From 13,000 feet above, Javed Choudhari overlooked the majestic Sierras and the Pacific Ocean. Then he jumped.
Choudhari, a National Indian Wheelchair Basketball Team player, could not skydive at home in India because of his prosthetic leg, so he jumped at the chance to skydive in California.
Tears of joy fell from his eyes as he fell through the sky, he said. He screamed and danced on the landing field, inspired to try any and all extreme sports and meet new people abroad.
“Most extreme sports companies don’t let me participate on the spot,” Choudhari said. “I told [Silicon Valley Skydiving] that skydiving is my lifelong dream, and they went out of their way to get me a special harness so I could skydive.”
Many disabled people credited the YouTube video of Choudhari’s tandem jump as what inspired them to pursue thrilling activities and convinced extreme sports companies to allow them, he said.
Thousands more thrill-seekers — from tech bros to corporate lawyers — flock to the small Northern California farming town of San Martin, Calif. — about 25 miles south of San Jose — to skydive at Silicon Valley Skydiving, bridging the outskirts of Silicon Valley and the hubbub of the nation’s tech capital. It has not only become a tourist draw but has also changed the lives of residents.
SVS co-owners Ronaldo Tkotz and Vitor Tamarozi brought their love for skydiving from Brazil to the states in late 2017 when they bought Skydive Hollister. It was rebranded to Silicon Valley Skydiving in 2020 and moved from Hollister to San Martin, or as skydivers call it, “the dropzone.” SVS has served more than 15,000 clients since it opened for business in 2017.
San Martin became ideal for its strategic location and quiet community, making the two-year moving process worth it.
“Hollister Municipal Airport is busy with flights on two runways and a CalFire Station, so we had to land 15 miles away,” Tkotz said. “We shuttled back and forth, which is unsafe since, incredibly, jumping out of a plane is safer than putting people on the road.”
However, risks on the road began on the drive on state Highway 25 to Hollister. Since most of their clients are from San Francisco and San Jose, Tkotz said the long drive to Hollister can take more than two hours, deterring many potential skydivers.
“Driving the two-lane and narrow Highway 25 can get dark and dangerous,” Tkotz said.
Tamarozi said San Martin Airport’s location is a marketing strategy in itself. The airport is conspicuously sandwiched between Interstate 101 and Monterey Road, the thoroughfare connecting San Jose and Gilroy.
“People driving and locals looking out their windows see us and suddenly think, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool; I want to skydive!,’” Tamarozi said.
This is how Casey Woodruff, Owen Woodruff’s mom, who was driving on Interstate 101, discovered SVS and gifted him skydiving as a birthday present.
Owen Woodruff was seeking an exhilarating 18th birthday adventure, and his 30 second jump changed his life in April 2023. This recent high school graduate now sets his sights on becoming a paratrooper as he prepares to enter the U.S. Army.
There’s only one downside to the adrenaline rush of skydiving, Woodruff said.
“Skydiving ruined rollercoasters for me since they’re so boring now,” he said.
SVS enhances skydiving with humor and camaraderie, Tkotz said.
“Jokes alleviate the worries of tandem jumpers,” Tkotz said. “Our close community makes people feel comfortable.”
But for first-time jumpers, he’s less playful and keeps the conversation focused on technicalities that ensure a safe fall.
“I tell jumpers to never get in the plane if they have a question because it’s very uncomfortable,” Tkotz said. “We are more rational with our first-time jumpers since many safety procedures and emotions flow through your head when jumping alone for the first time.”
But not everyone welcomes SVS.
The company operates out of a local airport in a county that has for years fought skydiving. On weekends, SVS staff arrive early with a van and trailer, lugging a generator and portable toilets to “dropzone.” SVS wants to call dropzone home, but Santa Clara County will not allow SVS to lease land long-term to create a more permanent future.
Director of Santa Clara County Airports Eric Peterson said SCC denied SVS’ requests for three years due to SCC wanting “more control over operations,” not bound by long term agreements.
Peterson said the “acrimonious” relationship between SCC and skydiving stems from tension with the Federal Government and Federal Aviation Administration. SVS walked right in the middle of this.
“The federal government investigated and said we have to allow skydiving, but SCC disagreed; the offshoot was to withhold grant funding,” Peterson said. “SCC is also unhappy with the FAA because it made SCC sponsor skydiving.”
However, SVS said it has begun to put pressure on SCC after gathering evidence of economic discrimination and seeking legal counsel.
SVS and SCC will continue to discuss the possibility of leasing land at San Martin Airport.
“I’m very happy with my communication with them [SVS], how they’re operating and how they try to be a good neighbor,” Peterson said. “They have recently requested a longer term agreement, so I am working to see where we can go.”
As the feud plays out, SVS will continue operating, and clients like Choudhari will happily keep jumping.
“No one was running from me as most extreme sports companies do. Everyone ran toward me, eager to help,” Choudhari said. “I felt like my dream was theirs.”