“It blew me away. Absolutely blew me away. I tell people the reason I did my second tandem is because I was so embarrassed about my reaction to my first one — I was screaming. I was just scared out of my mind,” said Oyama.
A week later, Oyama decided to jump again. Afterwards, he began training and “all of a sudden I was doing solo jumps,” he said.
“I had no idea I was going to become a skydiving instructor. It took me 13 or 14 years to figure out that I was going to do this for a career,” Oyama said.
Oyama, now 41, is participating in Skydive Midwest in Sturtevant for the second year in a row.
He is unsure at this stage how many jumps he’s made.
“Anywhere between 7,000 and 8,000 jumps; basically enough jumps to do my job well. On a busy day we’ll have 150 to 200 tandems, then on top of that we have people that are licensed (to jump solo) joining in,” Oyama said. “We have a lot of people that come here. The view is unbelievable. On a clear day we can see Milwaukee, all of Lake Michigan and Chicago. It’s an amazing view.”
He uses his own experience as a teaching tool to inspire new skydivers.
“My strength in terms of describing the experience or helping them through the experience is empathy, by saying, “I realize you’re going to be very scared with this whole thing, but I’m going to be walking with you on this whole journey of jumping out of this plane and making sure you’re going to come down safely,” he said.
His emphasis is on providing a safe and successful dive by ensuring skydivers position their body correctly and avoid grabbing his arms.
“I ask them if they get motion sickness easily so I can minimize those spinning turns of the parachute. When we step to the door, I tell them to slow their breathing down, keep your eyes open,” he said
New jumpers will typically begin at 14,000 feet.
“You have to have a lot of jump numbers to go higher. We cannot go above 15,000 feet without supplemental oxygen,” he said
At times, jumpers bow out at the last minute.
“I’ve had several of those. Sometimes they’ll come back for another try, but most of the times they say, ‘It’s not for me.’ When they’re at the door and they start pushing back, it’s like a cat waiting for a bath,” Oyama said. “I give them an option: ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go? Absolutely not? OK, we’ll land with the plane, no big deal.’”
Oyama describes the sensation of skydiving as life changing.
“It’s a very visceral experience because it’s a whole-body experience. It’s something you really have to go through. It was a life-changing experience for me when I did it,” he said.
“A lot of people’s misconception of jumping out of a plane is that you feel like you’re falling. We’re not going from a static object like a cliff to accelerate into a free fall where you’d feel your stomach moving to your throat. It doesn’t happen when you’re skydiving because we’re in a plane that’s in motion, and when we jump out we continue in motion, so you don’t feel that sickness sensation at all. When you’re skydiving you just feel a lot of wind.
“The reason why we do it over and over again is because once you get to terminal velocity you can actually fly your body and move your body around in the air within those 50 or 60 seconds, hence the reason you see these formations being built. That’s what we do here we train people to start with their group free fall skills so they can actually get together in groups in the air,” he added.
For Oyama, the free fall is where the fun lies, though he’s come to love the parachuting aspect of it.
“I sometimes skip over the free fall portion of the jump so I can mess around with my parachute. You can create a lot of G forces depending on the size of the parachute. They’ve gotten really small and aerodynamic, so there’s a lot of things you can do with it. I have a really, really fast, beautiful parachute that I just absolutely love” he said.
In the end, it’s the community created around ballooning that keeps him coming back.
“It’s a kinship. The free fall and canopy stuff is secondary,” he said. “In the United States Parachute Association, there’s about 33,000 to 34,000 people across the world.”