Every year, thousands of people take their first jump into the world of skydiving. It's the closest thing humans have to non-mechanical flight.
It's also highly addictive, and many people who try it become frequent jumpers. For some, it's a fun way to spend a weekend. For others, it becomes an obsession.
Skydiving is a new passion for Nathan Moffit. The 39-year-old thrill-seeker from Fort Lauderdale had wanted to try it for years but was too nervous to go through with it. Finally, after getting up his courage and trying it just twice, he's hooked.
"It's an incredible rush," says Moffit. "There's this feeling of power from all the chemicals surging, like your heart is pounding and you're Superman. And then it sort of melts away into a peaceful sensation and you're flying. I felt completely free, and no other sport gives you that. It really is a ton of fun."
People seek out skydiving for different reasons. Some find skydiving to be a spiritually enlightening experience, while others, like Mark Klingelhoefer, enjoy it for the rush.
Before moving to Florida, Klingelhoefer was a whitewater rafting guide in West Virginia who also spent time mountain biking and snow skiing. When he relocated, he said, he needed something to provide the adrenaline he felt participating in those other sports. Once he started skydiving, he didn't stop. He's now jumped more than 1,300 times.
If jumping from an airplane 14,000 feet above the ground sounds like fun to you, head over to Skydive DeLand, an immensely popular and world-renowned drop zone and training center located about halfway between Daytona Beach and Orlando. In 2011, about 91,000 jumps were made in DeLand.
People flock from all over the world to jump and train at Skydive DeLand. It's the skydive training capital of the world and boasts world-class facilities and a staff of experienced, top-rated instructors. Plus, Skydive DeLand is home to Skydive University (SDU), which offers intensive training programs to improve skills and safety.
If you're new to skydiving, Klingelhoefer recommends starting with tandem jumping. It's ideal for first-time jumpers, because it allows you to experience the thrill of parachuting without the training and knowledge necessary for solo jumps. This means you can try it without committing time and money to a training program. It's also a good choice for anyone looking for a one-day activity while on vacation.
During a tandem jump, you wear a harness attached to your instructor's parachute system. You jump together and free-fall for about 60 seconds before deploying the parachute. After your parachute opens, the ride down lasts about 5 minutes.
If you want the rush of jumping alone, you'll need to complete some training first. Accelerated free-fall (AFF) training, also for beginners, requires six hours of ground school before you can jump solo. The program also includes pre-jump training, seven advancement levels, and all necessary equipment.
Both AFF and tandem training methods were first developed in DeLand and are now practiced around the world, according to Tara Richards of Skydive DeLand.
And, if you're one of those who longs to skydive but is too scared to schedule your first jump, it's a lot safer than most realize. Only 21 people died of an estimated 3 million jumps in the U.S. in 2010, reports the United States Parachute Association, and the number of fatalities drops every year. In fact, you're almost 16 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than while skydiving, according to figures issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Everyone should try skydiving at least once, according to Klingelhoefer. "It will forever change the way you look at the sky," he says.
If You Go:
Skydive DeLand is open 365 days a year (weather permitting) and offers tandem and AFF training for beginners plus numerous training and jumping opportunities for more experienced skydivers. Jumpers must be over age 18.
In addition to skydiving, you can stock up on clothing, accessories, souvenirs, and equipment at the Drop Zone Gear Store. And, to round out your skydiving experience, grab a bite to eat with like-minded folks at the Perfect Spot restaurant and bar before you head home.
If you want to stick around for a few days, book a room at one of DeLand's charming hotels. Some offer discounts to skydivers. Make sure you set aside time to explore downtown DeLand's many independent restaurants, shops, and galleries. You'll also find several state parks, museums, and public golf courses within a 20-minute drive of Skydive DeLand.
1600 Flightline Blvd.
DeLand, FL 32724
P: (386) 738-3539