Volker Haag starts and ends his business day doing something many others would not. From about 10,000 feet up, his “office door” on the side of a small aircraft is open to any and all who would take up his offer to skydive with him. Nearly a year after taking over the business from its previous owners, Haag, owner and operator of Skydive Surf City, has found his niche along the Santa Cruz coastline.
Born in Germany, Haag initially enjoyed falling from the skies as a weekend pastime.
“The first time I jumped was because of a girl, as a matter of fact,” Haag said, the slightest bit of a grin escaping the corner of his mouth. “Of course I was nervous — it was pretty terrifying. But it turned out to be the best thing in the world. A few weeks later, I was a licensed diver.”
Haag’s newfound passion for skydiving had to be put on the back burner, however. Between holding a corporate job and pursuing his Master’s degree in business economics, Haag was hard pressed to find time to leap outside the weekends. But after an extended vacation in New Zealand Haag — already in love with skydiving’s recreational and competitive aspects — discovered his true calling.
“People skydive all over the world to see its beauty from up there,” Haag said, pointing up at the sky. “It’s harder to fall in love staring at cornfields when you could be seeing ocean.”
When he established a base of operations on the Watsonville airfield, Haag brought both his business sensibility and skydiving passion to Santa Cruz County.
Leaning on the edge of a table racked with parachutes, Haag recounted his jumps worldwide.
“I’ve jumped in Germany, Australia and New Zealand,” Haag said. “I can tell you that this is far better than any corporate desk job I’ve held. I mean, multiple jumps a day with that kind of view? Come on!”
Skydiving doubles as a recreational hobby and a competitive sport for Haag. While Skydive Surf City mostly offers tandem jumps with trained, licensed professionals at heights upward of 14,000 feet, skydiving enthusiasts have been known to push the limits of the sport to even greater extremes. Low-altitude parachute deployment, synchronized formation drops and jumps including assorted objects — couches, inflatable rafts and even cars — have become popular among those who find enough is never enough when leaping from an aircraft.
For many first-time jumpers, just tapping into the many raw emotions evoked at the plummet’s precipice can be a sensory overload. To that end, many of those that choose to jump with Skydive Surf City have never done so before.
Having just finished the orientation video, Chris Zundel, jumping for the first time with his girlfriend, Paige Morrison, cracks a nervous smile while signing the pre-jump waiver.
“This room’s got four walls, is on the ground, it’s got a desk and phone. It’s just like any other room,” Zundel said. “Except when I step out of this room, I’m going to go skydiving. Why am I so eager to run to the plane I intend to jump out of?”
Safety is often the cited concern for many won’t-be skydivers. The fear of the fall, while compelling to some, is often the largest hurdle for first-time jumpers to clear. Haag, along with his wife and business partner Lisa Airmet, ensure that every precaution is taken with each parachute, and that all safety measures are taken before a client ever boards a plane. From spring-loaded parachutes to make deployment quicker to automatic activation devices if a jumper is unable to pull the cord, multiple measures have been installed and monitored to guarantee a safe jump.
Steven Jester, an instructor for Skydive Surf City, worked for the company before Haag took over, but said he left dissatisfied. Jester came back after Haag bought the Skydive Surf City and attributes the business’s success to Haag’s business savvy and careful safety measures.
Having taken the troubled business off the hands of its original founders as an outsider, Haag invested $200,000 — breathing new life into Skydive Surf City’s parachutes. The renovations included updates to all of the parachuting equipment, taking on additional instructors, a second airplane, and rights to an inland parachute landing area.
“You have to spend money to make money, you know?” Haag said. “A great experience is brought about by great service. Besides, safety has to be a critical concern for us.”
The end result is a skydiving company with character, headquartered in buildings with walls covered in the satisfied scribbles of customers past. Haag now finds himself pressed for time to catch a bite to eat between jumps, grabbing a sandwich between congratulating first-time jumpers and giving reassuring thumbs-ups to those next in line.
What attracts everyone to jump? For some, it’s the rush of the wind on their faces that could only be described as the “high of the high.”
Brian Day, a parachute packer for Skydive Surf City, said he found the imminent sense of danger to double as both his personal thrill ride and an escape.
“It’s the safest, most dangerous thing you can do,” Day said. “The freedom of it, with nothing to stop you, is what makes it great. No people, no traffic, no phone, no Internet, nothing. Nothing to say ‘You can’t do blah, blah, blah.’”
Haag sees no reason why fear alone should stop anyone from skydiving.
“Everyone should come out and try it at least once,” Haag said. “It’s really incomparable to anything else you can do.”