Skydive Salt Lake: Taking the Plunge from 13,000 Feet

I have always wanted to fly.

As a child, my favorite ride at Lagoon was the swings. Connected to the rotating motor, the swings would rise up in the wind, and the smooth motion would make you forget you were strapped into a rubber seat.

I would close my eyes and hope that when I opened them, I would be flying over the amusement park, completely free of any restraints. It never quite worked out the way I dreamed.

However, last Saturday, I got about as close to flying as I ever will?I fell.

I fell 13,000 feet. I fell at 125 miles per hour for almost a minute before I opened the parachute that helped me glide down to the barren field below.

And when I landed, my legs twitched, affected by the influx of adrenaline. My eyes were wide, and a large smile spread across my face. It felt exactly like I expected it to. It was freedom.

This is a feeling University of Utah student Trent Booker has felt more than 900 times.

“It is a real sense of freedom, and when you come out to the drop zone, it is like stepping into a whole new world?everything else is left behind,” said Booker, who is the owner of Skydive Salt Lake and a junior studying psychology.

Booker first skydived in 1992, while on a date.

At the beginning, he was scared.

“Scared to death is a good way to put it,” he said.

But then the door opened, and he looked over the edge. His fear was replaced by excitement as he took the plunge. He was instantly hooked. On his 36th birthday, Booker made 36 jumps in less than six hours.

Now his company allows more than 1,000 first-time divers each year?including Chronicle Photographer Chris Lewis and myself?to feel that unique rush.

“It is almost a celebration of life,” Booker said.

Steve Osborne would second that.

Osborne has completed more than 3,500 jumps in his 32 years as a skydiver.

What started as an interesting weekend activity when he was at Old Dominion University turned into a weekend obsession.

Now Osborne tries to fit in fun jumps in between working with newcomers.

He is what skydiving aficionados call a tandem master. Osborne straps himself onto the back of first time divers and leads them through the experience.

On the way up in Skydive Salt Lake’s 15-passenger Cessna Caravan (Booker calls it a jet engine with a propeller), Osborne cracks bad jokes about Gilligan’s Island and the rural South.

He knows the first jump is a scary experience for most people, so he tries to put them at ease. However, he doesn’t trivialize what they are doing.

“It is not an amusement-park ride. It is a hazardous activity,” he tells a group of guys getting ready for their first skydive.

He walks them through the arch position, which allows the diver to become stabilized during the free fall. He shows them how to pull the rip cord and tells them one of skydiving’s most time-honored traditions.

“If you let go of the cord in the air, you will buy us a case of our favorite beverage,” he said, only half-joking.

After the five-minute lesson, he helped me strap on a jump suit, fitted me with a nice helmet (it was probably all the rage in the ’80s) and a pair of worn-down gloves.

Everyone who knew I would be jumping expected me to get scared, but in all actuality, there was little time to think about it.

Skydive Salt Lake gets so busy that the plane never shuts down. It picks up 15 divers, flies over the Tooele Airport and returns to pick up the next group every 20 minutes.

Booker calls them “hot flights.” Experienced jumpers know that when he leans out of the trailer and shouts out a flurry of names, they only have a few minutes to get their chute and gear ready.

I was the only newcomer in the group. Most were experienced guys who were going to perform a “relative jump”? where multiple divers jump at the same time and form geometrical shapes in the air.

I guess even jumping out of a plane becomes routine after a while, so you have to shake it up a bit.

Once all of the experienced jumpers were airborne, Osborne moved me into position.

My feet stuck over the edge of the open door, and I could see the mineral deposits from the Great Salt Lake shine in pastel pinks and purples. He counted down, and then we leapt in unison.

I expected to be afraid, but when it came down to it, I wasn’t. I was just trying to think about that arch position and how I didn’t want to buy Osborne a case of Budweiser.

The wind blew my face back, and I clenched my teeth. I watched the altimeter strapped to my chest. Starting at a distance of 13,000 feet, we fell rapidly?10,000, 9,000, 8,000?when it hit 5,000 feet, Osborne signaled me to pull the rip cord, which yanked us into a vertical position as we floated down.

Floated is probably the wrong term. Taking turns with a parachute throws your body into a spin that generates some serious G-forces.

The air pressure made my ears pound, but I hardly noticed during the dive. I focused on watching the approaching ground and taking in the sights from such a unique position.

Osborne and I skidded into our landing, and I sat on the dirt exasperated?probably feeling exactly what Booker did on his first jump.

I left Skydive Salt Lake thinking the swings at Lagoon will never be exciting again.

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