We have learned two good ways to discover that recreational skydiving is very popular these days.
One is to Google “skydiving.” You’ll find 10s of millions of results. A research method closer to home would be to check out the Southwest Florida Skydive Club, up I-75 a ways in Punta Gorda.
It draws skydivers and their friends from all over this part of the state, including seniors and near-seniors who are finding a quick skydive to be a wonderful antidote for boredom, a desire for fresh air and maybe even restless leg syndrome. And that includes a goodly number of seniors.
“The oldest skydivers we’ve had here that I know of were two women, ages 90 and 91,” says Roy Torgeirson, the owner of the facility on Washington Loop Road in Punta Gorda.
“More common are seniors in their 70s and 80s. Many of them like to make their first dives to celebrate their birthdays. Some say they always wanted to do something exciting like this before they kick the bucket.”
Roy explains that first-timers and the older divers almost always go tandem with an experienced diver.
“The tandem jump is with an experienced, licensed jump master and we encourage that. You don’t learn to scuba dive or fly a plane by yourself. You don’t even learn to drive a car by yourself, so why would you want to jump by yourself at first?
“Free falling at 120 miles an hour looks easy on TV, but there’s a lot more to it, so you should know what you’re doing or be with someone who does.
“The dive experience is in three parts: the plane ride up, the jumping out of the plane and free-fall, then the ‘canopy’ flight.” Oh, and then there’s the landing.
“It’s done over land and about 75 percent of the divers land on their feet. And we land right here at the airport, so your friends can watch.”
When we asked Roy whether it’s scary at first, he referred to the web side Skydiveswflorida.com.
“Of course it’s scary. It’s not every day you jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Only insane people aren’t scared.”
What does free-fall feel like?
“It’s a sense of weightlessness and wind, but no sense of falling or speed. You won’t leave your stomach behind like on a roller coaster. It will feel like you’re floating in your backyard swimming pool, but with a lot of wind hitting you.”
One of skydiving’s biggest fans on Marco is Bill Pagoni, a fifty-something former policeman, who says, laughingly, that he went the first time to the Punta Gorda facility to make his fiancee, Nina Lane’s son, stop badgering him and “shut up about it.”
Bill goes often now, solo, which he is licensed and qualified to do as a jump school graduate.
“However,” Bill says with emphasis, “Skydiving can be for anybody. If you go tandem you’re basically a passenger along for the ride. The scariest part for a beginner is jumping out of the plane. That takes a lot of nerve.”
Bill says he often sees elderly adventurers at Southwest Skydive and he is happy to see it.
“Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you can’t do anything anymore. President Bush (41) was an inspiration. No matter how old I get, I don’t want my age to stop me. You don’t want to give up.”
If you’re not convinced about the popularity of skydiving, we did notice that, as we said earlier, a Google search of “skydiving” produce tons of hits, a lot more than “skipping,” and we know how dangerous skipping can be.
Maybe skipping would get more popular if always done in tandem. Strapped together. Holding hands.
Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Don is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and a former news anchor for CNN and ABC-TV, in Atlanta. His Farmer File column appears Fridays in the Naples Daily News. Email: email@example.com.