“Are you ready?”
The plane door whips open and I’m smacked with a rush of cold air. I’m about to jump out of it.
My mind is blank as I’m shuffled towards the door by the man strapped to my back. Before I can comprehend what’s about to happen, I swing my legs through the opening and get suctioned out, spiralling twice then free-falling toward a mosaic of green and blue.
I think about the instructions I was given and I keep my body arched as though my life depends on it. Because it kind of does.
It takes a second, but I eventually begin to loosen up. The rush of air fills my face and I imagine I resemble a dog sticking its head out a car window. I look around. It’s breathtaking - quite literally my breath is taken away by the force of my body plummeting.
And then it’s over.
In one swift move, the instructor releases the parachute and everything goes silent. The Collingwood Terminals stick out like a piece of Lego, and the golden crescent of Wasaga Beach stretches into the distance. I’m floating, or maybe swinging, suspended in mid-air with all of South Georgian Bay at my feet.
“And then I was hooked.”
It’s a common line in the skydiving world, said Leslie Farkas, owner of Skydive Wasaga Beach.
For Farkas, it happened when he was 35 years old.
“I was five years out of a divorce, living in Toronto, when my 14-year-old daughter called me saying, ‘hey dad, you’re going to be a grandpa,’” says Farkas. “So, I decided to jump out of a plane.”
“For the first time in my entire life, I was 100 per cent living in the moment. There was nothing else. And then my priorities realigned.”
And Farkas really was hooked. He came back the next week to take his solo skydiving course. By the end of the season, he had his license and 30 jumps under his wing.
The next spring he packed up his life and moved into a tent at the drop zone, working construction for Skydive Toronto in exchange for his new obsession.
Farkas spent three years living at the airfield, but after year two he realized something was missing. Instead of just selling a skydive, he wanted to sell an experience. The idea for Skydive Wasaga Beach was born.
It’s no surprise that skydiving requires numerous licenses and ratings, so, for the first two years, Farkas focused on obtaining every single one of them. It took two more years to get council on board. Finally, in May 2016, Skydive Wasaga Beach opened its (plane) doors.
Farkas is the only person in Canada licensed to land on a beach, and he dreams of one day bringing his customers to do so on Wasaga’s golden shore.
Farkas prides himself on having the best - and safest - in the business, so his minimum requirements for instructors are exceptionally high.
“And I don’t just have a licensed parachute packer, I have a master rigger,” Farkas continues. “He can basically fix anything and is licensed to fix everything. And he’s a local guy.”
For instructor Alex Torre, his “hooked” moment happened when he was 16 years old.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the whole world. It’s the most amazing thing,” says Torre.
Torre has skydived in more than 10 countries and is approaching his 11,000th jump out of a plane. While he is mainly based in Los Angeles, Torre shuffles around instructing at drop zones all over the world. He works with Farkas anytime he is back home visiting his mother.
Torre’s love of the sport has evolved over time.
He’s jumped over world-class beaches and the Great Blue Hole in Belize, but his favourite thing now is taking someone on their first-ever tandem skydive.
“It’s my absolute love and why I am still skydiving to this day. I love taking that new person, feeling their fear and excitement and seeing how amazing their transformation is after we’ve landed safely,” says Torre.
For Farkas, his thrill comes from that feeling of living in the moment, and teaching others to do the same. He also considers himself the best introduction to tourism in South Georgian Bay.
“We can show [guests] everything in one pass. On the plane ride up we point out the beach, the mountain, and anything else they may be curious about,” says Farkas.
While Farkas says he always has “bigger plans, bigger planes and bigger people” on his mind, his main focus this summer is preparing for the 2019 Canadian National Parachuting Championships, which will be hosted by Skydive Wasaga Beach from Aug. 31 to Sept. 6.
Farkas has worked hard to make the event fun for the whole family. There will be hot air balloon rides, food vendors, beer tents and much more. He encourages everyone to come out and share the sport he holds so dear to his heart. Although Farkas has never personally competed, he says don’t be surprised if he enters last minute.
If the idea of jumping out of a plane doesn’t seem like your thing, Torre says it won’t take him long to convince you.
“I’m a visual person. Usually just showing someone pictures of Georgian Bay from above will do it. If not, I just tell stories of the numerous 95-year-old women I’ve jumped with. That usually does it,” laughs Torre.