In a small plane climbing quickly to 12,500 feet, 20 skydivers are packed like sardines, waiting to jump.
At Skydive Perris in Perris, California, this is one of many planes to take off today, packed with professional skydivers and first-timers looking for a thrill.
Divers line up to board a plane at Skydive Perris. (Bill Lancz/Marketplace)
Skydive Perris is a destination for skydivers: it’s one of the largest skydiving facilities in the country, one of only two with a wind tunnel. The facility operates seven of its own planes, runs it own tiny airport and is home to a well-known skydiving school. On the ground, there is a pool, a restaurant and a bar (no drinks before jumping, only after).
The Redbull is flowing freely, and Perris is full of skydivers wearing brightly colored flight suits and heavy parachute packs. Seasoned pros land at high speeds, chutes flapping behind them, and sprint in to swap packs and hop on the next plane. Behind them come first-time jumpers, legs still wobbling a little from fear or adrenaline, beaming and hardly able to speak.
Even in the summer, Skydive Perris’ low season, you might see 80 first-time jumpers on a weekend day. Full-time skydivers frequent the facility too, paying $26 per jump once they have their own equipment, a steep discount from a $199 first-time tandem jump.
“We are a recreational facility the same way a ski slope would be … a tennis club, a golf course,” Skydive Perris Manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld says. “There are people here from 18-85 years old, from every conceivable walk of life, every economic background, every different kind of job, every ethnicity — quite a wide range of people.”
Brodsky-Chenfeld has seen whole families come in to jump and even hosted a man jumping for his 100th birthday who came back for his 101st.
Keeping the busy facility running takes a lot of work. According to Brodsky-Chenfeld, “about 100 people earn their living at Skydive Perris.” That includes instructors, pilots, parachute riggers and a full-time maintenance crew for the planes. The restaurant, bar and wind tunnel have full-time staffs, and freelancers travel to Perris to teach lessons.
The business of adventure isn’t always lucrative. “You’re not necessarily going to buy a Mercedes or a mansion,” says pro diver and instructor Lawrence de Laubadere, “but, you’re going to be happy, and when you wake up, you’re happy and you get to make people happy.”
De Laubadere makes money teaching people to dive. He got hooked during college and has been with Perris for four years, ever since he left work at the United Nations for what was supposed to be a three-month skydiving vacation.
Wingsuit skydivers hang out the window of the plane preparing to perform a trick jump. Two divers will fly together, one on the other’s back, while a third diver films. (Bill Lancz/Marketplace)
Professional skydivers like de Laubadere make money doing demonstration dives, jumping into stadiums and for big events. They can also make money coaching, teaching new jumpers or, if they invest their own time and money, honing their skills to the point where they can instruct wingsuit skydivers and teach more skilled specialties.
Most of the instructors at Skydive Perris make $40 to $50 per jump. Most of them say it’s not really about the money — one wingsuit diver, a tourist from Iceland, says his goal is to make enough money teaching skydiving to support his own skydiving.
De Laubadere agrees. “The other day I jumped onto Santa Monica beach, and I got 200 bucks for it,” de Laubadere says, “and frankly, I would have paid 500 bucks to make that jump, because it was awesome.”
Repeat skydivers, whether or not they’re making their living jumping from planes, seem to be chasing something other than a thrill. The real reason so many of them keep jumping? Flight, freedom and the sense of complete focus and calm they feel right when they exit the plane.
Skydivers parachute down towards the landing strip at Skydive Perris. (Bill Lancz/Marketplace)
“People think that skydivers are just here for the adrenaline rush, but I’ve got over 26,000 jumps,” Brodsky-Chenfeld says. “If I still had the same adrenaline rush as I did on my first jump, I’d have had a heart attack by now. It’s not about that … you learn to fly … and it’s that sensation that we’re all in love with, and there’s nothing like that feeling at all.”
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