Skydiving over Parksville Qualicum Beach

NEWS contributor Brenda Gough's first person account of her thrilling leap of faith.

Is it a bird

Ever wonder where the expression jumping for joy comes from?

The folks at Skydive Vancouver Island can show you.

Operating out of the Qualicum Beach Airport, the drop zone offers heart-pounding thrills and breathtaking scenery.

The new business has one of the closest drop zones in North America to the ocean (1.5 km) offering skydivers a feast for their eyes.

But spectacular views of the ocean, mountains, Sunshine Coast and Gulf Islands are only part of the experience.

Skydiving is one of the most exhilarating sports there is and this intrepid reporter earned her wings on May 28.

Just thinking about the day I did my first tandem free fall brings a smile to my face.

When owner Gord Gauvin suggested I should try skydiving before I interview him about his new business, I jumped at the chance… literally.

I am not exactly an adrenaline junky, but I have done my share of daring things… bungee jumping, white water rafting, zip-lining, scuba diving and extreme skiing.

I’m the one who wants to ride every roller coaster in the theme park over and over.

I like being able to say I have done things most people haven’t and being a reporter provides many opportunities to take a leap of faith.

Greeted by cheerful and happy people, the office was still under construction when I arrived, so I signed away my legal rights in the afternoon sun on the patio.

The paperwork is enough to make anyone second guess what they are about to do, but Gauvin’s partner Allison Cooney made the process easy and relaxing.

Chatting with clients wired after their jumps, I had no hesitation.

They were gushing about the rush of plummeting from thousands of feet in a free fall, and none of them were wounded, so any fear evaporated.

With Cooney leading the way, we strolled out to wait for the next parachutists to arrive, keeping track of them by radio.

Like clockwork we watched two cheering, first-time jumpers float down from the sky and gently hit the earth.

Back at the office I was introduced to Gauvin whose enthusiasm was instantly evident. He was patient, clear and reassuring while getting me geared up, making the process easy to understand.

He went over safety and how to position my body when jumping out and when landing. He repeated the main steps several times so I felt confident.

My videographer, Dennis Harker, aka “Hippie” with his huge smile and good nature, was eager to capture my adventure for posterity.

Taking the leap

The airplane is small and I sat on the floor squished up against my skydive master.

After a few minutes the fields below became small squares and I could almost reach out and touch Mount Arrowsmith.

Then the door opened and cold air rushed in noisily. Gauvin indicated I had to sit on his lap and then attached me to him with metal clips.

Wherever he was going, I was also going.

Barely a moment later, strapped to a person I’d just met, we shuffled backwards to the door.

I inched to the edge, stood on the strut and with my head tilted back my tandem partner said “ready set go.”

Geronimo… off I went with my legs tucked back, tumbling out of a plane at 3,000 metres) 10,000 feet, with frigid air assaulting me as I hurled through the air at 200 km per hour for half a minute.

Once the canopy opened my perspective went into slow motion.

As you glide softly and graciously through the air like a feather you can see the beautiful landscape below and everything is serene.

Suspended in space, Gauvin turned the canopy and my experience went from amazing to off the chart awesome.

The G-force thrill made me tingle from head to toe, it felt like my first kiss. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day but I was on cloud nine.

As we gently floated back to earth I knew my life was never going to be the same.

Skydiving brings business

Gauvin — who started skydiving 21 years ago — does about 400 a year and said Qualicum Beach is the perfect location.

“It is close to the ocean and has some of the best weather in Canada. There used to be a drop zone here back in the early 90s. Unfortunately the owner had a business on the Lower Mainland and couldn’t maintain it,” he said.

There is a drop zone in Campbell River and Victoria but he said having one in Qualicum Beach fills a void.

“We are the mid-Island representation. We are close to the ferries so people can come over from Vancouver and it is a chance to skydive over top of the ocean.”

He said the business will also help the local tourism industry by drawing even more visitors.

“We are adding some diversity to the tourism in Qualicum Beach. People will come up from Victoria and stay in a hotel and eat in the restaurants.”

He said they can’t operate year round but as long as the sky is clear there will be people jumping out of planes over Qualicum Beach.

The Parksville Qualicum Aero Club was instrumental in setting up the new venture and President Jim Hannibal said in the short period the drop zone has been operating the airport has already seen an economic boost.

“It has proven to be the success we thought it would be. Two jumpers bring 20 spectators. It has increased activity at the airport,” he said.

He added The Final Approach restaurant in the airport has seen more customers.

“The town wants to increase the amount of activity at the airport. Bringing people to the airport will also grow our membership.”

Skydive Vancouver Island is participating in the Qualicum Beach Air Show, July 11.

Some of their skilled jumpers will be showing off in the sky above the airport as well there will be a chance to win a free tandem skydive in a draw at the event.

For information e-mail: info@SkydiveVancouverIsland.com or call 250-580-5867.

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