In just 60 seconds Zach Morman plummets 10,000 feet — nearly 2 miles.
The East Dallas resident’s return to earth takes much less time than his departure on a Shorts SC7, affectionately called a Skyvan or Flying Shoebox by some of its passengers. The journey upward to 14,500 feet takes a few minutes, as you might expect. At that altitude you could look down at the summit of Mt. Denali.
As Morman ascends, he constantly reviews his emergency procedures, his EPs.
“Look right, grab right, look left, grab left, peel, punch, punch, punch, arch,” he says to himself again and again. Riding in the back of the plane he starts to sweat. Not because he’s nervous — in the year since gaining his license, Morman has made 79 jumps — but because the hull of the plane is sweltering. But that all changes when the large door at the back of the plane slowly opens. Even on a sunny Texas day in August, it’s probably only in the mid-teens this high up.
When everything’s ready, Morman gets in line, waits for his moment and then …
“The first thing you notice is it’s hard to breathe,” Morman says about leaping from a plane at cruising altitude.
That’s because he’s moving at 120 miles per hour if he’s stretched out flat, on his stomach. Faster if he’s not.
If everything goes according to plan, Morman will land safely on the ground 3 or 4 minutes after his exodus.
About a year ago Morman was ready to mix things up. He’s always been active. He played lacrosse in college and today he owns a chain of crossfit gyms in the area. Most of his time these days is spent at the gym either working out or taking classes. He wanted to push himself with something new and give himself the chance to step out of his teaching role.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time now. You get really into your groove, and I’m the expert there,” Morman says. “Everyone’s looking for me for advice all the time, and I’m getting emails and calls and that’s my job, right? And I love it, but it was super refreshing to go do something that I had no clue about.”
So he found a place to jump in Dallas and signed up to get his license, completed a class on skydiving and made 25 jumps with at least one teacher. He completed his training last year, but he’s still considered new. Some of the people Morman has jmet have more than 1,000 jumps under their belts.
“It’s very much a community atmosphere,” he says. “No one’s like ‘Oh, a new guy. F him.’ ”
Now that he’s in, Morman is hooked. His goal is to eventually reach 200 jumps and jump out of a helicopter wearing a wingsuit — or a flying squirrel suit as Morman calls them. But he’s not trying to reach too far, too fast.
“Too many people rush the basics,” he says.
A lot of people show up and want to get their skydiving license so they can mimic some cool video they’ve seen online.
“Those videos don’t tell you normally how long those people have been jumping.”
Most of them have years and years of experience, Morman says.
That’s why he’s still focusing on the basics. Learning to move through the air takes frequent practice, which is one of the reasons Morman tries to jump at least once a week. Sometimes groups of jumpers choreograph their jumps.
“It’s exactly like synchronized swimming,” he says.
In mid air the skydivers will fly toward each other and then suddenly break away before pulling their parachutes.
Other times Morman will just focus on his mechanics during a jump. How you place your limbs or angle your arms can completely change your trajectory, he says. Recently he’s been teaching himself how to fall in a sitting motion — which is more difficult than it sounds.
“Body control is key. Body awareness is really important. That and staying relaxed,” he says. “If you jump out really ridged, it would be like throwing a board out of a plane. You need to be like really relaxed, which is really counter intuitive.”
That whole staying relaxed part is crucial because — at some point when you’re learning to skydive or trying a new trick in the air — you will lose control. But finding it again during the heart-pumping, 60-second fall, is what Morman loves about the sport.
“It’s very addicting to try to find that control,” he says.
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