Parachutes are beginning to disappear … or, more accurately, the word “parachute” is beginning to fade from use to describe our sport, replaced by the word “skydiving.” Last year, the British Parachute Association, after research and surveys of its members and the public, rebranded itself as British Skydiving. Similarly, the International Parachuting Commission—that body of the Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale that oversees skydiving—changed its name to the International Skydiving Commission. Both of which raise the question of whether the U.S. Parachute Association should consider rebranding to something like the U.S. Skydiving Association or, perhaps better yet, U.S. Skydiving.
USPA has been through a name change twice before. USPA began in 1946 when an organization calling itself the National Parachute Jumpers and Riggers Association incorporated in the state of New York. In 1957, that organization changed its name to the Parachute Club of America. And in 1968, PCA became the United States Parachute Association. Is it time to change again?
Words describing what we do have changed over the years. Originally, everyone who jumped from aircraft were referred to as “parachute jumpers” or “parachutists”—understandable because there was virtually no freefall at the time (at least not intentional freefall), nor did the word “skydiving” even exist. Then, in an effort to portray what we do as more than a pastime or hobby, came the phase “sport parachuting,” promoted by none other than Jacques-Andre Istel, D-2, acknowledged founder of our sport here in the U.S. In fact, he also knows the genesis of the word “skydiving.”
According to Istel, “In November 1955, after attending an FAI parachuting commission meeting in France and committing a U.S. team to the 1956 World Championships with, to my knowledge, no one in the U.S. acquainted with stable freefall, I convinced the French authorities to open their center at Chalon-sur-Saone and … teach me the rudiments. I was accompanied on the train from Paris by Raymond Young [an American] who had parachuted with the French and who I tried to convince to join me in starting sport parachuting in the U.S. It was during that train ride that he suggested the term ‘sky diving.’ To my knowledge, it was the first use of the term, and he should definitely be given credit.”
While every skydiver knows what USPA is and why we exist, the acronym conveys very little to the general public. Even if we used U.S. Parachute Association instead of the acronym, the name conveys little of the excitement of our sport, with as much focus on “association” as on “parachute.” whereas a name like U.S. Skydiving states exactly who we are and what we do. In today’s world of scrolling feeds and short attention spans, if your name doesn’t resonate and connect within seconds, you don’t get another chance.
A name change also provides an opportunity for a logo change. USPA has been through that as well, first adopting a too-futuristic logo when we became PCA. Then, when we became USPA, we reverted to the heritage-based logo, with a round parachute supporting wings replicating military insignia for airborne troops. Of course, many skydivers today have never even seen a round parachute on a DZ. I personally like the idea of continuing to acknowledge the sport’s heritage, so I was pleased when the USPA Communications Department created a logo using an old and new parachute to celebrate USPA’s 75th anniversary next year. Perhaps we can consider adopting that for 2021 and beyond?