'm certainly never going to get bored!
Skydive Langar is the UK's biggest and busiest civilian skydiving centre and is located at Langar Airfield in Nottinghamshire. In 2021, we completed more than 37,000 skydives.
Learn more at https://www.skydivelangar.co.uk