Falling Gators hooked on the thrill of skydiving
Published: Monday, January 31, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 12:30 a.m.
Hundreds of University of Florida students have taken the leap of faith at Skydive Palatka. The UF Falling Gators club offers members the chance to share their love of skydiving every weekend when they venture to their home drop zone at the Palatka airport.
The Falling Gators have been a Student Government organization since 1974, and members skydive every weekend and hold a general body meeting the first of every month.
This month, the group will meet Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Nuclear Science building, Room 227.
Watching the six power rangers skydive during the opening of the movie “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” inspired current Falling Gators club president Julia Loeb to begin skydiving.
Loeb, a UF senior, has now completed 123 dives and frequents Skydive Palatka, where she currently works, almost every weekend. Loeb has been involved in the sport for 2½ years and recommends it to everyone.
“It’s still awesome, but it’s not as ‘oh, my God’ crazy anymore,” Loeb said.
Those who jump for the first time almost always do a tandem dive, where they are strapped to a professional.
Tandem masters are required to have more than three years’ experience and 500 jumps to qualify.
“It’s actually a lot safer than you think it would be,” Loeb said.
Melissa Garcia, vice president of advertising for the club, said she always wanted to try skydiving and committed to the sport after seeing the Falling Gators tabling in 2008.
I kind of went through this phase where everything I wanted to do, I was going to go ahead and do,” Garcia said. “Before I knew it, I was getting ready to jump out of a plane.”
Garcia said she has now done more than 150 jumps.
“I knew that it was something I would probably like. I didn’t realize at the time that I was going to fall in love with the sport,” Garcia said.
When in the air, Garcia said, “It literally feels like you’re floating or flying,” Garcia said.
Garcia said one of her most exciting jumps was her 100th, which she did in a bikini.
“It’s tradition to go naked for your 100th, 500th and 1,000th jump,” said Garcia, “and I have too much dignity to be naked — so I figured I’d do a bathing suit jump.”
The club offers a course for beginners once a month, where club members brief those interested on the basics of the sport.
The first half of the meeting takes place on campus, where general procedures are covered. The second half takes place at the drop zone, where those interested can see the layout of the airport, the plane and where they will be landing.
Anyone who completes a tandem dive at Skydive Palatka can be a member of the club. The cost for a tandem jump is $175 for UF students. Preparation for a tandem jump requires a 10-minute safety video and briefing on procedures before boarding the plane.
Passengers then ride for about 15 minutes in the plane before making their jump at 13,500 feet.
“If you show up, we take care of everything. Just wear comfortable clothes and tennis shoes,” said Art Shafer, owner of Skydive Palatka.
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