This was the second dropzone I ever jumped at on the east coast. This dropzone is quite close to where I’m living today, and exceptionally close to New York. In fact, one of the coolest things that I can say about this dropzone is that it is so close to the city that you can actually see Manhattan from the sky! The views over the rolling hills and forests are beautiful. I did my first jumps here in the fall and so the changing colors of those forests made it all the better.
The People & Vibes
I got the feeling immediately upon arrival that Skydive Sussex is a bit different from some of the other dropzones I’m used to. There didn’t appear to be many students around. In fact there didn’t seem to be many fun jumpers who gave off a ‘learning’ vibe at all. The jumpers there all seemed quite experienced. I rented gear as did one other person who had just arrived. It seemed to me that renting gear out to us was slightly unfamiliar to the person who was assigned to give us the gear – but I’ll talk about that more in the safety section of the review.
The folks here were welcoming, and I was able to strike up conversations with a number of them. One interesting thing – to me at least – was the absence of belly flyers. When I started trying to find a group to jump with – I found there were only two older gentlemen looking to do RW with each other. I was able to join their group and we turned a number of points! They seemed happy that I had jumped with them and complimented me on my belly flying and how many points we had all turned. This is cool – but it just made me feel even more like they were happy to see me since nobody there flies belly?
The folks there were all generally nice, but I felt like the vibe I was catching didn’t quite match what I was used to. I still even after thinking about it a bunch haven’t quite been able to identify why I felt this way. There was nothing explicit that I could write down. Just to me – something felt “off”. My best bet is that this dropzone – while being notionally open to fun jumpers – has had it’s fun jumping somewhat overshadowed by the lucrative business of flying NYC residents for tandems. It’s kind of silly – but I’ve known a number of great skydiving ‘club’ type dropzones which often frankly aren’t the most successful businesses. I wonder if this dropzone’s success as a business is slowly damaging it’s core fun jumping group. Or maybe it’s just the day I was there?
One thing that is noteworthy is the type and quality of person that this dropzone appears to attract in tandem customers. They are to me – and from where I come from – fucking strange people. You can see examples of what I’m talking about by looking at those folks that have posted to Instagram marking their location as Skydive Sussex. I’ll give you a few examples here:
For an absolutely mint example of what I’m talking about check out this VH1 special that was just filmed at Skydive Sussex. I think these are the types of folks that are regularly jumping tandems out there. From watching – you can probably understand how that might morph the vibe of the dropzone to have these folks there in large enough numbers.
I want to stress that I did not get the vibe I’m referencing here from the fun jumpers at Sussex. But the overall vibe of the dropzone just felt so different – I wonder if it isn’t the lucrative tandem business with folks like this that is ruining the vibe there. I will quickly also throw out one good thing I saw – there was a seemingly acceptance for kiddos – which is something I appreciate – and goes back to how the dropzone fun jumpers seemed quite mature and experienced. I saw multiple kids running around and someone was there just holding a baby in the fun jumping tent.
Safety & Gear
The landing area at Sussex is small. It’s quite small. Small enough that the landing pattern is diagonal across the rectangular landing area – in order to maximize your distance on final. But it gets even worse – the edges of the landing area are quite obstacle prone. For example when you’re flying “away from the bar” you are turning on to final about 200 ft above some power lines. That would not be a good time to find a strong gust of wind pushing you backwards.
There is a positive with respect to the landing area however. Even though the main landing area is small there are a number of convenient outs that you can take. Getting to them may mean traversing the runway however so you shouldn’t consider them just an extension of the main.
You can also see from a zoomed out view that there are a number of places to land off the dropzone should you have a long spot – or a malfunction. There are however a number of wooded areas, so do be aware of that if you’re coming from out West or overseas in a place with less forested areas. You don’t want to find yourself stuck over the trees.
The dropzone briefing here was odd in my opinion. I was given conflicting information on the landing pattern by different folks – and there were no clear printouts of what the landing pattern was. I had to explicitly ask about where to hold before entering the pattern. I was also only given one landing pattern and had to ask what it would look like if the winds changed while I was in the plane! There were a few satellite printouts of the dropzone. But they were not located in an area where I could regularly inspect them. There were also no placards or posters detailing common rules or knowledge for the dropzone. It seemed like things were mostly DIY.
Getting rental gear here was a bit of a nightmare. I was given a brand new student rig – and then had to watch the S&TA and someone else I don’t know argue over whether or not the AAD should be set to student mode (the S&TA was trying to set it to pro for me). When it came time to test the size of the container on me it legit did not fit. The leg straps were way too large. Large enough I could fit my entire hand between my leg and the strap. The S&TA seemed completely unconcerned by this and when I asked if there was a smaller rig – they offered instead to get me a ‘baggy jumpsuit’. This was just terrifyingly dumb and absolutely could have killed me.
Eventually we were able to figure out that it was possible to mess with the leg straps and get them cranked down to the two fingers width I’m comfortable with. But that the S&TA tried to get me to put on a baggy jumpsuit as their first response to the really loose leg straps, is kind of unforgivable IMHO. It’s just so entirely dismissive and dangerous. I’m not sure what was going through their head.
Then, to make the safety issues there even more acute I had my first high speed malfunction on my second jump of the day. Nothing too major – just a hard pull. But it was quite hard. I was burning through probably ~3200 when I went for my second try and did manage to get the pilot chute out. Then the canopy sniveled for what felt like forever. Because of the lost altitude from the hard pull I burnt my high speed alarm on my audible (2500) and was in the process of beginning my EPs when the main finally opened. I was under canopy just under 2000ft.
I tried to mention this to the S&TA who again seemed to legit not care. He just joked about making sure I ‘pull like my life depends on it’. Which while a very ‘moto’ thing to say. Is in my opinion missing the point. I want to jump with gear I generally don’t have to fight with. The sky is dangerous enough. I brought it up to ask about the gear and if it was in good order – especially considering the hard pull was immediately followed by a hard snivel. I came really close to burning through 1800ft because of the combination of two bad conditions that co-occured on that jump. I’m hoping that no students get hurt on that gear. Or find themselves in a bad situation (such as continuing to fight a hard pull instead of going to reserve after the second try).
In my opinion there is just no excuse for not taking concerns about gear seriously. We saw that multiple times with the S&TA at Skydive Sussex, and there shouldn’t need to be anyone helping keep them honest when it comes to making good decisions about gear.
Aircraft & Facilities
The caravan at Skydive Sussex was gucci. I have no idea what their financials look like. But I suspect they are making great money from the NYC tandems that come out there. The ride to altitude was fast and great. No complaints. The facilities were pretty decent. There is a fridge and a vending machine. There is also enough space to set your gear down in the fun jumper tent unless it’s particularly packed. There is also a reasonable (though not large) space to wander around outside near the main landing area. I did find myself wandering a bit through the parking lot though just to get away from the crowd between jumps at one point.
Sussex is not very far from ‘civilization’. The nearest target is about 30 minutes away however:
I want to like Skydive Sussex. It’s very close to where I live, and I did feel that many of the fun jumpers there were very welcoming and genuinely cool people. But the overall weird vibe that I can’t quite identify the origin of – as well as the major issues with safety and gear leave me not wanting to return for a while. For now I give Sussex a 4 out of 10.