‘We took up skydiving to escape’: Britain’s lockdown thrill-seekers

Maddie Woodward and Olly Rodgers were supposed to be getting married this year. But when the wedding could not happen as they planned, because of government restrictions, they decided to do a skydive instead.

Skydiving centres have reported a surge in bookings as people grow desperate for post-lockdown excitement. Tony Butler, chief operating officer at British Skydiving, said the combination of good weather and the long time spent closed meant that centres were very busy, which was helpful as “they, like many businesses, would have had little income in the last year”.

Rodgers and Woodward, having never jumped out of a plane before, decided to do it now purely for the thrill. “Lockdown has definitely made me feel like I want to jump out of a plane. I’m sick of it,” said Woodward, who works as a housekeeper and cook on an estate nearby. Rodgers, a mechanic, added: “Yeah, it’s been boring for the past year.”

The 26-year-olds from Scarborough were among the small group of thrillseekers on a recent sunny morning, waiting for a cloud to pass so that they could plunge 10,000 feet from a light aircraft.

First-time skydivers Maddy Woodward and Olly Rogers.
First-time skydivers Maddie Woodward and Olly Rodgers. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

The skydiving club is on their doorstep – a few miles inland from the coastal town of Bridlington, set back from the white cliffs of Flamborough Head. “I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s just the thrill of it – a bit of danger I suppose,” said Rodgers.

Woodward laughed. “I want to say I’ve done it.”

Alec Flint, co-owner of Bridlington’s Skydive GB, said that many new customers had wanted to skydive for years but never got round to it. The pandemic caused a shift in perspective. “Since Covid’s been around, more and more people are realising that life’s too short, and they’re not willing to put things off,” he said.

Some people who come here are raising money for charity, most commonly the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, while others are doing it for a special occasion or have been treated to the experience as a gift.

First-timers are strapped to an experienced instructor who controls the parachute, in what is known as a tandem skydive. Though it may seem dangerous, injuries are rare, and not a single person has been killed in the UK on a tandem skydive in the last 20 years.

The team at Skydive GB are hoping for a clear and dry summer so they can keep up with demand, after spending almost all of the last year closed and reopening only in April, when government restrictions eased.

Flint said: “We managed to reopen briefly last year but our output was significantly reduced because there could only be so many people here.”

Skydiving videos are often posted to social media by proud customers, which could be part of the reason the experience has been growing in popularity in recent years.

Sandy Barnett, managing director of Skydive St Andrews in Glenrothes, said that alongside a “massive increase” in bookings since reopening, he has seen a huge rise in people wanting a video taken, from about 50% of customers before lockdown to about 90% now.

He said: “I can only put that down to social media – after lockdown, people are desperate for something to post on social media.”

In Bridlington, spectators took their own pictures and video as they watched eagerly for their loved ones to drop from the sky. As small figures tumbled from the plane and gradually grew larger, the crowd bubbled with excitement, and they cheered when the jumpers landed.

So, was it the thrill that Woodward and Rodgers were hoping for? “It was amazing!” they said in unison.