Your stomach drops as the plane takes off and soon you are looking down at the trees, the birds and the clouds. Someone opens the door and you fall out of a plane 11,000 feet in the air, careening toward the ground at 120 mph, though it feels more like flying.
This experience is one Christopher Whitley said he found as an adrenaline junkie looking for a new high when he began skydiving in 1995.
Now an instructor for Jump Florida Skydiving, a small open-air facility just off Paul Buchman Highway in Plant City, he helps offer thrill-seekers the chance to experience this exclusive view.
“I love sharing it with peo- ple, I’m skydiving with new people every day,” Whitley said. “It’s just a wonderful way to live.”
For many people, the biggest deterrent is the height.
USF alumna Rachel Leder said she decided to try skydiving to tackle her fear of heights. Once she was back on the ground, Leder described her first expe- rience with skydiving as “fantastic,” but admitted watching other skydivers jump out of the plane was “a little scary.”
“It just seemed like a really fun way to overcome my fear,” Leder said.
"It's abstract when you get up there, it looks like you’re looking at a play set,” Whitley said. “When you’re 5 feet off the ground or 10 feet off the ground, you fall off a roof or something, it hurts. But when you’re up there and you have a plan and a parachute, the height doesn’t really bother you.”
Visitors are required to make an appointment over the phone or online prior to coming to the facility. At check-in they are given the option to purchase pictures and video of their experience and are then introduced to their instructor.
“We harness them up and we do a couple of gear checks throughout the day, then we train just briefly, then we get in the plane and go skydiving,” Whitley said.
Once in the plane, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to reach jump altitude. Depending on the plane, the ride up can be a tight squeeze.
Novice skydivers are hooked up to their instructors and then the door is opened.
Free fall typically lasts for about a minute. After the parachute opens, the skydiver can remain in the air for another five to seven minutes.
Under the parachute, divers can decide how long their ride will last. Whitley said divers who like roller coasters generally like to make a lot of loops, which speeds up decent.
Jump Florda Skydiving also offers novice skydivers the opportunity to jump alons with their seven-jump Accelerated free fall (AFF) Certification course. The course consists of three tandem jumps, a ground school course and four AFF jumps with an instructor. Once students pass the seven- jump course, they can jump by themselves and do coaching jumps to work toward their A License, which they receive after 25 jumps. Then students can work toward their B, C and D licenses.
After receiving their D License, which takes 500 jumps to complete, students are considered a certified professional skydiver. Certified skydivers can travel and jump wherever and whenever they want.
It can cost as little as $25 to jump out of an airplane after certification.
“You’re dying every day, you just gotta start living,” Whitley said. “And this is how we choose to live.”