Down to Earth

Whether you’re a practiced fan or looking to cross it off your bucket list, diving from the sky is an unforgettable rush.
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Luther Kurtz instructs his cousin, Julie Church, during her first tandem skydive over Beaver Island.
Luther Kurtz instructs his cousin, Julie Church, during her first tandem skydive over Beaver Island. // Photography by Victor Surhov

Luther Kurtz experienced something life-changing in 1998. The young Petoskey native made his first solo skydive. He jumped out of a plane over a Hastings field…deployed his parachute…floated to earth — and never got over the rush.

“I went back every weekend for the rest of the summer,” shares Kurtz, now 36 and the owner of Skydive Harbor Springs, a business he built specializing in jump services for beginners. Kurtz is also part-owner of AviCon, a company that owns eight skydiving drop-zones in five states.

Those initial jumps fueled his imagination. Kurtz founded his Harbor Springs business in 2001 while still in school at the University of California, San Diego. What began as a seasonal endeavor for the aerospace engineering student grew to become a full-time operation.

“A lot of people come (to skydive) one time and don’t come again. They love it and are glad they did it,” notes Kurtz, who, with his sister, Angela Bishop, set a skydiving world record in 2010 for the most tandem jumps in 24 hours. The pair leapt from a plane 104 times. The feat was a fundraiser for the Top of Michigan Trails Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes and develops rail trails in northern Michigan. Kurtz sits on the organization’s Board of Directors.

We get a whole array of people: those in mid-life crisis, people just out of high school — even a 93-year-old woman who said, ‘Heck, I’m going for it.’
— Luther Kurtz

While most who visit his two-mile-high office are thrill seekers, others, he says, are ticking off bucket list goals. They enjoy the adrenaline rush of plummeting to earth at 120 miles per hour during freefall and — once the chute opens — the quiet serenity of floating down and gazing at the Mackinac Bridge, the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan and Beaver Island.

“It’s one of the best views in the country,” Kurtz says, adding, “We get a whole array of people: those in mid-life crisis, people just out of high school — even a 93-year-old woman who said, ‘Heck, I’m going for it.’”

Terry Andersen is one who couldn’t resist. The Cheboygan resident made his first jump in early April this year. It was cold, but he was dressed for the two-mile tandem drop, attached to his skydiving instructor.

“It is an adrenaline rush to jump out of a perfectly good airplane,” affirms Andersen, a recent transplant from Washington. ”My brother has done it, only in Hawaii. He had beaches and oceans to look at. I wanted to one-up him, to jump and see snow.”

While Skydive Harbor Springs offers solo jumps and the necessary training to make one, Kurtz recommends that first-timers go tandem. The pre-jump training is minimal and the instructor controls the drop.

“I wouldn’t do it any other way,” says Lansing resident Brad Treanor, who also made his first tandem jump in April, a gift to himself for his 34th birthday. “I was not nearly as anxious as I thought I would be — until the instructor opened the door and I was looking straight down with my feet dangling over the side.

“Then, suddenly you’re out the door; I was yelling and screaming. After the first couple of ‘Whoo hoos,’ it became fun, and I had a smile on my face. It was absolutely memorable.

I’ll do it again.”

Learn more at skydiveharborsprings.com.

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