14,000 Feet of Freedom: Skydiving Above Lake Okeechobee
By Terry Gibson
Because of our typically calm, sunny and stable weather, skydivers flock to southern Florida. Many times while driving through the Everglades, my wife, Teresa, and I have craned our necks up to watch the colorful parachutes descend gracefully back to earth.
We’d talked plenty about jumping together. Finally, on a crisp, clear day, we pulled the proverbial ripcord on our first Palm Beach skydiving adventure, along the southeastern shores of glorious Lake Okeechobee.
We arrived at the Palm Beach County Glades Airport in Pahokee a little before 3 p.m., in plenty of time for the briefing, and in time to watch Meisha Gaines-Washington and her daughter, Roneisha, jump ahead of us. They were celebrating her 25th birthday.
Staring up into the bluebird sky, we caught a glimpse of Meisha and Roneisha free-falling, then heard the cracks of their parachutes opening. They belted out a chorus of gleeful screams and giggles, before landing gently in the grass.
Teresa was so amped she paced the tarmac in her leopard-print jump boots. I’d posted what we were about to do on Facebook, and my friend Heather commented that, “I don’t think ‘ladies first’ applies here.” Yeah, right. Teresa couldn’t get in and out of that plane fast enough. No way she was letting me go first.
The pilot lifted off, heading south/southwest and climbed to 14,000 feet. What a view!
Growing up, I fished a lot on the lake, and spent my first three years out of college teaching in nearby Belle Glade. It had been 15 years or so since I’d seen the lake and the immensity of the verdant Everglades Agricultural Area from the sky.
The view is absolutely stunning. On the clearest of days, you can see the Gulf of Mexico to the west, the “Big O” below, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
Teresa backed up to her instructor and he clipped their harnesses together. There was no hesitation in Teresa, and I’m pretty sure she about dragged the instructor out the door. To be honest, I was more than a little anxious. But my own instructor rocked me forward, tapped me on the shoulder, and suddenly, we were flying.
That's it -- freefalling does not feel so much like falling as flying. The ground is very far away and you maneuver bird-like through the sky. It’s a feeling so exhilarating that the very word fails, miserably, at communicating the awesomeness of this sport.
It was so peaceful there aloft, above such incredible beauty. Matt taught me how to steer, and we made several 360-degree turns to absorb the lake and the fertile landscape below us.
Then, softly, we touched down.
Skydiving Operations around Lake Okeechobee
Simply because they had an opening short-notice and it’s closer to our home on the Treasure Coast, we jumped with Skydive Palm Beach, in Pahokee.
This airport is about an hour from Stuart or West Palm Beach, about two hours from Fort Lauderdale, and about 2.5 hours from Miami. This Palm Beach skydiving provider primarily offer tandem jumps, but inquire about private instruction.
We have many friends who have had awesome experiences with Skydive Spaceland, in Clewiston, which is only about 20 minutes farther a drive if you’re driving from West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale or Miami. C
Clewiston is only about 45 minutes from Fort Myers, on the Gulf Coast. There are better accommodations in Clewiston if you choose to spend the night, jump multiple days, or enjoy fishing, wildlife watching or airboating on Lake Okeechobee.
Libations, Food and Accommodations
If jumping out of Pahokee on your Palm Beach skydiving trip, celebrate your chute opening at Pahokee Mo’s Tiki Bar and Sunset Grill. They offer excellent drinks and food at the best spot to see the sunset over the “Big O.” It’s part of the City of Pahokee’s Campground & Marina.
If jumping out of Clewiston, check out Scotty’s Tiki Bar at the Roland and Mary Ann Martin Marina. The bar service and drinks are excellent. The Gallery Restaurant on site serves great burgers, gator tail and seafood. The marina offers a wide variety of nice accommodations if you choose to stay the night. If you’re hankering for a margarita, and great Mexican food, check out the Sunrise Restaurant.