Ask most people what superpower they would most want to possess and generally the two dominant answers are invisibility and the ability to fly. Except for those smart enough to pass NASA’s rigorous intellectual and physical requirements for space travel and a space walk outside the international space station, skydiving is probably the closest humans will ever come to flight.
Those brave enough to jump from an airplane some 10,000 feet above the ground find the experience exhilarating. Jumping tandem – with an experienced professional – you free-fall about one minute before the skydiver pulls the cord and you both coast leisurely through the atmosphere for several minutes before landing.
Yes, skydiving is a hobby that comes with inherent risks but it’s well worth facing those risks for adrenalin junkies and those who envy birds’ feathered appendages and their gravity-defying feats.
“The ground is such a boring place to be after you’ve spent so much time in the sky,” said Laura Morris, who has more than 3,000 skydives to her credit. “There is no place on the ground that I have ever seen or felt the beauty that you can feel flying around in the sky under a parachute. You don’t get that flying around in an airplane, inside of a (metal) box,” Morris said.
She and her husband Robert Morris – who has skydived more than 10,000 times, own Skydive Danielson in the northeastern corner of Connecticut near the Rhode Island and Massachusetts borders. It was voted “Best Skydiving Center in the US” for the past three years by Blue Skies Magazine.
Monique Lai, of Tolland, an accelerated free fall instructor for Connecticut Parachute, said she loves the openness of the sky when she’s jumping and “canopy piloting” or swooping, which is performing complex maneuvers under the parachute. “From 14,000 feet I can see Long Island Sound. It’s very cool,” said Lai, who has jumped just under 2,000 times.
Skydiving is growing in popularity as a hobby and sport. There is a second facility to accommodate aerial thrill-seekers in the state. Connecticut Parachute is based in Ellington, and, believe it or not, the University of Connecticut in Storrs has its own competitive collegiate skydiving team. “There’s never a time when you come down and you’re not smiling,” said Ethan Beattie, 20, a UCONN sophomore from Wrentham, Mass. and president of the team. He has jumped 175 times and his team is the “winningest civilian team.” Beattie said team members come to the sport with no experience. One of their objectives, in addition to competing, is to make skydiving more “affordable, acceptable and attainable,” he said.
At Skydive Danielson the regular rate for a dive is $235 with a birthday discount of $56 so the birthday rate is $179. Jumpers can have their experience documented for an extra $99 media package that includes video and still photos. The skydiving center is open seven days a week from April through October. The regular rate is the same at Connecticut Parachute and both centers offer discounts for groups, students and members of the military.
Both facilities require skydivers to be at least 18 years old, weigh no more than 230 pounds, and be in reasonably good health and physical condition. Skydive Danielson will test people before they head skyward. They must be able to jump off a picnic table. “That’s what a normal landing is like,” Laura Morris said. But many people with disabilities are not discouraged from trying. Morris said a blind person has skydived there and some jumpers are amputees.
People are drawn to skydiving for lots of reasons, she said. Some people use it to celebrate a successful battle against a medical issue or a milestone birthday as the late President George H.W. Bush did for his 90th birthday. Lai said one client did her first skydive for her 80th birthday and from then on she jumped once a year for her birthday “until she couldn’t climb the stairs to the plane anymore.”
The recently divorced are sometimes looking for a new outlook on life. There are those who want to confront and conquer a fear or see life from a different perspective. And some people are after simple enjoyment and a unique experience.
“Most of our customers are coming out to do this as a one-time activity, a bucket list adventure,” Morris said. Many others attend the Skydive Danielson training school to learn to skydive and to earn their skydiving license. “We cater to people who also already have their license and jump regularly. We have over 500 jumpers that are part of our club here and jump with us on a regular basis,” she said.
They are taken up in a Cessna Caravan 208, a turbine aircraft that can hold up to 14 skydivers, who jump out at 14,000 feet. Some places have jumps from only 10,000 feet. The higher altitude at Skydive Danielson “gives you a 60-second free fall and then the parachute ride is roughly five to seven minute,” Morris said.
Those friends and family members not eager to participate are invited to watch. The picnic area with tables and a grill in this park-like setting give them a front row seat to the drop zone. It’s like being at a state park and watching people drop out of the sky, she said.
What happens if a person pays for the opportunity to jump but chickens out as the plane door opens? “They just purchased a very expensive airplane ticket,” Morris said, adding that the plane ride back down to earth is “way scarier than jumping out because the plane does a nosedive and beats the skydivers down to the ground. It’s an intense ride down.”
And they’d be missing out on a real adventure. “Opening up the door to an airplane and getting ready to jump is just very invigorating. It makes you feel alive,” Morris said.
Lai said wind tunnels are becoming popular because they give a similar sensation to skydiving and “you don’t have to worry about the falling out of the sky part, if that’s what worries you.” There are no wind tunnels in Connecticut. The closest is at iFly Westchester in Yonkers, NY, and SkyVenture in Nashua, NH.
Morris recommends making reservations about two or three weeks in advance. Check the websites of skydiving centers for what to expect and what to wear for your first dive.
Meg Barone is a freelance writer for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.
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