Register-Pajaronian reporter Todd Guild feels the thrill of a 10,000-foot jump from an airplane in a tandem jump with Mike Knight of Skydive Surfcity Friday over Corralitos after taking off from Watsonville Municipal Airport. (Photos by Mike Knight and Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — The most remarkable thing about skydiving is not, as you might imagine, jumping out of an airplane.
The moment of leaving an aircraft flying nearly two miles above the ground is almost beyond the power of descriptive language. A literal whirlwind of sensation and emotion engulfs first-time jumpers without surcease until the parachute opens above. The relatively gentle glide back to earth can at least be compared to an airplane ride.
Instead, the strangest feeling comes when taxiing down the runway and realizing that you will not be landing in that plane.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I had already jumped 15 times before I took a tandem jump — that is, harnessed to a professional — at Watsonville-based Skydive Surfcity on Friday. Four years after I took my first tandem jump near the Rocky Mountains in Montana, I took a $2,000 college graduation gift and blew it all getting certified through the sport’s Accelerated Freefall program.
Fresh out of money, saddled with debt and with a job that paid next to nothing, I abandoned skydiving. That is, until Friday.
From the moment I entered Skydive Surfcity, the staff made me feel safe and welcome, even as I filled out a multi-page disclaimer should anything have gone wrong.
Then my tandem master Mike Knight took over, giving me a jumpsuit and fitting me with a harness that would attach me to him. He also carefully explained what I would do when it was time to jump, and how to land.
We then took a short walk to the plane, a small Cessna 182 with just enough room for me, Knight and a first-time jumper.
The 10-minute ride to 10,000 feet was one of the best parts of the experience, and one of the selling points of Skydive Surfcity. The panoramic views of the Monterey Bay, the cragged strip of sandy coast and the colorful patchwork of agricultural fields blended with city and forest alone would make the trip worthwhile.
As we ascended I’ll admit I was a touch nervous, but I was soothed by Knight who calmly pointed out the ground features. And again explained the exit procedure.
“One minute,” the pilot announced once the plane reached altitude. And it was time to go.
The door slid open and the first two jumpers sidled up to a small platform mounted to the landing gear, and they were gone.
Once it was our turn, we slid over to the door and Knight put his feet on the platform, and as earlier instructed I hung mine over it.
And then we were falling.
I felt us flip once and saw the plane receding in the distance. Another flip and the ground appeared and reappeared in my line of sight.
But I arched my body “like a banana” as Knight told me to do, and we quickly leveled out.
Falling at 120 miles per hour, I whooped and, to borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman, sounded “my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
After freefalling for approximately 30 seconds, Knight pulled the ripcord and we were gliding in astounding silence, with the Monterey Bay spread out in the distance. I was allowed to steer briefly, which brought us into a controlled but thrilling spin.
We gently landed in a large open pasture in Corralitos, and were shuttled back to the office.
Knight, 33, studied finance in school but became hooked on skydiving when he took his first tandem jump 15 years ago.
“It’s like nothing else,” he said.
He now has more than 16,000 jumps under his belt, the minimum expected from the company’s jumpmasters.
Despite the fact that Knight now calls skydiving his career, he said he has fun bringing people up for their inaugural jumps.
“It’s like having a first-time experience every time,” he said. "That’s what keeps it fresh.”
Similarly, company owner Volker Haag said he enjoys having a job in which he is continuously making his customers happy.
“You couldn’t wish for a better office location than over the Monterey Bay,” he said.
For those dubious about taking their first skydiving adventure, I say with confidence that it is not as scary as it seems. Fear of heights is not an issue — since you’re so high up there is no perspective by which to judge height. All that is necessary is trusting the jumpmaster, allowing yourself to exit the plane, and the rest will happen.
As a former climbing and high ropes instructor, I would stress to my young students one simple principle: it’s OK to be scared, but it’s not OK to let that stop you from doing something that could enrich your life. That goes for confronting a problem at work, lodging a complaint at a restaurant and in general garnering the confidence to wrest from life the things you know you deserve.
Go ahead. Take the plunge.
Skydive Surfcity is located at 160 Aviation Way at Watsonville Municipal Airport. Tandem jumps cost $179 during the week, and $199 on the weekend. For information, call 435-5169 or visit skydivesurfcity.com.
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