Jumping out of a plane at 4000 meters may not be everyone's idea of fun, but for those thrill-seekers who want the exhilaration of a 200km/h free-fall, Dubai has become one of the top skydiving destinations in the world.
With a 260 thousand meter drop zone area flanked by water, a line of eye-catching skyscrapers and the famous Palm Island, SkyDive Dubai Palm Drop Zone (Palm DZ) offers a unique experience.
Opening its doors three years ago as the first and only commercial skydiving center in the glitzy desert city, the Palm DZ now attracts a waiting list of jumpers for each new season that begins in September and ends in May.
Facilities manager Mohammed Yousof has performed over 6000 jumps since he began skydiving in the 1960s when he joined the UAE army as a paratrooper. Before Skydive Dubai opened the army had been the only place in the UAE that offered jumpers opportunities to skydive.
But things changed after the city hosted the country's first Dubai International Parachuting Championship (DIPC) in 2010, according to Yousof.
Public enthusiasm for the sport skyrocketed and eventually led to the birth of SkyDive Dubai for commercial jumpers, Yousof said.
“In 2010 we held the Dubai International Parachuting Championships here in SkyDive Dubai, and after the championships and seeing the planes and jumps, people wanted to skydive themselves here, and word reached Sheikh Hamdan so we rented a plane and began offering skydives for fun here,” explained Yousof.
The operation began on a small scale with a team of only five people and two to three tandem jumps a day. But after rapidly gaining popularity, SkyDive Dubai now employs over 200 people and carried out 9,000 tandem jumps and 21 thousand fun (solo) jumps in 2012 alone.
One Dubai resident said she was amazed by the view of the Palm Island during her very first skydive.
“Because here the view is really amazing when you like, fly above the Palm, it's like amazing, it's incredibly amazing,” said Katarina, who is originally from Russia. “I wish to do it as much as possible.”
The skydive center, located less than an hour from one of the world's busiest airports and in the heart of a bustling city, has made it an international destination, said General Manager Alan Gayton.
“The location here is unique in the way that we are in the middle of a city, we've got these huge skyscrapers and we've also got the beautiful palm Jumeirah, so it's one of the main reasons that people travel from all over the world, sometimes over a weekend, as far away as China, they've come for a weekend just to do a tandem skydive with us,” said Gayton.
The centre also acts as a training facility for professional skydiving teams from around the world.
“We do about 60 to 80 tandem jumps a day. Of course we get people who jump as part of a team - from France, Europe, all over the world, the Arab world - Qatar, Oman, Bahrain - they all come here to train,” said Yousof, who also manages the athletes that train at the Palm DZ.
Ahmed Rashid Gheyth is one of 10 members on two UAE parachuting teams that compete around the world. He said skydiving was one of the big attractions that led him to a career in the army.
“It was on my mind for a while and I saw it (skydiving) when I was young and joined the army because of it, and thankfully since joining the army I'm still continuing with it,” said Gheyth, who has twenty years of skydiving experience.
The UAE hosted the World Parachuting Championships Mondial for the first time in Dubai 2012, which saw some 1,600 jumpers from around the world do 12 thousand jumps over the course of 8 days.
This year the Palm DZ will be hosting its 4th annual DIPC from November 27 to December 9.