With the recent opening of The Jumping Place, Statesboro can now boast what is referred to in skydiving circles as a "drop zone," or a center for skydiving activity.
Located at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport, The Jumping Place is owned and operated by Cathy Kloess, a pilot, skydiver, and instructor well-known throughout the tight knit community of skydiving.
"I first met Cathy when she was packing parachutes for a living," said Mike Fury of Altico, manufacturer of the Dolphin parachute container. "She is completely honest, and the most energetic and ambitious person that I have ever met. I remember when she would pack parachutes from sun-up until sundown. In addition to her other certifications, she is licensed as a master parachute rigger."
A parachute rigger is a person who is certified to pack, repair and perform maintenance on parachutes. There are three levels of parachute rigger certification, with master parachute rigger being the highest certifiable rating in the United States.
Kloess's passion for skydiving began with her first jump in 1985.
"Skydiving is an addictive sport," she said. "The thrill and the rush that you get when you skydive is indescribable, and it so great to watch others enjoy it just as much as you. The most time that I have taken off from the sport is two and a half weeks. I have five children, so I have skydived while pregnant with each one of them."
Kloess and her family live in Tampa, Fla., but come up each weekend to run the Statesboro operation.
"I knew I wanted to open a drop zone, but Florida was really saturated, so opening one there just wasn't a good idea," she said. "We came to St. Marys, and that went very well for a few years, but I began looking for a place with stronger demographics for the sport, and Statesboro fit that bill."
The Jumping Place is open all day Saturday and Sunday. Experienced jumpers are encouraged to just "show up." There is a tandem instructor there to take first time jumpers on their inaugural skydive, and loads of jumpers are taken up throughout the day. The aircraft is piloted by Kloess.
Mike Clemmons is a seasoned tandem jumper and instructor. With over 5,000 jumps logged, Clemmons has been helping with tandem jumps at The Jumping Place. These jumps have the novice skydiver strapped to a tandem skydiver who deploys the shoot and manages the dive.
"I feel safer skydiving, than I do driving an automobile," he said. "When it is done right, and the proper controls are in place, it is completely safe."
Kloess has a reputation for strict adherence to safety standards.
"Cathy is a very knowledgeable master rigger, and is great about bringing in and having her gear maintained," said Chuck McHugh of Strong Enterprise, a parachute manufacturer based in Orlando, Fla. "She is very conscientious, and has always been very safe. I know that she runs a great operation."
Kloess's oldest son Marcus Finley is a rigger as well, and works at The Jumping Place every weekend.
"I love packing parachutes, and have been doing this for a very long time," he said. "My mother is so good at what she does, and is so passionate, it is a lot of fun to work for her. She wants everybody to be as excited as she is about the sport, and it really resonates with people when they get there. How could you not want to jump out of an airplane once you have met her."
Kloess said what has been so gratifying to her is the changes the sport has seen over the last several years.
"Skydiving used to be taught with a sort of negative, military type attitude, and girls don't do well with that type of instruction," she said. "That has all been changed, and it is a much more friendly sport for females than it was in the past. We want to teach people to successfully land their parachutes, and they will feel good about themselves. Just one jump will change your outlook forever."
To learn more about The Jumping Place, you can visit their website at www.thejumpingplace.com. Currently, there are seven drop zones open in the state of Georgia.