The sun was glimmering off the ocean below and I felt a warm breeze on my face. As I turned for final approach I scanned the beach below for hazards. There are certainly no lack on them; a volleyball net, palapas, rocks, palm trees, buildings, pools and beach goers paying no attention to us flying above.
I finally got to do my first beach jump, which has been on my list of goals for a long time. As luck would have it, it also happened in Mexico, which was a beautiful backdrop for this experience. Although striking, it was stressful, as the beach was small and packed with things to avoid. The feeling of flying beside massive buildings on one side and crashing waves on the other is something I will not soon forget. As was the rush of sound in my ears while speeding by people on the beach to land softly in the sand (we will pretend to forget the landing where I tripped in the sand and face planted).
A lot went into making this jump happen from getting my gear to Mexico to the final beach landing:
The journey started by getting my gear to Mexico. Skydiving rigs can be taken as carry-ons and most skydivers prefer this, as it eliminates the possibility of having thousands of dollar’s worth of equipment lost or damaged. While we can carry on ours rigs, we still need the proper documentation to do it. Even with that a security person can inspect or refuse the equipment. I decided to purchase a special designed bag (RigSleeve) to put my rig into that protects all the important cords and handles while still allowing it to be easily moved like a backpack.
Once we settled into our hotel and enjoyed the beach, we took a 20 minute taxi ride to Skydive Vallarta. Skydive Vallarta takes-off from the international airport, but drops skydivers over the beach closest to their dropzone office. If you have visited a dropzone before or done a tandem, you know this is fairly unusual. In most cases everything from take-off to landing happens in one location. We looked at a map of the beach and the staff walked us through where we would land. I was given a call, so I put my rig and gear in the dropzone’s truck and waited for them to round up all the tandem students.
The international airport can get busy and becomes difficult to drive in without spending lots of time in traffic. To avoid this the dropzone’s van pulls into a driveway outside the airport. All jumpers and tandem students grab their gear and walk to the international airport.
To avoid hold ups in security skydivers enter through the private pilot entrance and use that security machine. This involves dropping skydiving gear on a table, walking through a scanner and picking up your gear on the other side. Once cleared by security you walk out onto the tarmac and gear up under an awning. This whole process goes surprisingly fast and is pretty slick after a few years of practice by the dropzone staff.
We walked to the plane as usual and taxed to the runway. It is an interesting experience sitting in the plane, in a que of jets waiting for our turn to take off. It makes you feel rather dwarfed in comparison to the huge planes taking tourists across the world. We were in the air and on our way to altitude before I knew it.
The regular jumpers and staff pointed out the landing area on our first pass by the dropzone. The landing area is a stretch of beach, so jumpers have only two directions to land in. Either towards the river or away from it, which dictates the landing pattern. We would not be determining our landing pattern based off of a wind sock here. We simply had a large arrow in the sand telling us which way to land. Although this means possible cross wind landings, it eliminates the danger of someone landing the wrong way in the small available space.
We were out of the plane and flying to the beach. I was pretty pumped to land in the right direction, avoid all the hazards and land relatively softly. It was also a unique experience to have such an “audience” on the beach. The beach is lined by hotels, so at times there is a big crowd of people watching you land – something out of the ordinary.
I did, however, manage to catch my heal on the door of the plane on another jump and tumble away from the group I was jumping with. On another occasion I tripped in the sand on landing and fell on my face, but hey, what an experience!
After chatting and answering some skydiving questions, we made the walk back to the office. I learned how to shake sand out of my parachute before packing it up. We celebrated a day well spent watching the sunset with drinks on the beach.