Adventures in the Atlantic

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jul 18, 2010 9:54 PM
From skydiving to zip lining, Atlantic Canada is an adrenaline junkie's paradise.

By Linda Browne and Shawn Hayward

Have you ever dreamt about soaring through the sky like a bird? Does the thought of shooting down a raging river faster than a speeding bullet make your body tingle with excitement? Here in the Atlantic, there's no shortage of activities that will get your blood pumping and your heart thumping. Extreme sports are not only a chance to step outside your comfort zone by trying something thrilling and new, but also a great way for tourists and residents alike to see Atlantic Canada in a whole new light. Have a look at 10 of these amazing adventures. Are you brave enough to take the plunge?

A Giant Leap of Faith
Dave Williamson may have phobias like every other person in the world, but one thing he certainly doesn't have is a fear of heights. He owns and operates the Atlantic School of Skydiving in Waterville, Nova Scotia - the only skydiving school in the region, which has been around since 1982. His students can complete either a tandem jump, or take the first jump course before safely and successfully completing a solo jump.

Watch Linda Browne and Jumpmaster Dave Williamson complete a tandem jump in the Annapolis Valley, NS.

For first-time skydivers, a tandem jump is perhaps the best option. Harnessed to the front of a certified and experienced skydiving instructor, you'll jump from a Cessna 182 aircraft at around 10,000 feet and experience about 35 seconds of freefall (at a speed of up to 120 mph) before your instructor deploys a special parachute built for two. You'll get to drink in the spectacular views of the beautiful Annapolis Valley and the Bay of Fundy as you spend the next six minutes floating peacefully to the ground.

Dave has been skydiving for more than 33 years, having taken 6,700 jumps, including 2,000 tandems. Yet he never gets bored with what has become routine.

"Every jump is different. I do it because I like it. It's fun," he laughs. "It's a thrill every time."

He admits there are inherent risks to skydiving, However, Dave adds, "A lot of activities we take for granted come with risk also, just like driving a car. I tell people the most dangerous part of their day is actually driving to the drop zone."

If you have the desire for skydiving but are still on the fence about it, Dave has some simple advice: "Just do it."

Did you know?
The Scottish Parachute Club (Skydive Strathallan) recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. The club - which is one of the oldest skydiving clubs in the world - was founded in 1960 by Dr. Charles A. Robertson, father of Memorial University graduate Andrew Robertson.

Soaring to Great Heights
If the thought of throwing yourself from a moving plane is too scary, paragliding is perhaps the next best thing, since you start at the bottom and work your way up, literally.

Watch a tandem launch at Pegasus Paragliding in Nova Scotia.

Michael Fuller, chief instructor and owner of Pegasus Paragliding - aptly named for the winged horse in Greek mythology - has been paragliding for 16 years. He's been taking students under his proverbial wing since his school (located among the Cobequid Mountains in Diligent River, Nova Scotia) opened in 1997. He's been offering tandem flights for the past six years and says this is a great introduction to the sport.

"I get all types, but mostly those people who are adventurous of spirit and mind," he says. "I've taken a guy in a wheelchair and I've taken eight year olds and I've taken 75 year olds."

Unlike skydiving, paragliding begins with an open canopy. At the launching point, when the wind conditions are just right, the canopy is laid out and inflated above your head (like a kite). Once it's been carefully checked, you take off running down a hill (the steepness depends on your skill level) with the rising air gently lifting your feet off the ground. Before you know it, you're flying like a bird. If the weather is agreeable, students can look forward to about a minimum of 20 minutes of airtime and breathtaking views.

Michael says tandem flights are ideal for those "who just want a little taste of it, a little something exciting to do for their visit to this part of the country," or "people who have always dreamt of flying and never thought it was possible, to get that close to being a bird."

Did you know?
On June 21, 2002, Canadian Will Gadd set the world distance record for paragliding when he coasted a distance of 423.4 km in Zapta, Texas. The current world record is held by Nevil Hulett, who travelled 502.9 km in South Africa on December 14, 2008.

High-Flying Thrills and Chills
Ever wonder how acrobats can fly and twirl around on the trapeze with ease, and did you always think it would be cool to try it? You can - at Acro-Adix School of Acrobatics in St. John's, Newfoundland, operated by husband and wife team Josh and Dany Munden.

Watch student highlights from Acro-Adix School of Acrobatics in St. John's, NL.

Josh, a Whitbourne native, and Dany, of Sao Paulo, Brazil, met seven years ago while working on the circus team at a Club Med resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The couple later spent two summers running a trapeze school in Whistler, B.C. before opening their own school in St. John's last year. Between them, they have more than 20 years experience in aerial arts.

There are two roles on the flying trapeze: flyer and catcher. The flyer is the one who performs the tricks in the air, while the catcher is the finisher, the person who catches the flyer. At the school, students need a minimum of two flights before they can make a successful catch, and safety is the No. 1 priority. Everyone that flies is in a safety harness the whole time above an 88-foot long safety net.

Josh says acrobatics is a sport that can be enjoyed by both the young, and young at heart.

"The oldest guy I ever caught was 85 years old. My daughter is the youngest I've ever seen fly. And she's been flying by herself on the bar since she was 14 months old," Josh says. "The coolest experience we've ever had was we taught an 11-year-old blind girl, and she did a catch after her fourth try."

The aerial arts are addictive, adrenaline-filled and open to anyone with a sense of adventure.

"You just gotta experience it. You gotta swing out on that bar and let go in mid-air and just trust this dude is going to come up and catch you, pull you out of the sky," Josh says. "You're on fire, you're electric after you do it. There's such a sense of accomplishment."

Did you know?
Look closely and you'll see Josh in Nelly Furtado's video for the tune "Forca." Josh has also worked as a rigger for Britney Spears in Toronto.

Under the Sea
Newfoundland and Labrador is a natural scuba diver's paradise. "We've got decent currents you can pretty much go diving anywhere there's a beach, anywhere you can get into the water," says Sean Farrell, Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) divemaster with Pretty Safe Enterprises (PSE), based in Portugal Cove.

Watch Sean Farrell scuba diving in Bauline, NL at night.

Sean has been scuba diving for about 10 years and counts Middle Cove, Outer Cove, St. Philip's and Spoon Cove (on the Avalon Peninsula) as being among some of the best sites. However, the most famous dive sites are the four shipwrecks around Bell Island: the Lord Strathcona, Saganaga, Rose Castle and P.L.M. 27, all sunk in 1942.

"They're world-class wrecks. People come from all over to see those," Sean says.

If you're an experienced diver and need transportation to these sites, Ocean Quest in Conception Bay South offers charter boats. If you've never been scuba diving and think maybe you might like it, both Ocean Quest and PSE offer an introductory course in which beginners suit up in scuba gear and spend a couple of hours playing underwater in the deep end of an indoor swimming pool.

"Doing Discover Scuba is a small investment. In just doing that you'll see if it's something that you'd like, if you're comfortable wearing the gear, if your body's comfortable in the water. That's the easiest way to find out if becoming certified is something you'd like to do," Sean says.

To hear about six other amazing adventures you can have in the Atlantic region, pick up the July issue of Downhome, on stands now!