Thousands of miles above land, the wind's howl was deafening.
As it whipped through the open doors of a plane in May 2010, Alyssa Kraatz watched the ground slowly shift farther and farther away. There was no turning back at this point, and as she peered downward at the fields she just took off from she braced herself to exit the plane. Though her heart was racing and her stomach was in knots, the rules made it clear that her only option was to jump.
Two years later, Kraatz, a junior business management major, is the president of the UB Skydiving Club – the very group that enabled her to jump out of a plane for the very first time that spring day. The idea for the Skydiving Club formed earlier in 2010, and by the end of that year, the members' efforts to make it an official SA organization finally paid off. Kraatz and the club went on their first trip in early May to the Poconos in Pennsylvania.
People have many misconceptions about how it actually feels to skydive, according to Kraatz.
"[When freefalling,] people think that you get sick to your stomach or you can't breathe, but because you're going so fast in the plane already, you don't feel it in your stomach – you're just changing directions," Kraatz said.
Though the act of falling itself is painless, Kraatz claims the most discomfort she experienced was post-landing.
"When we landed I actually couldn't hear anything, and my ears hurt really bad," Kraatz said. "Everyone that I asked said that it happens to some people, and they just get used to it. It was better the second time."
There are some risks to skydiving, including landing injuries, equipment failure, and in rare cases, fatality, according to Safeskydiving.com. However, most of these dangers can be avoided by adequate training and by taking necessary safety precautions.
Though some people may question the sanity of those who skydive due to the risks, club Vice President Christopher Kotei, a sophomore aerospace and mechanical engineering major, sees diving as a relatively grounding experience.
"I cannot put into words what it feels like to skydive…[it is] a life-changing experience," Kotei said. "The beauty of the earth while in free fall or canopy flight makes you appreciate life."
The club operates through a nearby skydiving center named Frontier Skydivers, which is open for business May through October and offers deals to club members.
It offers dives that take around eight minutes, and assure new divers that in the unlikely event that the parachute doesn't open, there is one on reserve.
Since Frontier Skydivers is closed most of the school year, the Skydiving Club does not jump year-round. However, the members meet every Monday in the off-season to learn about and prepare for the act of skydiving. In addition to learning the basics, the club engages in fundraisers to boost awareness and earn money for their dives at the same time.
"This semester we're going to try to give the members the money that they raise [through fundraising]," Kraatz said. "So say they sold $50 in raffle tickets, it'd be $50 off their jump when they're ready to go."
These raffles are especially helpful, because the price of skydiving can be steep (around $200 without videotaping the jump). The proceeds enable the members to dive more frequently and with more financial ease.
Skeptics may argue that skydiving is too extreme of a hobby for them, and that there are plenty of other activities that could satisfy one's appetite for the extraordinary. But in reality, there are people who are drawn to skydiving not only for the pure adrenaline-packed thrill, but because it is not an activity that people can simply do on any given day, in any given place. In other words, it is a break from the routine.
"It takes me out of my usual structured life," Kotei said. "It is very fast paced and exciting."
Looking forward, Kraatz plans on pursuing a license to skydive without a professional, and is going to be training over the summer to attain it. This is different from tandem jumping because instead of the professional controlling the direction, Kraatz will be completely in charge. The steering and spinning will be in her hands, giving her the opportunity to make the most of every dive.
Kotei plans on using his position as vice president to help share his positive experiences with others, and he wants to inspire people to give skydiving a try.
"Growing up, I had inspirations of being a fighter pilot," Kotei said. "I saw skydiving as way to get closer to that fantasy of mine. Once I found out UB had a skydiving club, I joined it so they could assist me in crossing skydiving off my bucket list."
Though some students may find this pastime too extreme for their tastes, the members of UB Skydiving have the opportunity to cross something off their bucket list, one jump at a time.