One day, a friend suggested they all go skydiving. She said it was an individual jump because 25 years ago they did not have tandem skydiving. She was only 16 years old. Her instructor said her parachute was not going to open all the way because she was not big enough.

They would get on an airplane that looked like a beer can on wheels. They had to spray the plane just to get the prop started, and she thought to herself, “We are going to die. This is the dumbest thing I have every done.” She was excited but also nervous and scared when she was on the plane. Her instructor, Pierre, asked if she was good, and she asked, “Am I going to be able to hold on,” and his response was, “Well, what does it matter, you’re jumping anyway.”

She jumped out the airplane and was instantly hooked. “The jump itself was euphoric,” she said. “I can’t even explain it. It’s just so calming and peaceful up there.” That jump was history for her to help open Skydive Galveston.

SKYDIVE GALVESTON IS BORN

Skydive Galveston owner Tammy Walton said her first jump was like an addiction. She still remembers every detail about her first skydiving jump. She even remembers one part of her brain telling her “No,” while the other part of her brain was telling her “Yes, let’s do this.”

“I tell people it’s like nylon crack,” Walton said. “You try it once and never go back, or it’s an instant addiction. That’s the only way to describe it.”

Walton worked as a skydiving instructor and even worked in Australia for five years. This help set the inspiration for her and her husband to find a location in the United States for a skydiving business. Australia has many beach landings, which is why they set foot to Galveston, so they could have a beach landing zone.

Skydive Galveston opened midway through 2016. Its first official full season was 2017 where they dealt with the effects of Hurricane Harvey. However, Tammy Walton credits her family and daughter for pushing her.

“They’re such a great support for us,” Tammy Walton said. “My dad is one of those people that just drives you, and my mom is one of those reassuring people. So I guess, I think a lot of it is not want to let them down. Even when times we’re tough, my dad was like, ‘Hey, if you need something, let us know.’ That was a big drive. … My mom is that person that’s just like, ‘You got this, don’t even worry about that.’”

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Customer service is important to Tammy Walton and her five full-time staff members, which includes Tammy and her husband. They want everyone to become part of their family because when people go skydiving everyone becomes family. They give everyone an hour to meet their instructor, so they know who is taking them up on an airplane and throwing them out the plane to go skydiving.

“You become family,” Tammy Walton said. “You trust each other with your lives. It’s a family thing. You get super, super close. You just meet some of the most wonderful, amazing people, and you get to hear all of these wonderful stories, and I like to have that time with my customers.”

Walton will also send out messages to her customers the night before telling them to call her before they leave home the next day. Walton doesn’t want people to come and not go skydiving. She said if the weather doesn’t look good at the moment, but if they can push people back an hour, they’ll have people go to The Strand or have lunch until they call them to come back to go skydiving.

“And they’re like, ‘Well, I’m going to be leaving at 5 o’clock in the morning,’” Walton said. “Yeah, I am up 5 in the morning looking at weather and radar reports. I don’t want people to drive down here for no reason. If you’re not going to be able to jump, why come.”

Walton said they have had people who have gone skydiving because family members died, wedding proposals, breast cancer survivors, car crash victims and even Korean veterans. One time, a groom was getting married on a beach, and they skydived the groom to his own wedding.

“I’ve cried with moms before,” Walton said. “I had a mom whose daughter that committed suicide, and she asked if she could bring some of her daughter’s ashes with her, and we sat in the office crying together. I want to know my people. I want to know why you are here, and why you are jumping out of an airplane. Some of them are like, ‘It’s on my bucket list,’ and that’s why.”

SKYDIVING STORIES

AND GROWTH

Tammy Walton and her husband, Simon Walton, love to hear everyone’s stories as to why they are going skydiving. They want to get to know you, and why people are skydiving.

“We tell people it’s not a bucket list, ‘It’s a life list because when you do it you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, this is what life is about, this is that joy and fear and excitement,’” Walton said.

Simon Walton said his best part about taking people skydiving is it feels like his first jump every time. Simon Walton said he can tell people grow while skydiving because they start out nervous getting ready, get even more nervous on the airplane right before the jump and then seeing their big skydiving smiles across their faces when they land.

“They always grow during the jump regardless if they go, ‘It’s the one time I’m going to do it, and I’m never going to do it again,’ or they’re like, ‘I want to now do this for the rest of my life,” Simon Walton said.

Skydive Galveston wants people to feel safe when they go skydiving, so they regularly have drills with each other, which Simon Walton said isn’t mandated. They also carry lifejackets when they go skydiving, and Tammy and Simon Walton are picky about the instructors they hire.

“Everybody that jumps here, you can’t just be a tandem jump instructor and come and jump here,” Simon Walton said. “You need a minimum of 1,000 solo skydives and a minimum of a 1,000 tandem skydives before we even look at you. And then on top of that you need to have a pro rating. So the guys you see doing the Super Bowl jumping in with flags and parachuting into stadiums.”

FIRST-TIME SKYDIVERS

They have many first-time skydivers like Alex Markle, 28, of Galveston. He said he had mixed emotions before his first jump. He said his friend decided to go skydiving and asked if he wanted to come along. Tammy Walton said her instructors are comedians, and she likes how her team does not let them think for a second about getting nervous, so they are constantly talking to their customers.

“The best way to calm a person down and not let them freak out or chicken out is by not letting them think about their skydive,” Tammy Walton said. “They have a gamut of jokes. I always tell everybody, ‘They couldn’t make it into the comedy circuit, so they just became skydivers.”

After Markle’s first jump, he said it hit him of what he was doing. He also said people should not be nervous about going skydiving because they are experts here, and they know what they are doing and explain everything to you.

“Well first, watching my buddy go first and him just taking off like a bullet,” Markle said. “Next thing you know, you’re shooting down through the sky into Galveston, and it’s just such a rush. Oh, the two guys Simon (Walton), and Donny (Leach), they’re just the nicest guys, keep you real relaxed, telling jokes, show you the best time you can have. I couldn’t imagine doing it with any cooler guys.”

Markle’s friend Gaston McKnight, 19, of Galveston, also said this was his first time. He said these guys are professionals and treat you like you’re their best friend, and he would do it again.

“The first four seconds was pure exhilaration,” McKnight said. “Your legs are hanging out of the plane, and he shoves you out, and you’re free falling. It’s an incredible.”

The best part about Skydive Galveston for Tammy and Simon Walton is the opportunity they have to give back to the community.

“We get a lot of requests for skydives for charity events, silent auctions or obviously everything that was tragic that happened with Santa Fe recently, we get lots of requests like that, so being able to support the local community in that way is really, really cool.”

Keenan Betz: 409-683-5242; keenan.betz@galvnews.com; or on Twitter @surebetkeenan

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