Life changed after that jump…. I’d suddenly stepped to the highest level of daring, a level above even that which airplane pilots could attain. — Charles Lindbergh

That quote about skydiving caught my eye. Perhaps skydiving would be my birthday-present answer for Uncle Max. The man has nearly everything, but as far as I know he’s never jumped out of a plane. But daring and adrenaline rush are right down his alley. So I made a few calls.

“We specialize in tandem skydiving,” says Andy Rowell, owner of Pacific Coast Skydiving (619-661-0194). “You jump out of the plane with an instructor, tandem. You are attached to the front of the parachute; the instructor wears a backpack or harness. You free-fall for 45 seconds, and then the instructor pulls the ripcord, the parachute opens up, and you float the parachute down from there. The view is the nicest, right over Imperial Beach — the waves right below you, the surfers, the pier…” Pacific Coast’s airplane, a Cessna 206, takes off from Brown Field.

I had heard about skyboarding and could imagine Uncle Max, an old surfer who’d once lived in the South Pacific for the waves, wanting to give that a try. “With skyboarding — or the wing suits, which are the squirrel suits you see guys flying in — they are disciplines of skydiving,” says Andy. “It’s like with pilots: there are pilots and then there are jet-fighter pilots. You have to be a pilot to be a fighter pilot. The usual recommendation is to have at least 500 jumps before getting into skyboarding or wingsuits or any of the disciplines of skydiving.”

Well, Uncle Max will love skydiving, but I’m not sure he has enough time left for 500 jumps. Speaking of which, I asked Andy if Uncle Max’s age of 64 would be a problem.

“The oldest gal I’ve taken was 98 years old,” Andy replied.

Other restrictions?

“If you are paralyzed, we can’t do it. We don’t have the harness systems. People that have special needs need to let us know.” All jumpers must sign a waiver before skydiving.

Pacific Coast Skydiving flies seven days a week. Prices for tandem jumping are $179 on Monday, $189 Tuesday through Friday, and $199 on the weekend.

“For the tandem jumps,” says a representative at Skydiving San Diego in Jamul (619-216-8416), “you come in, fill out a waiver, watch a waiver video — it takes about ten minutes — then you get trained for about ten minutes. You tandem with any of our instructors, who are all licensed skydivers. You are in free fall for about a minute, and then you are on your parachute for about five to seven minutes, depending on how many twists and turns you do. You see downtown and the ocean, and to the east we have these epic mountains…. I have over 1100 jumps, and I still get excited and pumped every time I jump.”

Skydiving San Diego has two airplanes: a Twin Otter that seats 23 people and a Cessna Caravan with seating for 12. Tandem skydiving is $209 ($20 off if you pay cash).

For the dedicated, there is a licensing program. “The accelerated free-fall course is what you want to do if you want to get solo certified. It is seven levels. Once you’ve completed all of it successfully, then you are solo certified, meaning you can jump without an instructor. You can’t jump with anybody until you get your A license, which is at least 25 jumps. The whole program itself runs about $1500. After you’re certified, then skydiving costs only $50 for gear rental and a lift.”

Skydiving San Diego offers videos of your jump. “We have two different video options: the basic is where the instructor is attached to you and has a camera attached to their wrist and videos your face in free fall the whole time. The deluxe is where you have somebody else jumping with you who takes video and still photos. The basic is $59, and the deluxe is $99.”

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My first jump was not a tandem jump, but a jump from about 3,500 with a static line. It was an old canopy chute. The place was called “Borderland Air Sports Center” out at Otay Lakes. The cost was $50. A few jumps later and I was free falling.

I can’t imagine a tandem jump as it just could not furnish the same adrenaline rush and thrill as (the mixed fear and excitement) of jumping unassisted.

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