Published: May 4, 2017
The Story of San Jose Skydiving Center and Its Owner, Andy Simmons
The beating heart of the San Jose Skydiving Center is our owner, Andy Simmons--a fella who's as much at home at altitude as he is on the ground.
If you're in the know, his obsession with the sky might start to make sense when you hear that Andy was born in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita, after all, is a very sky-centric place. It's the home of Cessna Beechcraft, Boeing and multiple other household names. In a lot of ways, it's the air industry capital of the United States. As Andy was growing up, Wichita was home to somewhere in the vicinity of 550,00 people--"pretty much all" of them working in the aircraft industry.
According to Andy, though, all those airplanes around him during his childhood didn't make a dent. He initially wanted nothing to do with them--at least, not in the classic-Wichita kinda way.
"I was adamantly opposed to becoming a factory worker and building airplanes like everybody in that region," Andy laughs, "But somehow, skydiving got a pass."
Andy was in his late 20's when airplanes started looking good to him--and at the start, it wasn't about making a living. It was pure fun. In fact, his very first entry point into parachuting sports didn't start with an airplane at all. As it happens, Andy was roped into making his first skydive by a friend after the two watched a wingsuit BASE video--where a wingsuiter jumped from a cliff--on YouTube. The two were transfixed by the images.
Getting to BASE, of course, starts by learning to skydive and, as it turns out, the friend's next-door neighbor owned a dropzone. The two men made a jump the very next day. Andy was 27 at the time, and he was head-over-heels for the sport before he knew it. Soon, Andy was jumping all the time, building skills and carefully, methodically working to earn his tandem and AFF skydiving instructor ratings. All the while, he was building the capital to realize his dream to open his very own dropzone.
The Love Story...
Interestingly, we owe the existence of the San Jose Skydiving Center to a love story. On one of the overseas adventures Andy undertook during the skydiving off-season, he met and fell for a woman backpacking the same route in southeast Asia. The lovely lady hailed from Wisconsin--far-flung from Andy's home-at-the-time in New York--and it wasn't long before the distance chafed them both. On one of their visits, Andy decided that he wanted to be with his new love more than he wanted to cling to the Atlantic coast. Tout suite, he arranged a gig at Pacific Skydiving Honolulu and invited her to come join him.
The change of scene worked like a charm until she had to move back to the mainland to apply for a master's program at UC Berkeley. Determined to make it work, Andy moved right along with her--and set about looking around for an airfield.
It wasn't long before he found a real beauty: The San Martin Airport. This gorgeous little runway sits nestled in a choice spot between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo range. The location is so remarkable because the two ranges channel the air, creating a gentle venturi effect that drives sweet, consistent winds over the dropzone--and chases off the clouds that might get in the way. From altitude, guests are treated to jaw-dropping views of the bay area--the Pacific, Santa Cruz and the glittering San Francisco Bay. On clear days, you can see out to the snow-capped Sierras. For a place so beautiful, the San Martin Airport is also startlingly convenient to visit: A scant 25 minutes from downtown San Jose, with all the cultural luxuries and niceties of a large metropolitan area.
"The airport actually had a skydiving permit already," Andy said, "And it seemed so easy--like fate. But after I contacted them, I realized that a permit is not the be-all-end-all, and that there are lots of bureaucratic steps. But I loved the place and I knew I wanted to be there, so I put the ball in motion."
And So It Began
That moving ball made its goal. The San Jose Skydiving Center celebrated its very first tandem student on February 9th of 2016. Almost immediately, the dropzone started to gather lots of steam. Andy's hard work had paid off--with lots, lots more work.
"Before I opened the dropzone, I was doing more than 700 jumps a year," Andy laughs. "I think I've done around 200 this year. I thought I was going to be doing as many jumps as I wanted--but there's a lot that goes into running the facility. From the time I wake up to time I go to sleep, pretty much every single day, I am 'dropzoning,' you know. It's been awesome. It's really incredible--a wild emotional roller coaster--and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
"I never get tired of watching students come down after their first jump," Andy smiles. "I've always really liked the AFF side of things, but it just keeps getting better: watching these students learn."
"It's almost magic," he continues. "Most of them know nothing about skydiving. Then they somehow find us on the interwebs and come out and ask us to be a part of getting them into the sky. My favorite is when they get a stand-up landing--right in the middle of the landing area--and they just have this big goofy grin on their face. It's just really cool to sit back and watch these students have so much fun with what they're doing. I absolutely love it."
As the San Jose Skydiving center prepares to celebrate its first birthday, Andy's plans are growing right along with it. He has big plans to grow the operation "in the smartest way possible," and to continue to nurture the thriving skydiving community that calls SJSC home. That said: he's no one-trick pony, and he's certainly not immune to the views of his extended neighborhood that he glimpses from the door of the plane.
"If I ever get a day off," he winks, "I might just learn to surf."
The most AMAZING experience of my life! Can't wait to go again!
» Ashley A.