Dear USPA,

Congratulations on your new A license! No doubt you've put in countless hours studying, learning, practicing, packing and prepping-not to mention jumping. And when you finally got that big "A" stamped or signed off on your proficiency card, you surely felt an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. And you should! It's a huge achievement few people reach.

Photo by Don Carrington

Earning your A license marks the start of a very exciting time in your skydiving career. The possibilities before you are limitless. You can get your own gear, travel to new drop zones, go to boogies and learn new disciplines. But it can also be a very intimidating time for a novice jumper. You're now officially responsible for your own safety and progression in the sport. You no longer have instructors guiding you every step of the way. If you're lucky, you have mentors at your drop zone who will help you along. But you still likely have more questions than answers at this point: What kind of gear should I get? What kind of skydives should I do? What do I need to know if I want to travel to other drop zones? The questions go on and on, and there's always more to learn, regardless of how many jumps you have.

It's easy to get overwhelmed, but just take your time. You'll figure it all out with some patience, effort and a little help from your new skydiving friends. Read more about navigating through your novice skydiving stage

Continue reading below to find answers to just a few of your questions about life with your minty new A license.

The Gear Conundrum

Now that you have an A license, probably the single most daunting task ahead of you is deciding on and buying gear. Figuring out what equipment makes the most sense for you and your skydiving needs, interests and budget is no small feat. Learn as much as you can about each of the components, as well as how different brands and models compare. Look at all the different rigs and canopies around your drop zone, and don't be afraid to ask questions about other jumpers' gear. Read more about making a smart choice for your main canopy.

Deciding whether to buy new or used equipment depends largely on your budget and the availability of used gear that meets your needs. Ask your local rigger to inspect any used equipment you're considering, as well as whether the various components are compatible. And be sure to talk to your instructors or riggers about whether the gear is a good match for you.

Once you've decided on what to buy, you have multiple options for making the actual purchases. Learn more about where and how to buy gear.

Regardless of whether you buy new or used gear, putting together a complete parachute system is a big expense. As you look for ways to work within your budget, make sure purchasing an automatic activation device (AAD) is one place you don't cut corners. An AAD is an invaluable lifesaving device you shouldn't jump without, so find a way to fit it into your gear budget, even if it means holding off a little longer on jumping your new gear. Learn more about choosing an AAD. A reserve static line is another important lifesaving back-up device that you will likely want on your new gear. Learn more about the benefits of an RSL.

Hitting the Road
Photo by Chris Hunter

One of the most exciting parts about having an A license is that you can now travel to boogies and visit other drop zones. That means new and different airplanes, skydives and friends. But it also means different drop zone procedures, additional safety considerations and unfamiliar landing areas.

Before hopping on the first load you can upon arriving at a new DZ, take some time to learn about the drop zone's manifesting, loading, spotting and exiting procedures. Get a DZ orientation to find out the landing pattern rules and where you can safely land off in case of a bad spot, and observe a couple of loads land before you jump. Give your rig a thorough once-over to make sure nothing became dislodged or damaged during your travels. And if you're jumping by yourself, ask someone on the ground or another jumper on the load to keep an eye out for your safe return after the jump.

Traveling to new drop zones and boogies is a great way to expand your skydiving horizons and make new friends. To read more tips for making your travels safe and fun, click here, here and here.

What to expect when traveling with your rig, and USPA resources.

Fun Awaits!
Photo by Bill Kelly

There are so many exciting skydives ahead of you now that you have an A license! No doubt you can hardly wait to try all the cool things you've seen on video and jump with all your new skydiving buddies. You can only begin to imagine the fun that lies in your future! The trick is to do it all safely. The best thing you can do at this point is to be patient and take things one step at a time. And when in doubt, err on the side of safety. Plan jumps that are reasonably within the skill limits of all the participants. A 4-way with three experienced jumpers and one novice is a great way to learn; a 4-way with four jumpers celebrating their new A licenses is a recipe for disaster. Sometimes the hardest thing to do in this sport is practice patience and to say "no" when you feel you're getting in over your head. Learn more about figuring out what skydives are right for you.

The same applies to just about any aspect of skydiving, whether it's downsizing canopies too quickly, jumping with a camera too soon, getting on a load in higher winds than you should-and the list goes on. Taking your time and exercising good judgment are the best ways to ensure you have a long and fun skydiving career. Read more about the virtues of patience as a skydiver.

As you continue to progress in the sport and work toward your B license, you'll need to complete a series of canopy drills for the Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card to reach that next milestone. Canopy skills are essential to your longevity in the sport, and mastering them will increase your confidence and make skydiving more fun. Learn more about working on your B-license Canopy Piloting Proficiency Card.

Skydiving: A Physical and Mental Activity
Photo by Niklas Daniel

Seasoned competition skydivers and skydiving coaches will often tell you that the sport is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. What they mean is that your performance in the air relies heavily on your mental preparation before the skydive and your mental state while you're in the air. Because an actual skydive happens so quickly, your movements and reactions must be reflexive and instinctive, and that comes largely from mental practice. During your student progression, you probably learned the importance of visualization, and that's something that will continue to help you throughout your skydiving career. Read more about teaching your brain to skydive.

While your performance on a skydive is largely mental, there's no denying the physical demands that skydiving can place on your body. Sure, you don't have to be a conditioned athlete to skydive, but regardless of your age or physical conditioning, you'll likely use muscles you never even knew you had. After a long weekend of skydiving, you'll probably be feeling it on Monday morning. Our backs are especially prone to some aches and pains from skydiving, but you can help protect your body by stretching properly before jumping and by regularly performing exercises to strengthen your core and back muscles. Learn more about exercises that can help prevent back pain.

Weather: Friend or Foe?
Photo by Chad Wilcox

By this point in your skydiving career, you probably already know all too well how weather-dependent this sport is. During your student progression, how many afternoons did you spend on the ground at the drop zone because the wind picked up, a storm passed through or the clouds were too low?

As a licensed skydiver, you're likely to become an amateur meteorologist before you know it. Chances are you're already learning to recognize when the trees are swaying too much and to distinguish between pretty white puffy clouds and impending thunderstorms. Understanding weather patterns can help jumpers anticipate and recognize dangerous systems, know when the breeze is harmless or threatening and determine when it's best to stay on the ground and wait it out. Learn more about winds and clouds and their effects on your skydiving habit.

Ladies, Find a Big Sister!

As a new female A-license holder, you may already know about and be participating in USPA's Sisters in Skydiving program. SIS pairs women new to the sport with experienced female jumpers for mentorship and guidance. Many drop zones host SIS events to unite the local skydiving ladies. Learn more about SIS.

Welcome to USPA!

USPA is happy to have you as one of our 38,000-plus members! We want to help you continue to have a safe and fun skydiving career. As a voluntary membership organization of individuals who enjoy and support the sport of skydiving, USPA's purpose is three-fold: to promote safe skydiving through training, licensing and instructor qualification programs; to ensure skydiving's rightful place on airports and in the airspace system; and to promote competition and record-setting programs.

As a licensed skydiver, you can get a lot out of your USPA membership. Your membership allows you to jump at USPA Group Member drop zones, which have pledged to follow USPA's safety guidelines. You also get Parachutist magazine delivered to your mailbox each month, as well as third-party liability insurance when you skydive.

USPA can also help you stay up to date on the latest skydiving news and keep you connected with the skydiving community through the USPA website, social media and e-newsletters, including the monthly USPA Update. (If you don't already have a current email address on file with USPA, send one to membership@uspa.org.) So make the most out of your membership and take advantage of all that USPA has to offer.

Check out our website to:

Top 10 Things to Do Now That You Have an A License

10. Ask questions.
You know you have them. Lots and lots of them. Ask experienced jumpers about gear options, new things you can safely try in the sky, ways you can improve your skills, who they can recommend for you to jump with and anything else you want to know. One thing's for sure-skydivers love to talk about skydiving. You just have to get them started. So ask away!

9. Thank your instructors.
Whether you were a star student or a problem child, your instructors worked hard to help you every step of the way and are now watching their baby leave the nest. Let them know you appreciate all they've done to help you reach your goals. And the best thanks you can give them is to continue to grow into a safe and active skydiver.

8. Don't give up!
Just like during your student program, you're sure to encounter some hurdles as you progress through your skydiving career. Understand that it's not always smooth sailing, and keep persevering. Every challenge you overcome will bring you a great sense of accomplishment. Besides, it's not as much fun if it's always easy!

7. Travel.
Especially early in your skydiving career, it's easy to get settled into your comfort zone at your local drop zone. But you'll be missing out if you don't get out and experience the world of skydiving beyond your home DZ. At other drop zones, you can find more load organizers, different airplanes, diverse skydives and lots more to learn. Go explore!

6. Socialize.
Often, the skydiving family you can develop will mean just as much to you as the skydives themselves. Our sport is rich with diverse personalities and people who stand by each other through the best and worst of times. It might not happen overnight, but make an effort to foster friendships that will continue to grow and enrich your life.

5. Learn your ABCs.
With so many new things awaiting you, it's easy to get ahead of yourself. But if you work on your basic skills first, you'll be so glad later on that you did. Building a solid foundation will make you a more versatile skydiver in the long run. You don't want to be that 200-jump wonder who can sit-fly but who can't dock on a belly-flying 4-way.

4. Crash the party.
Don't be afraid to invite yourself on other people's skydives and ask others to jump with you. They won't always say yes, and not every jump is right for you. But if you're honest about your skill level, you'll find that more experienced jumpers are willing to help you along, and you can learn a lot and have more fun jumping with others.

3. Tunnel tunnel tunnel!
You may have heard even the most seasoned skydivers giggle like school girls giddy with excitement when they talk about the wind tunnel. Tunnel time is expensive, but if you can swing it-even if only a short amount of time-it will improve your skills immensely. And you won't be able to stop smiling with all the fun you'll have.

2. Don't be shy!
You might feel intimidated about approaching experienced jumpers with your questions or asking them to jump with you. But at this point in your skydiving career, your progression rests largely on your own shoulders. Giving in to shyness will only make you feel more excluded. Be brave and outgoing, and introduce yourself to other jumpers. They most likely won't bite.

1. Keep skydiving!
Don't let the challenges of your novice skydiving stage get the better of you! You've come this far for a reason! Don't ever forget that! Tackle each hurdle you encounter-whether it's money, time, frustration, whatever. Where there's a will, there's always a way. Keep skydiving as long as you keep loving it!

If you have any questions, feel free to call us at (540) 604-9740 or email uspa@uspa.org, and we'll be happy to help. See you at the drop zone!

Blue skies,

Ed Scott
USPA Executive Director

Copyright 2017 by United States Parachute Association