Leap Of Faith

No matter how nervous a first-time skydiver is, MidWeek’s intrepid reporter learns, a grin always accompanies the landing

Friday - July 08, 2005
By Kerry Miller
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Before they make their first jump with his SkyDive Hawaii, says Frank Hinshaw with a laugh, “Nobody calls Mom.”

But one of the things first-time skydivers do shortly after they land safely, he says, is whip out their cell phones and — wearing a smile as big as a Mac truck — call Mom, Dad or a close friend to tell them they’ve just jumped from a plane at 10,000 feet.

“The experience is something they thought they’d never do,” says Hinshaw. “They expand their envelope.”

While your nerves may get the best of you on the plane ride up or even just before your instructor yells, “GO!” and you leap into hurricane force winds, a skydiving trip quickly settles into a peaceful five-minute float where all you have to do is take in the beauty of the breathtaking scenery below you.

Jumping with SkyDive Hawaii, as MidWeek discovered last Thursday morning, the view includes clear bluegreen waters, mountains, trees and other unique elements of Hawaii’s landscape. The warm air temperature also makes for a comfortable ride, which Hinshaw and SkyDive Instructor Shaun Dunn say sets skydiving in Hawaii apart from anywhere on the Mainland because not only is the air warmer, there’s nowhere else to jump with such a spectacular view.

The author in flight with instructor
Shaun Dunn

“We’re blessed with the most beautiful place to go skydiving,” Dunn attests.

No matter where you take your first jump, it is never alone. At any skydiving location, including local companies SkyDive, Pacific Skydiving and Drop Zone, you are literally strapped to an experienced instructor. Before taking flight, jumpers are fitted with a harness, which resembles a backpack with wide shoulder straps and bottom straps that you step into. They are then introduced to their instructor, with whom they make a tandem jump. SkyDive takes four to five tandem instructor/guest teams in a given flight. Once all have boarded the plane, it’s only a few short minutes before the aircraft reaches it’s altitude of 10,000- 14,000 feet over its Dillingham Airfield home base. During this time, Hinshaw explains, “it’s the instructor’s job to put you at ease.”

Having jumped about 8,000 times over the past 10 years, Dunn is good at relaxing people before they go for the first time. Besides engaging jumpers in “light conversation,” Dunn tells them simply to remember three things: cross their arms over their chest, keep legs bent back and together and lean their head back. Once airborne, he lets jumpers know when they can let go of their harness, spread their arms out and look forward to enjoy the view. In midjump, he enjoys asking first-timers if they’d like to “hear the silence go loud.” Dunn pulls back on the parachute, causing himself and the other jumper to float into a space where they cannot hear the wind and hang for a moment in complete silence. His last words of advice are to put your feet together in front of you and lift them up high, in order to ensure a safe landing.

“When you land,” he says, “you’ve got a feeling of exhilaration. You’re excited about life.”

Northern California residents Mandy Gascoigne, Jeremy Ault and Nicole Oettinger felt this same excitement after finishing their jumps last week at SkyDive. Gascoigne says, “It’s the best

thing I’ve ever done in my life,” while Ault adds, “It’s better than any roller coaster.” Skydiving student Brian Young is also very enthusiastic about the sport. Young is 10 jumps away from being able to go on his own.

For those like Young who want to learn to fly solo, SkyDive offers a program to learn how. The training includes how to exit the plane properly, stabilizing yourself during the jump, arching your body and, most importantly, Young says, remembering to pull the rip cord.

With the beauty of the North Shore far
below, the parachute deploys

“The training is 90 percent safety and 10 percent how to relax and enjoy it,” he explains.

Before going on your adventure, SkyDive has participants sign an important waiver and watch an educational video so that customers are completely informed of the potential dangers of what they are about to do. People have been seriously injured and even died from attempting this.

But Hinshaw assures that with all the educational training and licensing SkyDive staff members go through, statistically speaking, “skydiving is safer than driving a car.”

The author comes in for a safe
landing, and the grin that follows

“The equipment has gone through several generations of changes,” he adds.

Parachute packers, or “riggers” as they are also called, are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to properly pack all parachutes used by both instructors and guests who are able to fly solo. Both reserve and main parachutes are inspected regularly, as well as the closing pins on every rip cord.

The C-208 airplanes SkyDive uses are equipped with a turbine engine, which is more like a jet engine and has less moving parts than an older reciprocator engine.

SkyDive Hawaii is located at Dillingham Airfield. Drop Zone and Pacific Skydiving companies are also located at the airfield.

Established in 1988, SkyDive is the oldest and largest company on Oahu, and it jumps about 30-40 people per day.

Reservations are optional and walk-ins are always welcome. For more information about SkyDive or for rate information, call 637-9700 or visit the company’s website at www.hawaiiskydive.com.

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