KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With COVID-19 heading into its eighth month in the United States, quarantine and the lack of travel are resulting in people venturing out of their comfort zones and trying new things.
While some businesses are reporting a decrease in business, one business is seeing more customers than ever before.
KOLR10’s Frances Lin reports on how more people are trying out the sport of skydiving amid this pandemic.
“This pandemic has definitely brought people out for some exciting things,” said Chris Hall, owner of Skydive Kansas City.
“Especially since everybody’s been couped up for so long, it’s nice to get out and be able to do something in the sun,” said Andrew Lawrence, first-time skydiving at Skydive Kansas City.
“There’s not a lot of things that are fun and you can do just out,” said Anel Castro, another girl coming out for her first time skydiving.
Dozens of first-time skydivers get ready to go up to the sky.
“We’ve had quite a surge in business operationally,” Hall said, “we’ve been doing more jumps in the last few months than ever.”
“We have had record weekends as far as people coming up to making tandems,” said Adam Greer, a skydiving instructor. “There’s actually been an uptick of people that want to jump.”
“We’ve done a lot more tandems this year, because everybody getting out, doing something,” said Steve Osner, another skydiving instructor.
“This is actually my first time,” Castro said, “I’ve always wanted to.”
“I’m very excited, I’ve never done it before, so it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Olivia Diehl, also coming out to make her first tandem skydive.
“Most people are just looking for something different to do,” Hall said, “maybe challenge themselves personally.”
Hall explained why there are more people out skydiving this year, “this is something close to home, and affordable, that can definitely get your heart pumping and give you some optimism to the future. I think it’s made people really reevaluate life and priorities. And things that a year ago wouldn’t be so possible on their minds. This has given people a chance to reach out, step outside their comfort zone, and participate in a really awesome sport.”
“People aren’t traveling as much because of COVID, and they’re looking for things to do at home,” said Jennifer Fisher, another skydiving instructor. We’re having a lot of fun out here, people seem to be enjoying skydiving.”
Skydivers talk about why they jump.
“It teaches you so much about life,” said Kelsey Farnow, a skydiver.
“It’s freeing, it’s therapeutic, to go up and jump out of an airplane, and just really let go of everything,” said Arel Dawkins, another skydiver.
“It’s the peacefulness,” Greer said, “you know, there’s all the craziness going on in the world, and your normal job, you got so many things to think of, when you jump, you just got one thing to worry about. And that’s to deploy the parachute, have fun.”
“You are so focused on what you’re doing, you actually, you forget what was going on during the day, and all your troubles,” Fisher said, “it’s very liberating sort of speak to just let all that go.”
“It’s not as much about adrenaline, as much as it is just about being free and doing the things that make you happy,” said Patrick Hupp, another skydiving instructor, “you gotta keep living life.”
Skydivers also talk about how they feel in the sky.
“When you’re skydiving, you can’t think about anything else but skydiving,” said Jay Fabing, a skydiver and skydiving videographer. “Free. Totally free. I like the way my mind works when I’m skydiving. It’s kind of like it forces you to focus, it’s almost like a meditation. Used to be the adrenaline rush. Now it’s that focus.”
“It’s liberating. It’s very free, it’s like dancing, it doesn’t matter if you suck at dancing, it’s just how you dance with the wind,” Greer said.
“Completely free,” Farnow explained, “like nothing you understand on earth applies anymore.”
And skydivers also talk about the unique group of friendships you make.
“It’s not just the sport, it’s the camaraderie,” Fabing said, “you make great friendships out here.”
“The diversity of people that you actually come across. We’ve got doctors, we’ve got engineers, we’ve got school teachers, we’ve got tree trimmers, we’ve got everything. So you really get a lot of diversity of people, all coming together, and doing something for fun,” said Fisher.
“I just really enjoy the atmosphere, the people, the excitement, it’s a high-energy activity,” Hall said, “being able to share this with people, see their experience, relive it through their eyes really is what drives me. “I like to surround myself with those types of people
There are many myths surrounding the sport of skydiving and Osner pointed out the obvious one, “it’s unsafe and everybody’s going to die.”
But skydiving instructors say this is not true.
“Skydiving is safer than riding in a car,” Fisher said, “a lot of times the fatalities are self-induced, it’s not an equipment malfunction, nothing like that, somebody that puts themselves in a position to actually hurt themselves.”
Skydiving instructors describe the safety procedures they go through, “we have separate landing areas for regular jumpers and then high-performance jumpers, we have a separate landing area,” Fisher said, “there’s a lot of things in place not only with the dropzone but with our national governing body as well.”
“If you’re coming out to do a tandem, the safety measures we have is the harness system,” said Greer, “there’s also a lot of training that goes on before you make that tandem jump, both, just little bit with you, but your instructor, they have to have at least 500 jumps before they can even be qualified to take a tandem course. Every rig has two parachutes, those parachutes are maintained by certified riggers by the faa, and then there’s just a lot of training that if you’re going to do it by yourself the first time, there’s about six hours of class that you’re going to have to do for that.”
“We do inspections on the airplane a lot, and everybody checks their equipment a lot, double-check, triple check all the time, always checking each other, everybody’s looking out after each other,” Osner explained, “you have to have your reserve. It has to be packed by a certified rigger, every 180 days. I can’t just pack it. It has to be packed by a professional and so if you need it, you use it.”
“Being one of the safety people at our dropzone, there’s a lot of things put in place, anything from currency, how often you jump, and how many jumps you make a year, the things you’re allowed to do. So like you can’t jump a wingsuit which everyone wants to do, until 200 jumps. And the whole idea is to get you comfortable with what’s going on in the skydive before we let you put a wingsuit on. Likewise, you can’t jump with a camera until 200 jumps for the same reason,” said Hupp, “as a tandem instructor we do lots of checks on our gear, inspected regularly, all of our stuff is meticulously gone over by our owner, not only our plane, but all of our gear, and maintenance regularly.”
“It’s actually a very very safe sport,” said Fisher.
Plus, there are extra safety procedures now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Using the masks in the plane and on the ground have obviously been our big measures, we have more hand sanitizers around, we try to clean things more often,” said Hupp.
“If you’re up close to somebody, that’s when we typically what we call buffs, either you wear a mask or a buff,” said Fisher, “in the airplane, obviously we’re very close quarters with 14 people in the airplane, so while we’re in the airplane, we wear a mask, once the door opens when we’re ready to go, then we can take the mask off because the air is circulating a lot better.”
“We can distance here, minimize exposure of each other, the airplane ride is quick, we’re wearing masks, face coverings,” said Hall.
“It’s taking those little precautions that are hopefully making a difference with our folks,” Hupp said.
And another myth is that skydivers go up after opening their parachute.
“Well, you don’t shoot back up in the air, your parachute just slows down and the guy filming you keeps going,” explained Hupp.
And another common myth is getting a “stomach drop” feeling during exit.
Hupp responds to this myth saying “it’s not like a rollercoaster where you’re getting yanked over the top, you’re just transitioning speeds, so it’s really smooth. We’re going to go back to high school physics about transferring speeds. So when you’re on a rollercoaster, and you’re going up the hill, and then you finally go over the hill and it yanks you to 70 miles an hour. With skydiving, you’re in the plane, you already have horizontal speed so when you leave the plane, all you’re doing is transferring horizontal to vertical. As you make that transition, you’re already doing 100, 110 across the sky, so transitioning down to 120 or 130 in freefall, you don’t really notice that speed.”
Fisher and other skydivers talk about how they got started in the sport.
“I did a tandem. And it was so much fun, I decided I need to learn on my own,” said Fisher, “I never thought 10 years ago when I did that tandem it would take me where you get to travel, you get to meet so many different kinds of people, I’ve jumped in Europe, I’ve jumped in Africa, jumped around the United States.”
“The reason I made my first jump was just something I wanted to try. See if I had the guts to do it. And turned out, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be,” Fabing said, “that was back when before tandems when it was actually scary. That was 40 years ago. So here I am, I’m still doing it.”
“I fell in love with the sport as a kid, my dad started skydiving when I was little, back in the ’70s, it’s come a long way since then, the industry itself, but I’ve always had a fascination for aviation, and once I started skydiving in high school, I really never looked back. It’s got me to where I am in this business,” said Hall, “myself and my dad opened it in 1998. It was a goal of ours to build a dropzone and start it from scratch, took us about three years to make it come to life. We’re well into our 23rd year of operating.”
Hall is also the pilot of Skydive Kansas City’s King Air airplane, “it’s a very busy task, there’s a lot going on, the flights are quick, we’re up and down in 9 to 10 minutes. So I’m going through a lot of atmospheric changes every 10 minutes,” Hall said.
And he hopes more people will continue coming out to get a taste of the sky.
“We have people 18 to 93 that have come out and jumped with us. So you’re never too old,” said Hall.
“You can’t really explain it unless you go through and do it yourself and try it,” Dawkins said.
“There’s nothing like it on the earth, so we go up to the sky,” said Farnow.
“I think there’s a lot of things that drive people to jump out of a perfectly good airplane,” said Hall, “if you could jump out of an airplane, there’s really not much you can’t do in life.”
For more installments of “Face your fears with Frances Lin,” there is another episode of Scuba Diving here locally in Springfield with Diventures.