Divers' clothing flaps in the wind as they soar toward a patchwork of meadows, with forests spreading out in all directions and mountains looming on the horizon. Sometimes, as the wind rushes past their ears, they can look out and glimpse seven volcanoes in the distance. But before these jumps, Skydive! Toledo's instructors impart the necessary safety measures, touching on how to ensure a parachute has been maintained, how to land, and how to use a guidebook to ask birds for directions. After briefing visitors on the basics, expert jumpers help them learn the physics firsthand on tandem jumps and accelerated free-fall plunges from small Cessna aircraft. They also train first-time skydivers through the static-line program—a former military exercise now used to train sports parachutists toward licenses. From the strut of a single-engine Cessna plane, at an altitude of 3,000 feet, a student leaps into the air and falls for up to three seconds before a static line attached to the plane deploys a parachute and takes the guesswork out of pulling the ripcord.
You could stare at a postcard of Mt. Hood and the Cascade Mountain Range to get your northwest mountain fix, or you could get an up-close view from Skydive, Inc. The skydiving company pairs skydivers of every experience level with instructors who, after a brief lesson, transport them to thousands of feet in the air. On their parachuted adventure down, they'll take in the rugged peaks of the nearby mountains. Once they're back on solid ground, jumpers can check out the video of their adventure, complete with photobombs from local birds.
Jessie Farrington was jumping out of planes before she could even drive a car. That's what Mrs. Farrington—who owns Skydive Kapowsin alongside husband Geoffrey—told ThurstonTalk.com in 2013. "I was 15 when I first dove out, and I was afraid, flat out afraid.”
But nerves couldn't silence a passion for skydiving that runs deep into the roots of the Farrington family tree, whose branches sag with the weight of dangling parachute packs. Jessie's father opened Skydive Kapowsin in 1971, and now her son Andy and nephew Luke help out as instructors—at least when they're not touring as members of the Red Bull Air Force team or diving alongside Jessie and Geoffrey in major motion pictures such as
Iron Man 3.
At Skydive Kapowsin's Jump Center, the Farringtons train the future stars of the skydiving world. A walk through this massive facility reveals classrooms, a rigging room, and a media room. Here and in the air, instructors guide students as they work through an AFF program's 25 jumps—a process that takes a person from novice to solo skydiver. The aptly named Jumper's Cafe serves up sandwiches between these lessons, while a licensed massage therapist works onsite to ease any pre-jump jitters.
It doesn't take weeks inside the Jump Center to feel the rush of skydiving, however. All that's required is 15 minutes of training and a tandem jump from the belly of a twin turbine plane. From an altitude of 13,000 feet, experts escort adventurers on an intense free-fall through a panorama of the Washington landscape—from the South Sound to Mt. Ranier—and birds-eye views of ground squirrels' holes.
Under the giant canopy of a parachute, parasailors take to the sky over Ruston Way suspended in swing harnesses. Peacefully flying through the open air, rides take off from the RAM Restaurant on beautiful Commence Bay. Up to three can fly together at an altitude that can reach higher than the Seattle Space Needle, and kids 4–10 fly free with an adult. Flyers can also rest easy as they enjoy the fantastic views, as the boat is piloted by a highly-trained and USCG-licensed captain and crew member who ensure flyers safely reach maximum altitudes.
With 160 mph winds pressing against your face and no parachute attached to your back, a bit of adrenaline is to be expected. Fortunately at iFly there's an instructor standing just feet away. In their 45-foot vertical wind tunnels, the output of a massive fan combines with a winged flight suit to simulate superhero-style flight in 60-second bursts.