Diving with the jump masters

  • 2001-04-12
  • Devyani Banerjee
TALLINN - "You feel the air right away, like a cushion, as you come down. There's a sense of freedom. As you move your arms and legs, it's as if you are flying, like there is some control in your action. You forget you are falling through the air. At the same time it is important to remember that you are falling, to remember to open your parachute on time. The sight of the earth rushing towards you is breathtaking, beautiful. You are awestruck."

Perhaps it was this experience that prompted Viktor Annus, Peeter Motskula and Reiko Teepere to form the club Skydive Estonia, encouraging skydiving as a sport. The club, operated by these three jump masters, is a member of the Estonian Air Sports Federation.

"Skydive Estonia was officially registered on August 21, 1998, but it became operational on April 28, 1999, when we took our first group skydiving," said Teepere

"It's the biggest and the most active union of skydivers in Estonia," he stated proudly.

Until recently, although skydiving as a sport was not completely unknown to the Estonians, the technique adopted for the jumps was outdated. Skydivers trained with round military parachutes, which are neither easy to steer nor give a soft landing.

Having purchased its first five student's rigs from Sweden, the club became the first in Estonia to offer IAD training with easy-to-steer ram-air canopies, which ensure a comfortable landing.

"We started putting together a training course based on the programs and safety requirements of the Finnish Aviation Federation, the U.S. Parachute Association and Estonian aviation laws and parachuting regulations," said Teepere.

Theoretical training, along with some suitable exercises for a period of 12 hours to three days, is followed by two jumps from an airplane. The jumps are performed at the Amari air base and the theoretical training is given at the aptly named Yaho Street in Tallinn.

"The fee for training is 3,000 kroons ($180)," said Teepere. Later you pay 275 kroons for each jump.

"In 1999, 55 students took the first jump course and, with the exception of three or four students, all were new to the sport," Teepere said happily. In 2000, 100 students made the leap.

The ideal season for skydiving is of course summer, but if the weather permits jumps are continued well into autumn.

The aircraft are provided by Estonia's border guards and Amari air base. Skydive Estonia works in cooperation with the military parachuting club.

Since 1999, Skydive Estonia has been arranging a series of international jumps and Swedish experts Lennart Vestbom and Mikael Andersson taught canopy formations.

"Last year, we set a new Estonian record for the largest freefall formation, holding a formation together with 10 people for 4.35 seconds. This year we're planning to break our own record with 15 people in the formation," he said.

Among the people on the ground busy preparing their next leaps, sports enthusiast Maris Torga, 21, said she was eager to learn skydiving from the age of 15. Upon learning of Skydive Estonia, "I literally dived into the course last summer."

Since then she has lived through 28 jumps.

"I was a very keen student and the jump masters never failed to go the extra mile in training me," Torga said.

This year she wants to take on 60 jumps and achieve a C-category in skydiving. Asked if women have any disadvantage over men in this sport, she gave the vociferous reply, "No!"

Erik Koldits, 22, learned about the club from his friends. In 2000 he took 23 jumps and this year he plans to take another 100. He also plans to participate in a forthcoming championship in Finland.

"Sometimes it's difficult to get the planes, but otherwise the training goes smoothly. What I like most, though, is the relaxed atmosphere."