NU student embraces thrill of jumping

When Norwich University Pvt. Matthew Kaye discovered skydiving in 2009, it turned him on to an adrenaline- filled hobby. That would be plenty for most folks, but for Kaye, it led him to further challenge his limits even more with a sport called BASE jumping, which he says is both more complicated and dangerous.

Pvt. Kaye, 25, a biology major from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., started skydiving on a dare. “I was drunk in a bar in Barre, Vt., getting ready to deploy with the Vermont National Guard, to Afghanistan, and one of my buddies from school, Kevin Clarkson is a skydiver, and he was making fun of me because I hadn’t skydived yet.”

Less than 24 hours later, Kaye found himself dangling out of an airplane over Addison, Vt., at about 12,000 feet. After his first jump, he says he was hooked.

Kaye was deployed to Afghanistan with the Vermont National Guard the next day but he continued to dream about it doing more sky diving. Since then, he has obtained his C License, which requires a minimum of 200 jumps.

Matthew Kaye jumping

Student Matthew Kaye does a backflip from an 875 ft. bridge during Bridge Day.
Photo: Matthew Kaye

“To get into the sport is expensive, though,” Kaye notes. “To get your A license, it costs about $2,500 dollars. And then you have to buy your equipment which costs anywhere from two grand to four grand. But after that, it’s $25 bucks a jump.” In skydiving, a C license requires completing 200 jumps. Kaye currently has 273 jumps under his belt, over halfway to his D license, which requires 500 jumps.

Many people question the safety of skydiving, but Kaye claims that it is what you make it: “Skydiving is about as safe as walking across the street. It’s just whether you’re walking across the street or walking across an eight-lane highway. It’s as safe as you make it.”

“When you’re a student, you know what conditions are safe to jump in, what aren’t safe to jump in.” Kaye continues, regarding safety. “You learn to do your equipment checks. I could go online right now and pull up a fatality list, and almost every one will be human error.”

Kaye explained that one of the commonly feared catastrophes of skydiving is having the parachute not open. He claimed that this doesn’t happen. “Most fatalities happen under a perfectly good canopy. And it’s usually canopy collision, doing high performance turns too low to the ground.”

Kaye says further that om skydiving, potentially dangerous situations are avoided. “With skydiving, if the weather is horrible they won’t even fly the plane. If there is a lot of wind and you’re new, they won’t let you go up either.”

Kaye’s love for skydiving, which he describes as a feeling of absolute peace, was something fulfilling for him until his friend posted a video on his Facebook wall. The video was of people doing a sport called BASE jumping, which he had never considered because it had seemed too dangerous. The video showed someone BASE jumping in a wingsuit, a suit made to increase the surface area of human body. Kaye had always wanted to try this, which lead him to his newest thrill.

BASE stands for “building, antenna, span, and earth,” essentially the idea of skydiving from an object like a bridge, antenna or a cliff, Kaye said.

“Skydiving is phenomenal, but BASE jumping takes it to a whole new level,” Kaye said, referring to the thrill you get.

Matthew  Kaye doing a Floating Exit

Matthew Kaye performing what is known as a “Floating Exit” as he jumps off a bridge.
Photo: Matthew Kaye

“Basically, when you are standing at the exit point about to jump off, whether it be a wall or a bridge or a cliff, everything in your mind, every inch of your consciousness is telling you not to jump, and for some reason you just say ‘the hell with it’ and jump, and you just step off,” Kaye said.

According to Kaye, when it comes to safety, “BASE jumping is a different story” from skydiving because of the higher risks and danger involved. “BASE jumping is a lot more technical, and I guess the biggest difference is the margin for error is non-existent.”

“Your skills as a skydiver ultimately determine your safety as a BASE jumper” he continues, elaborating on the certain patterns and behavior one learns from skydiving that they take with them to BASE jumping. He explains that there are differences in technique and physics in BASE jumping compared to skydiving.

“In BASE jumping, if you have a malfunction, you don’t have a reserve. You have to correct it right there, and if you’re lucky, you’ve got seconds.”

BASE jumping is different in other ways as well, Kaye said, noting one had to pay closer attention to weather and jumping conditions. “There are some items that you can’t jump if there is any wind at all. If it’s a cliff, the wind rolling off the cliff could send you back into it when you open your canopy. There are also objects that you want wind for, like if your canopy opens facing towards the object, you want that wind to blow you away from it.”

The success of the jump can mean a direct risk to a person’s life. “Opening your canopy (while BASE jumping) determines a lot. Whether it be opening it too slow and smacking into the ground or opening it too soon while you’re going too fast, which could snap your spine or severe your aorta”

Kaye has experienced issues when his canopy opens, however, he’s been fortunate enough to make it to the ground safely. Kaye’s next goal is to “wingsuit” BASE jump within the next two to three years, adding a flying component to the jump. His jumps will continue. “No drug can compare to that, the moment of absolute peace. I guess that’s why I do it,” he explained.

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