Study abroad students swear by skydiving.
When I studied abroad in Florence, Italy in 2012, one of the big trips, among heading to the Amalfi Coast in Italy and Oktoberfest in Munich, was to venture to Interlaken, Switzerland, to jump out of a plane and get a bird’s-eye view of the Swiss Alps.
There were many students I knew who chose to take the mid-air plunge and the first thing they said upon their landing was, “I need to do that again.”
Still, I couldn’t bring myself to defy a human’s natural fears and hop out of a plane at 120 miles per hour.
Today, I wonder if I made the right decision. Well, I still have the chance to plummet through the air, as do you, right at home thanks to Skydive Jersey, a Pittstown skydiving facility catered to beginner sky divers.
The establishment just celebrated the beginning of its fifth season, as it sends off 3,500 first-time skydivers per year from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in October.
“Many people who run sky diving establishments do it for experienced divers, but we do it for the first-timers,” said Chuck Owen, owner of the facility who has been on more than 10,000 skydives.
The safest and easiest way for beginners to skydive is tandem diving, where a “student” diver is paired with an instructor for the entirety of the jump. This only requires less than an hour of training for students and allows them to simply enjoy the experience since they can rely on the instructors, who, at Skydive Jersey, have all been on more than 500 jumps and are trained by the standards set by the United States Parachute Association.
With this in mind, can a beginner sky diver simply enjoy the experience? Is skydiving, an extreme sport, really safe?
According to the United States Parachute Association, out of 3.2 million American jumps last year, there were 24 accidents, which means that you have a 0.00075 percent chance of being in a skydiving accident. To equal your risk of dying in a car accident in a single year, you would need to skydive 17 times.
Owen said that on top of that, experienced jumpers going it alone are much more likely to be in an accident over beginner skydivers since they may want to push the limits of their skills.
“No matter how intimidated a person is when they first arrive, no one has ever landed and not had a smile on their face and been ecstatic,” Owen said. “It’s a very transformative experience that you just conquered this major feat. The expression on their face is priceless.”
When students express fear after arriving at Skydive Jersey, Owen said his team calmly talks them through it and explains that skydiving isn’t what they think. Contrary to what most non-skydivers believe, there is no roller coaster stomach drop. Instead, free fall, said Owen, feels like a gentle float.
“No one gets in the airplane and is completely fearless,” Owen said. “Once you’re out in free fall, you realize it wasn’t so bad.” Then, he said, there’s usually “a ‘wow’ and then speechlessness.”
Diving students at Skydive Jersey range in age from 18 to 95, but generally, they are between 18 and 45 year old. Students must be at least 18-years-olds and height-weight proportionate; men must be less than 230 pounds and women must be less than 215 pounds.
“Those who are interested in trying new things and pushing new boundaries are ideal candidates for sky diving,” Owen said.
After training, students take a 20-minute plane ride over the Delaware River Valley as it climbs to 14,000 feet. Once at exit altitude, students are attached to their instructor’s harness and the door will be opened. Then, the 50 seconds of freefall at 120 miles per hour begins before the parachute is deployed and student-and-instructor drift down to the ground at 20 miles per hour for 10 minutes into a gentle landing.
It’s the idyllic landscape that skydivers get to enjoy from their view in the sky that also makes Skydive Jersey an ideal spot for thrill-seekers to get their fix. Skydivers will spot the Delaware River, Spruce Run Lake, Round Valley Lake as well as the Manhattan and Philadelphia skylines.
“Hunterdon County is incredibly beautiful,” Owen said. “I was blown away at how untouched it is the first time I took off.”
Plus, Skydive Jersey is situated at Alexandria Field, a peaceful and historic airport tucked away in the countryside that has been in the same family since the 1940’s.
Groups should plan to spend a full day at Skydive Jersey for weekend dives and a half a day for weekday dives, which can also be affected by the size of the party, weather delays and unexpected plane maintenance.
Weather delays are very common for sky dives — about one in three dives will be rescheduled, which Skydive Jersey gives priority to versus new bookings.
Owen said, “Some people smile, some laugh, some scream, but everyone comes back to Earth glad that they took the plunge.”
Where: 70 Airport Rd. in Pittstown
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-669-3020
Cost: $195 per person for one to three people and $185 per person for 4+ people
Qualifications: 18 or older and men must be less than 230 pounds and women must be less than 215 pounds
Season: First weekend in April to last weekend in October
Hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.