Take a Flying Leap

David Malta, with the aid of tandem instructor Mike Murphy, got to take the reins of the parachute, controlling some of the action during his descent.

As a welder, Tasha Buckner was used to seeing sparks fly. But there’s nothing like hurtling 120 miles per hour toward the earth — with nothing to lean on but training, experience, and a carefully packed parachute rig — that sparks her to dive out of an airplane again and again. And again …

“Skydiving’s like that in-the-moment thing,” said Buckner, who was a welder before a career change to skydiving 12 years ago. She started out packing parachutes and working as a rigger at landing zones around the country before becoming a tandem skydiving instructor at Cadence Sky Sports in Franklinton. Buckner is one of only about 40 women tandem instructors in the United States — and three of them are at Cadence.

Certified skydiver Jorge Chacon is all smiles while packing a chute in preparation for his next jump. Photo by Carey Johnson.

“When you’re diving, nothing else matters,” said Buckner. “Like, anything in your personal life doesn’t matter because all you gotta do is skydive. You can be sad about something else, but when you’re jumping out of that plane you’re not thinking about it because you’re in that realm for a little bit and making sure you can save your life.”

Raleigh resident Scott Simmons expected Cadence Sky Sports to be the place where he and fiancée Amy Pauline could say they began their life together. Scott talked Amy into skydiving, and he planned to pop the question right after they got to the ground.

Unfortunately, those plans had to be scrapped, and he settled for a more traditional proposal. Still, the itch to jump out of a plane remained. So, in mid-January, they headed to Cadence to scratch that itch.

“I would definitely do it again, 100%,” Simmons said shortly after the pair executed tandem jumps they say they will remember for a lifetime. “Coming here, I did not think I would want to do it again. I was like, ‘This would be one and done.’ But I’d do it again. I can see why these guys do it a lot. I can see where the thrill is. There’s nothing quite like it.”

“If I had another friend who wanted to skydive and needed someone to go with them, I’d be like, ‘Yeah. Let’s do it!’” Pauline said.

It was sort of the business model Joshua Lukes was going for with Cadence Sky Sports. The operation at their landing zone along NC 56, between Louisburg and Franklinton, promotes the opportunity to “experience the rush” while falling from up to 13,500 feet — at 120 miles per hour. They offer tandem skydiving, where divers are fitted into a harness and strapped to an instructor, providing the exhilaration of flying through the air without the responsibility of popping or controlling the chute.

Skydiver Stephanie Kuhr after her most recent jump at Cadence Sky Sports in Franklinton. Photo by Carey Johnson.

They also have a variety of video packages for folks who want to capture the experience — generally a smart idea when that first jump can overload the senses.

“Most people who go up on a tandem for the first time, the adrenaline dump is just so much that time basically compresses,” said Lukes. “Sixty seconds feels like 10 seconds, and they don’t remember because they’re so overloaded. It’s why we recommend video packages so they can relive it from the comfort of their own home.”

Annually, Cadence performs about 2,500 to 3,000 tandem jumps. And, save for two weeks in December, the landing zone and skydiving operation is open year-round. It affords Cadence the chance to serve people whenever the skies call their names.

“We see all different sorts of people,” said Lukes. “We get doctors, lawyers, construction workers. Everybody wants to have that experience.”

Wife and husband Sheria and Marcus Barrett were split on the actual jumping, but they jointly enjoyed the experience. Sheria said jumping out of a plane was a “bucket list” item for her and she had been thinking about it for at least a decade.

“I am a daredevil, so I like to check things off my bucket list,” said Sheria. “I wanted to do it when I turned 30, but the weather was bad and I wasn’t able to do it, so I said, ‘I still need to get out there.’”

She jumped on the same morning that Simmons and Pauline did. Marcus said he’s a bit more conservative and didn’t jump. However, he said he felt like Sheria was taking him up there with her.

“I kind of live vicariously through her,” Marcus said. “She’s really big on moments, and this is a moment she can cherish and look back on and say that she did it. She’s really big on overcoming a lot of her fears, and this is another one of those things that she can add to that list. I’m actually proud of her that she’s jumping.”

Anthony Cannizzaro, in front, prepares to make his jump with the aid of tandem instructor Greg Upper.

Cadence offers more than tandem skydiving opportunities. They also offer the course work and training necessary for folks to earn a skydiving license.

Jorge Chacon, who has been doing accelerated freefall tandem instruction for almost a decade, has used that experience to help others develop a love for skydiving. If he’s got a newbie who is a bit nervous, he tries to coax them out of their shell so they can enjoy the experience. If he’s got someone who is already gung-ho, he feeds into it. “It really just depends on the person,” he said.

One of those persons happened to be his mother, who got him interested in skydiving to begin with. “My mom was from Ecuador, and she was in the first group of women paratroopers in Ecuador,” Chacon said. “So growing up I always knew about skydiving. One of the main reasons I got my instructor rating was to take my mom. So I’ve taken my mom on tandem. It’s a huge deal because she hadn’t jumped since back in the ’70s. So, when I took her up, she really relived that, her younger days. It made me feel good.”

Making as many jumps as he can makes Mike Hollister feel good, too. The Knightdale resident has been skydiving since 2000 and, probably like a lot of folks, attributes the movie Point Break to his interest in skydiving.

He got his license in 2002, when Cadence operated under the name Triangle Skydiving Center, and has been using crisp clouds and blue skies as the backdrop to his real life ever since.

Justice White smiles for the camera along with her tandem instructor, Greg Upper. Cadence Sky Sports offers a variety of video and photo packages.

“It’s really intense for the first minute,” said Hollister. “You’re flying at 120 miles per hour and then, after you pull your chute, it’s quiet. It’s peaceful.”

At the same time, it’s an adrenaline rush and a type of high. Hollister said whether it’s the first jump or your 800th, that high never goes away.

“Your adrenaline’s going every single time,” he said. “There’s no way to avoid that. There might be someone with like 50,000 jumps under their belt who can read a book on the way down, but I think for 99% of us, it’s like that rush every time. You get that rush of adrenaline. Your heart’s going. You’re falling toward the earth at 120 miles per hour. There’s really not much way around it.”

Visit Cadence Sky Sports at triangleskydiving.com or find them on Facebook.

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