A local skydiving company set a record for South Padre Island’s oldest skydiver when a 90-year-old man took an 11,000-foot leap.
On Jan. 19, Russell Louden of Canton, Texas, went skydiving for the first time with the help of Skydive South Padre. The plane took off from the Brownsville/South Padre International Airport and set him up for the parachute landing on the Island.
“He had been calling for a year about skydiving for his 90th birthday and when it was getting close he rode his motorcycle to the Island from Weslaco to pay the deposit,” Skydive South Padre owner Frank Shisler said.
Last weekend, Russell arrived with an entourage of supporters, ready to jump in an early celebration of his birthday, which was Jan. 24.
Twenty of his friends drove to the Island to watch him jump. At Clayton’s Beach Bar, they gathered and cheered him on before leaving for the airport.
His friends asked if he was excited. “Not particularly,” Russell told them. “When you get to be this old, one day’s just like another.”
But Russell showed more enthusiasm as his skydive came to a safe landing on the warm sand of South Padre Island.
“That was amazing,” he said. “Everyone ought to do that at least once!”
Russell’s friends seemed excited, too. “He was the only one of us brave enough to do it,” said Tom West a winter visitor from El Paso, Ill.
Russell had dreams of skydiving at a much younger age.
“When I was in World War II, I really wanted to be an officer in the paratroopers, but the school was closed for officers,” Russell said. “Ever since, I wanted to jump out of a plane.”
Though he lives in Weslaco, Russell is a popular figure among his friends at the Hidden Valley Ranch RV Park in Mission. He gets around on his Honda 750 motorcycle.
“I’ve been riding since I was 18 years old,” he said. “I’ve had 15 bikes. I have a big RV and a motorcycle, and that’s the way I like it.”
Shisler photographed and filmed the aerial images.
“Part of our service is to continue the experience by offering an HD version of the full event,” Shisler said. “From suiting up, to riding in the airplane to the first and last expression on your face, all you have to do is smile.”
Before Russell, the previous record for the oldest person to skydive at the Island with that company was an 89-year-old woman from El Paso two years ago.
Skydive South Padre takes tandem skydives for two people at a time and is set up daily at Clayton’s Beach Bar.
“I’ve jumped all over the world and South Padre Island is the No. 1 or No. 2 place to jump with year-round conditions,” Shisler said. “Based on the view at 11,000 feet, the Island looks like a landing strip.”
Aarin Hartwell is an intern for The Brownsville Herald.