Doing a tandem is going for a ride on the back of someone's Harley-Davidson: all the fun without the fear. In tandem jumping, the instructor makes the skydive, and you are carried along, like a joey in a kangaroo pouch.The harness and parachute are designed for two people. The tandem instructor will be very experienced, with most likely thousands of skydives. He or she will deal with the safety and controls, while you relax and enjoy the ride, like going round a racing track in a car with a professional driver.
The briefing is short, it can be as little as five minutes. The instructors will run through what they will do, and what they would like you to do. Getting in the aircraft, the climb to altitude, preparing for the jump, in the door ready to go, exit, freefall and landing. If you want a video and photos of your jump then the briefing will normally include the camera-flyer, who will encourage you to wave and smile at the camera.
The aircraft will probably take you to between 10,000 and 13,000 feet, about two miles high. There are many ways of leaving the plane, and the drop zone will brief you according to their aircraft. When nearing the open door you will probably feel most anxious, but don't worry, when you get into free fall most people love it. It's a bit like standing on the edge of a swimming pool ready to dive in; you might have to force yourself but as soon as you're in the water, it's great.
When you first leave the airplane it may all be a bit much for you for the first few seconds, as so many unusual sensations are happening all at once ('sensory overload'). This slightly-overwhelmed feeling quickly clears and you'll be able to enjoy the view of the ground far below, and feel the wind rushing past. It's fun in the same way that riding a jet ski or in a convertible is fun. After you leave the plane, the tandem instructor will throw a 'drogue' pilot chute behind you; this slows your free fall speed down to 'normal' – without that the pair of you would fall very quickly, being two person's weight.You may have someone else with you, perhaps a camera-flyer; it's a unique feeling seeing someone else in free fall. You can still recognise people but they look different on the ground.
Some countries offer Tandem Assisted Freefall (TAF) a modern adaptation of AFF, where some freefall skills are taught and practised on tandem jumps. After the first three such jumps then the student moves into the standard AFF system of progression, and jumps with his/her own parachute, and an instructor either side.
At around 5,000 feet, after about 30 seconds in freefall, your instructor will pull a handle that releases the drogue chute so it will extract the main parachute from the pack. As this opens, you will feel yourself being pulled into an upright position. The loud white noise of free fall is replaced by a gentle flapping of nylon as the large canopy flies forward, as well as descending.
The parachute has two sets of toggles, so if you wish you can fly it together, or take turns in guiding it to the landing area. Or you can just relax and look at the view. In an ideal world and perfect weather you'll get a stand-up landing like the experts. If conditions aren't so perfect you might sit down or even take a bit of a slide but it shouldn't be anything severe.
For most, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience so photos are a 'must'. You can show your friends and relive the moment; see the expressions on your face as you're amazed, scared and elated. Make a whole day of the experience, staying at the drop zone, watching other skydives and sharing a few beers and dinner. It is special so make the most of it.
If you like the tandem and are inspired to do more skydives, congratulations! You're in a small minority. Ask the drop zone about the options for taking up skydiving and/or look online. Your probable best option is AFF but if money is an issue try Static Line Progression. Welcome to skydiving!