Sopurkh Khalsa fell hard for skydiving in 2001. Now the software engineer is a frequent flier.
If Sopurkh Khalsa could pick any superpower, he’d choose the ability to be invisible. That’s probably because he already knows how to fly.
Khalsa’s first leap into the big blue skies happened in 2001 when a coworker had the itch to cross skydiving off the ol’ bucket list. Khalsa decided to go along as moral support.
“Skydiving had always been something I’d wanted to try. I actually enjoyed it so much I made my second jump that same day,” Khalsa said. Six weeks later, he had attained a skydiving license through an accelerated free-fall training program and was racking up his jump count.
But being a frequent flier is a commitment, and for a stretch of nearly 10 years, skydiving was put on Khalsa’s back burner. (He was busy living in France and driving Formula One Renault cars at Elf Winfield Racing School, so, you know, just being super cool elsewhere.)
When Khalsa moved back to the United States in 2007, he got a job at an info-retrieval startup in Bellevue, which led to his current job as a software engineer at Microsoft’s Intune division, where he’s been for the last three-and-a-half years.
“Intune allows corporations and organizations to centrally manage all IT assets. So, if you wanted to access your work email from your phone, our product allows companies to enable employees to access IT resources and keep it safe,” Khalsa said.
Safety is important in Khalsa’s job and his hobby — measures must be taken to keep clients’ data safe at work, and to keep Khalsa safe when skydiving. He sees other similarities between skydiving and his 9-to-5. “Both are analytical — not in terms of being in the moment doing the activity, but the understanding of gear and being analytical about flying and body and paying attention to detail,” he said. “In software engineering, we have features we have to implement into products, and that takes figuring out the details as well.”
Khalsa re-entered the world of skydiving by practicing at the iFly indoor skydiving center at Southcenter. “In terms of free fall, iFly and skydiving are the same. The skills used to fly your body are the same. A lot of skydivers use these tunnels for … practice,” he said.
IFly practice helps skydivers perfect their body positions, which is especially important for divers like Khalsa who participate in group formation jumps.
“Flying in the tunnel allows for immediate feedback instead of picking up bad habits and having to unlearn those. The tunnel really helps,” said Khalsa.
When Khalsa is ready to take his new skills to the sky, he drives to the drop zone at Skydive Kapowsin in Shelton. There, Khalsa plummets toward the ground at speeds nearing 170 mph.
Khalsa isn’t fazed by the potential for injury associated with his hobby. “I don’t worry about it. Modern skydiving equipment is very safe,” he said. “The canopies are designed so they want to open. We keep (crashing) in mind (so) in case something does go wrong, we’re able to react.”
Long gone are the huge ballooned canopies like those used by the 101st Airborne in World War II. Nowadays, parachutes are smaller and rectangular, which helps skydivers glide onto the ground instead of landing with a thump. Khalsa said he usually comes in against the wind and uses the toggles — parachute brakes — to flare the chute and come in at about 25 mph. This eases his speed so he can gently trot to a stop.
In late July, Khalsa participated in a record-breaking jump, during which he and 164 other skydivers fell in a heads-down formation while connected to each other at Chicago’s Skydiving Summerfest. Group dives are what Khalsa looks forward to most.
“The skydiving community is filled with really good people,” said Khalsa. “I may not have seen someone in a couple of years, and I’ll run into them at a skydiving event and you pick up where you left off. This community is so supportive.”
Khalsa doesn’t see skydiving as an unusual hobby. While he admits he was nervous on the day of his first jump, he no longer gets nervous. He equates his fondness for skydiving to the zeal many have for golf.
“I don’t think of skydiving as extreme,” he said. “The same way golfers try and improve their game, I’m always working on trying to improve my body flight and canopy skills.”
And like many golfers, Khalsa plans to continue skydiving as he grows older. “I’ll do it as long as I enjoy it and am able to.”