Anyone who looked up at the sky above Kay Larkin Field in Palatka, Fla., on Saturday would have seen about eight UF students riding their school’s mascot.
The “gator jump,” a stunt that involved several members of the UF Falling Gators Skydiving Club clinging to an inflatable alligator while skydiving, wasn’t the only highlight of the UF Falling Gators’ 16th Annual Collegiate Boogie.
The event, hosted by Skydive Palatka and the Falling Gators, took place from 9 a.m. Friday to 7 p.m. Sunday. It included food, more than $1,000 of raffle prizes and an adrenaline rush for the about 75 registered guests and other regular visitors.
Throughout the weekend, students, alumni and skydivers from around the country gathered at Palatka Municipal Airport for its spring boogie, a term used by skydivers to describe large get-togethers. These events begin as days full of jumping from planes to partying through the night — and waking up at sunrise to do it all again.
Matt Englehart, 27, recently moved from California to Jacksonville and said he had been waiting for an opportunity to try out his closest drop zone. As a veteran boogie-bouncer, he said Skydive Palatka didn’t disappoint. Along with more than a dozen other registered guests, Englehart set up a tent alongside RVs and a spacious firepit, where jumpers later mingled and bumped beers around a bonfire.
The boogie brought in skydivers from Georgia, Alabama, Colorado, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s skydiving club and different regions of Florida, but it attracted first-timers as well.
Skydive Palatka owner Art Shaffer said boogies are a great way to bring the skydiving community together, but introducing people to tandem jumping is a rewarding perk too. He estimated about one in 20 people will come back to get certified to jump alone after jumping at Palatka. He said the thrill hasn’t worn off in the 29 years he’s been in the sport.
“As soon as the parachute opened, I knew I would be doing this for a long time,” he said about his first jump.
Shanna Ferris, one of Shaffer’s tandem students and a UF art senior, said she was planning to visit the drop zone that weekend with a couple other friends. The event kept her occupied as she waited for the morning’s gray clouds to clear.
She said she enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, and the staff made her feel comfortable before her jump. During her five-hour visit, she socialized with the club, snacked on sandwiches and doughnuts and had an experience she would be eager to try again.
“I’m a convert now,” the 21-year-old said.
[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 4/7/2014 under the headline "UF skydivers jump, fall to ground with inflatable gator"]
Maddie Sortino, a 21-year-old UF food science senior, celebrates after a jump during the UF Falling Gators’ 16th Annual Skydiving Club Collegiate Boogie. The event took place Friday through Sunday at Kay Larkin Field at the Palatka Municipal Airport.