History of Skydive Empuriabrava
WHEN PASSION AND PROFESSIONALISM JUMP FROM 4,000 METRES, THE DREAM OF FLYING IS PERMANENT.
The chronicle of Skydive Empuriabrava hides a fascinating story of passion for skydiving, of dreams come true, of entrepreneurs who entrust their project to the Empordà sky. And it is the story of a company that was established almost half a century ago, full of episodes that have marked an era in themselves, and that have been woven together creating an impressive chronology that continues to this day, when the prestige and worldwide recognition of Skydive Empuriabrava is unquestionable.
Let's dive in and talk about someone who was a true visionary. In the 1970s, Joaquim Densalat, a film producer who was very fond of aviation, got into adventure films and became involved with director José Antonio de la Loma. From this collaboration came the thriller about skydiving and smuggling Waka Waka, with many scenes filmed in the sky of Empuriabrava. Starting with Densalat's masterstroke, the airfield began to see quite a bit of jump activity, especially on weekends.
At that time, the land belonged to a developer from Empuriabrava, and promoted by Miquel Arpa, the skydiving activity was managed by the Girona Flying Club under its "Paraclub Girona" section. The owner's initial idea was to promote an airport to receive private jets from wealthy families who loved the Empuriabrava marina, but the runway was not long enough, and this potential operational venture soon faded.
n 1975, the management of the airfield changed hands, and passed to the Empordà Sports Promoter, and three years later Josep Oriol Tomàs Bartrina arrived, the father-in-law of Roland Hilfiker (remember this name) who bought it as a flying club and turned it into a private airport. At that time it was one of the only private airports in Spain and it had a permanent customs office, with the Civil Guard controlling the entries and exits of visitors to Empuriabrava.
FROM AIRFIELD TO AVIATION SCHOOL, BEFORE BECOMING A SKYDIVING CENTRE
In 1977, Jaume Comas joined the company, an experienced pilot who still works at the center today, and is now the general manager. The filmmaker Densalat continued to make many jumps, especially during the summer, and many complementary services were developed, such as the restaurant, tennis court and even a swimming pool.
After a while, David Bowen, an Englishman who wanted to exploit the airfield with charter flights, arrived and bought the business. Neither the strategy nor the results were as expected and Anthony Handley soon appeared, another Englishman who came from the aeronautical world with his own planes and bought it with the idea of starting an aviation school. It seemed that the business was well underway, but internal problems hampered its momentum, and in February 1984, on a day with a strong north wind blowing, when Roland Hilfiker appeared, we decided to set up a skydiving centre. Roland came from the United States, and more recently from Switzerland, and had made a career in Europe by training jump instructors. He had over 7,000 jumps under his belt, as well as records of all kinds and individual and collective titles. When, together with his American partners Mitch Decoteau and Maria Peterson, he took the reins of the Costa Brava Skydiving Centre (now Skydive Empuriabrava) he implemented a revolutionary method that pushed the centre to levels unthinkable up to that point.
A REVOLUTIONARY METHOD OF INSTRUCTION
This is the AFF (Accelerated Free Fall) skydiving course, an accelerated instruction method, developed in the United States, which allows personalised teaching during the free fall. This greatly paved the way for those who dreamed of becoming skydivers and completely broke with the system that had worked for the previous 30 years, when the parachutes opened the moment skydivers jumped out of the plane. Once they had made the jump, they progressed with longer and longer free fall exposures. Hilfiker, Decoteau and Peterson established The School of Human Flight, an internationally recognised skydiving school.
At the same time, it is worth highlighting the tandem jumps that have also played a key role, since the founding of the Costa Brava Skydiving Centre, in the rising popularity of these jumps in Europe. In the tandem jump, the jumper is hooked to an instructor, which enables the practice of skydiving to be available to everyone, without the need for any specific preparation.
Thanks to all of this, Empuriabrava became the largest learning facility in the world, with students from all countries, and it brought many experienced skydivers to Empuriabrava.
It was the first time that the centre had positioned itself at the forefront of the sector, and its managers were committed to being the best in everything, even in the planes it used to take the jumpers into the sky. Up to that point, the centre did not own even a single aircraft, the one Cessna 207 that was used being rented, which was the first to be used at Girona airport.
LEADER IN EUROPE IN NUMBER OF JUMPS
Parachuting gradually gained popularity around the world, but in Empuriabrava the indicators of success were skyrocketing . In October 1985, it became one of the few professional skydiving facilities to stay open all year round , with a workforce of 5 people, and that same year it reached 25,000 jumps, becoming a benchmark in Europe in the world of skydiving.
In addition, also in October came one of the historic moments, the first Boogie, a meeting of parachutists who make jumps in large formations. And this was the spark that exploded at Christmas, when the announcement of a new Christmas Boogie almost got out of hand, with up to 500 jumpers from all over the world participating. Only two years later, a thousand jumpers were already attending, and the spectacular activity had to be transferred to the Girona-Costa Brava airport, in order to use larger planes. The operation was complex, with the transfer of planes, caravans, offices, material and the mobilisation of 1,200 people to Girona.
An anecdote in the history of the company was the surprise arrival of the then King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, who came to Catalonia to participate in the Palamós Christmas Race regatta. This forced us to stop the entire set-up so that the monarch could land, and once he was outside, we were able to continue with the organisation of the largest Christmas Boogie ever held in Europe.
At that time, the company that managed the facilities was the Costa Brava Skydiving Centre, which would be the one that would professionally carry out the increasingly popular skydiving activity. The pilot Jaume Comas joined the company in 1985 and the same tenants would continue to operate the activity despite the new change of ownership that occurred in 1987, when David Bowen sold his company to the Swiss company Formula and Properties S.L. It must be said that the airfield has always suffered from strong urban pressure, with the growth of the Empuriabrava marina and the attempt by many investors to acquire ownership of the land to build hundreds of apartments. Despite everything, skydiving activity has never ceased since its launch almost 50 years ago.
THE FIRST PILATUS AIRCRAFT OWNED AND THE FIRST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
It was this same year, in 1987, when the first small plane, a Pilatus with capacity for 9 people, was finally purchased, which was one of the largest aircraft for skydiving at the time. To promote the facility, HIGH TIMES magazine, which was self-published at Skydive Empuriabrava, was printed in full colour in 4 languages and mailed to jumpers and clubs around the world.
At a technical level, Skydive Empuriabrava has always been at the forefront, but if there was ever a moment when the leap forward was definitive, it was in September 1989, with the celebration of the largest World Championship that has been held at these facilities. We hosted nearly 800 athletes from more than 40 countries, in a championship that was broadcast on televisions around the world and was attended by various government officials.
MOVIE SETS AND TV SPOTS
Good weather conditions and the beauty of the airfield's natural surroundings have always been a lure to filmmakers and creative advertisers. The filming of movies, music videos and television spots have also helped Skydive Empuriabrava to widen its popularity, especially when in 2011 we hosted the recording of the skydiving scenes for the movie You only live once, one of the most successful films in Bollywood cinema. Sts premiere made Skydive Empuriabrava well-known within the Indian market, with Indian clients coming ever since.
The airfield was also the scene of the 2000 Fatbloy Slim video shoot for Bird of Prey, and in 2004, flight chase scenes were filmed for the French film
Secret Agents, with Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel.
Production companies have also found a collaborating partner in Skydive Empuriabrava for their advertising productions, highly valuing the facilities, amenities and high qualification of our professionals. Specialists who have acted in voice-overs and, in the audiovisual field, camera jumpers have captured countless images using all kinds of professional cameras mounted on their helmets. In addition to our own means, we can provide all kinds of necessary equipment, both in the field of aviation (aircraft, helicopters, etc.), and in terms of technical material (parachutes, specific audiovisual equipment, etc.).
SEE THE PRODUCTIONS
SOCIALLY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE
Committed to the needs of the most disadvantaged in society, in 2015 Skydive Empuriabrava incorporated a more supportive approach into its commercial policy. . One of the ways to collaborate is by contributing a donation of 3 euros for each Gold or Platinum tandem jump that we sell, contributions that are sent to a charity that we change periodically.
And with regard to our commitment to the environment, Skydive Empuriabrava has joined the global challenge of facing global climate change. Signing up to the global challenge of tackling climate change, in 2020 we began to allocate resources to projects based on climate neutrality, which consists of reversing the negative effects of CO2 and other greenhouse gases through actions with positive climate effects in any part of the world, which generate a reverse climate impact equivalent to the footprint generated.
These are certified environmental protection projects according to the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) programme. The annual investment that we assume is determined by the number of tonnes of CO2 emitted and the cost of the compensation projects that are developed, and we do so in cooperation with our partners Klima Invest and Care All Foundation . Some of their climate neutrality projects are forest protection and reforestation in Brazil and the Amazon, Malawi or Turkey, among others. Besides providing environmental benefits, some of these projects also help enhance the living conditions of the local population.
In addition, by the end of 2020, the company has managed to get all the electricity it consumes to come from 100% renewable sources.
SKYDIVE EMPURIABRAVA BECOMES MORE SOCIAL
And so we were entering the golden era of Skydive Empuriabrava, which was performing more and more jumps every year, with an ever-increasing popularity. Free-fall, landing and precision jumps were developed. In 1986, the journalist Pit Abril starred in the first jump broadcast live on the radio and in 1993, the first lady of Catalonia, Marta Ferrussola, also came to jump, creating a massive amount of buzz.
A LONG LIST OF CELEBRITIES WHO HAVE FLOWN AT EMPURIABRAVA
Of the hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts who have skydived at Empuriabrava, there are a number of famous people, who, due to their media impact, have revolutionised the day-to-day life of the facilities with their arrival. Always emphasising the safety conveyed by the team of instructors, the material and the planes used, pilots such as Michael Schumacher, Valentino Rossi, Sito Pons or Marc Gené, the singer Kylie Minogue and the tennis player Sergi Bruguera, have enjoyed the skies of Empuriabrava, among many other television presenters, actors and athletes of various kinds.
SEE THE BOOK OF HONOUR
SETTING THE TREND IN TERMS OF SAFETY
We have always been pioneers in safety matters, and we have set a trend with the implementation of the mandatory use of an automatic parachute opening system (AAD). This is an electronic device that, in the event that the main parachute does not open for whatever reason, the emergency parachute is automatically activated and operated within the safety altitude range.
MUCH MORE THAN AN OLYMPIC JUMP
Taking advantage of the rise of this sport in the late 1980s, pressure was being put on the International Olympic Committee to declare skydiving a demonstration sport. With the inauguration of the Olympic stadium in Montjuïc, arcelona in 1989, our jumpers created a spectacular show, landing inside the five Olympic rings that were drawn on the grass of the brand new stadium. This jump changed an era.
It was the aperitif of what would come three years later with the celebration of the Olympic Games in Barcelona, whenduring the arrival of the Olympic torch at Empúries, a mass jump was held in front of more than 100,000 spectators.
We were in full swing at the stage of breaking records and Empuriabrava became an important centre for gathering great skydivers. The good climate of Upper Empordà and its good communication links were also influential elements, and thus it became the training headquarters of the Spanish national Formation Skydiving team, and of the world champions, the French Freefly team. And to this day, the best jumpers in the world are still coming to make training stays, and increasingly incorporating new sports disciplines. And it is during the 1990s in particular that many new disciplines appear.
SEE THE NEWS PARTICIPATION IN THE COMMEMORATIVE EVENTS OF THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF BARCELONA 92
THE MILESTONE OF 100,000 JUMPS IN A YEAR
We reached the end of the 90s riding the crest of the wave, becoming the European airfield with the greatest volume of jumps, reaching over 100,000 in 2001, and only two years later, the one millionth jump was celebrated. We thus became the first jump facility in the world to reach this mythical figure.
The year with the most activity was 2011, with almost 140,000 jumps. Since 1998, we have continuously been the facility with the highest volume of jumps in Europe. We already exceeded two million jumps in 2013, and by 2020 the cumulative figure had already reached over two and a half million jumps. .
However, not everything can be justified with absolute figures. The strong growth in activity has always been linked to the safety and quality of service, an attribute that has always been highlighted by users of the facilities, many of whom have jumped almost everywhere in the world. Skydive Empuriabrava has always had highly qualified technical personnel, some of them being international standard setters in their fields, and this fact has rewarded us with loyalty from the jumpers and has positioned us as a global benchmark.
VISION AND LEADERSHIP REMAIN, EVEN WITH CHANGES IN OWNERSHIP
In 1994, Ivan Coufal, Jaume Comas and Peter Jones took over from Roland Hilfiker as owners. They were at the forefront of the company for more than 18 years, during which time their management permitted the steady growth of the parachuting centre, which remained a benchmark throughout the world throughout that time. .
With the intention of putting the business situation in order, Skydive Empuriabrava bought Formula and Properties, S.L. in 2005. With the arrival of 2012, the company was acquired by a Dubai-based business fund through the company Skydive Dutch BV. From this moment, a series of important investments in the facilities began, with the aim of consolidating the facility as a leader in the sector in Europe and as the focal point for lovers of skydiving.
THE LAND OF THE SKY
It is a description that does justice to the leadership that has always distinguished Skydive Empuriabrava, which has opened the doors of skydiving to all levels of practitioners: from tandem jumps that allow beginners to live the experience of flying without any prior preparation, to skydiver training and more advanced teaching, through courses to become a professional instructor. And also with a highly specialised field for high-level training, to be able to qualify for everything in international competitions.
And the offer is not only limited to jumpers, but also to aviation. Since 1995, Skydive Empuriabrava has had its own aviation school, which offers complete private pilot courses, as well as the experience of feeling like a pilot for a day, cwith a brief theoretical piloting class accompanied by a flight with an instructor that allows the client to experience the sensation of flying an airplane. And there are also tourist flights, to climb into the Empordà sky and enjoy the privileged landscape of Cap de Creus, the “Empordà Wetlands”, the ruins at Empúries, the Medes Islands or the Gulf of Roses.
The ideal complement to all of this came in 2012 with the start-up of Windoor, the wind tunnel. Managed by an external company, this infrastructure brings a lot of value to the skydiving destination, and makes Skydive Empuriabrava one of the few places in the world where there is a skydiving centre and a wind tunnel in the same space.
With all this, aware of where we are and where we are looking, they call us The Land of the Sky.
THE PRESTIGE OF WORLD RECORDS AND CHAMPIONSHIPS
The sky of Empuriabrava has been the scene of the achievement of various European and world records, a fact that has driven the international recognition of Skydive Empuriabrava. Of the multitude of records achieved, the following stand out: the European Freefly record (2013) with 96 skydivers, the world record in horizontal free fall (2012) with a speed of 304 km/h, the world record for sequential formation skydiving (2013) with 106 jumpers or the Guinness record for tandem jumps (2014) with 35 jumps in one hour, just to give a few examples. And beyond the records, the facilities have also been the scene of the most exciting competitions, such asthe King of Swoop, one of the most spectacular trials in skydiving that rewards speed, distance and landing precision, and which has brought together the most accomplished experts from all over the world.
And outside the Empuriabrava facilities, the Skydive Empuriabrava team of professional jumpers has participated with great success in events around the world.. Among the multitude of recognitions, participation in several large formation world records stands out, such as the one that was achieved in Thailand in 2004 with 357 skydivers. Two years later, some of our jumpers were also protagonists of the new world record, in a free fall formation of 400 skydivers.