There are many ways to view the beautiful South Padre Island. You can stroll along the pristine beaches, discover native wildlife as you explore nature trails and boardwalks that overlook the Laguna Madre, or view the Island by way of water, whether it’s on a kayak, a paddle board, a jet ski, or a boat. Whatever your style, there are plenty of options to choose from. If you’re looking for a truly unique and unforgettable experience, we suggest going a step further and viewing the Island from above. How? Jump out of a plane!!!
It may sound crazy, but not only is this the experience of a lifetime, it’s one of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever see. We got an inside look at skydiving on South Padre Island through our friends at Skydive South Padre Island (SPI). Of course, to truly get an inside look one of us had to volunteer to jump out of the plane. Tag, Jamie (that’s me). You’re it.
I sat down with Frank Shisler, owner of Skydive SPI, the morning I was scheduled to jump, and asked him a few questions — some were from a journalistic perspective, and most were to ease my anxiety. As I signed my life away on the 10-page waiver, I asked Frank how long he had been skydiving and how he ended up on South Padre Island. “I’ve been skydiving for 24 years and have jumped over 10,000 times,” Frank said. He had worked with a company in Chicago for years, but they would always close annually for several months due to the weather. It eventually got old, so he sought better year round temps — enter South Padre Island. Frank was even able to talk a skydiving buddy of his, Sparky, into moving to the Island as well. (Sparky is one of the instructors at Skydive SPI, and ended up being the guy I asked a million questions before he jumped out of a plane with me strapped to him.) Skydive SPI has been around since 2010.
Another brave soul named Mike was going to be jumping, along with his instructor, Sergei. We all piled into the Skydive SPI van and drove to a small hangar near the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport. The entire way I asked Sparky questions about the process and what to expect. I was really excited for the coasting part (after the parachute has been deployed), because I knew the view was going to be incredible. However, I was NOT excited about the whole jumping out of a plane and free falling part. I wanted a heads up on what that was going to feel like. Was it going to feel like I was going down a giant hill on a roller coaster for 45-60 seconds? Would I feel weightless? Sparky explained the difference in physics between what you feel on a rollercoaster versus skydiving, and it basically comes down to a difference in acceleration. You’re almost at a standstill when you’re at the top of a rollercoaster, but then experience a very sudden acceleration, which creates that stomach drop feeling. Most airplanes are flying at around 100mph for skydiving, so as you exit the plane you quickly transition from roughly 100mph to approximately 120mph. This is the “terminal velocity,” where you are moving so fast that the air resistance is equal in strength to gravity and you don't accelerate anymore.
We arrived at the hangar and began the process of getting into our harnesses. Fear not, the instructors do all of this for you to ensure it is done properly. Sergei explained how we were to position ourselves during the freefall portion of the dive, which he described as “peeling the banana.” Basically, your legs bend at roughly a 90-degree angle, you arch your back and keep your head against the instructor’s chest, and you put your arms out to your sides with elbows bent after they tap you.
After more safety instructions and Sparky trying to hype us up, we piled into an even smaller vehicle this time, which was the smallest plane I’ve ever been on in my life. First experience for two things that day! I was surprised at how smooth the ride was in that little plane, but not at all surprised by how great the view was as we approached South Padre Island. As we got closer, Sparky began hooking my harness to his. I could feel my pulse start to speed up, and I wasn’t sure how much time we had. I got my answer when the tiny garage door was flung open and I found myself staring out at the skyline.
Apparently, I was going first. I was fine until my feet were dangling and I was very aware of the decision I had made. I don’t remember if there was a countdown, or if he asked if I was ready — I probably couldn’t hear him over my heart beat — but before I knew it we were plunging towards the Island. I admittedly had my eyes closed for probably the first 8-10 seconds, and I definitely screamed quite a bit, but once Sparky tapped me, signaling for me to put out my arms, I finally had the courage to open my eyes. At that moment I felt a shift in the air and my body — it was absolutely amazing. The view, the feeling of flying through the air, and yet I felt weightless as if I was being supported by the clouds. The parachute was deployed, and even though free falling was an incredible experience, a huge wave of relief washed over me and I could feel my muscles relax. Now we could just coast and enjoy the view of the little Island I call home.
Sparky used the parachute toggles to spin us around so I could take in the view from every angle. He tried to take several pictures with me, but I was so mesmerized by the view that I didn’t look up for most of them. I couldn’t believe how quiet and serene the ride down was — the two parts of the dive are truly polarized, but both equally amazing in their own right. As we prepared for the beach landing, Sparky reminded me to lift my legs up so we could easily slide into the sand. The landing could not have been smoother, and Frank was there waiting to help me up and check in on me, camera strapped to his head and all.
Frank asked me a few questions about the experience and asked if I’d do it again. I found myself saying “yes,” and I meant it. We talked some more as we walked toward the van, and he told me he’d send photos and video to me in about an hour. He delivered and the video was awesome. Here’s a short clip from that video:
If you’ve been debating whether or not to take the plunge, I highly encourage you to stop debating and just go. I’m sure it’s an amazing experience in other places too, and maybe I’m biased, but I’ve never seen anything like what I saw floating in the clouds above South Padre Island. Also, the guys at Skydive SPI were super knowledgeable and professional, all while keeping things light and making you feel truly comfortable with them. You’ve haven’t experienced the Island to its fullest extent until you’ve seen it like I have.
Island Insider Tips for First-timers
- You have to sign the waiver in order to skydive. You can choose not to sign, but that also means you don't get to jump. No one will pressure you either way.
- The hangar has restrooms on site.
- The instructors wear GoPros, so you’ll have footage to prove you’ve made the jump.
- Trust your instructor. These guys know what they're doing and are there to ensure your safety.
- Talk to your instructor. They want you to ask questions. It will make you feel better and will let them know that you're doing okay.
Skydive South Padre Island | 2812 Padre Blvd suite a, South Padre Island, TX 78597 | (956) 744-5867