It’s about time, right? I know, I’ve been slacking on the interviews, but life’s been busy – and it’s not like I get paid to do this…cuz really, how great would that be?!
So not the point…
This week’s Hear it from the Expert comes from a rigger’s perspective. This is an area of the sport where I’ve gained a lot of interest, so talking to Aaron about it just seemed natural.
I met Aaron on our trip to Zhills this winter and he was the photographer for my 100th jump! (Thanks again for that!). Though we haven’t known each other long, I’d heard many a great thing about him through the community here in Ohio – where he too started his career.
In talking with him, the names he throws out are people I’ve jumped with and skydive with today. It’s always great to chat with a former Parkman jumper like myself.
So let’s get to it, shall we? Here’s a look into skydiving from the perspective of Aaron Stocum:
SDC: Tell us a little about how you got into skydiving.
AS: When I was sixteen I saw the movie point break. As I watched the first skydiving scene I was hooked. I knew right then and there (sitting in my buddy Dave Wainio’s living room) that I needed to start skydiving.
3 years later, at age 19, I made my first jump at Cleveland Parachute Center in August 1995. There was a group of my friends that all wanted to go but on the morning of that day everyone backed out. I showed up to the DZ about an hour late…the instructor let me join the class. Made my first jump that day. Showed up the next week with one my friends taking the first jump course (who backed out last minute the previous week) and made 4 more static line jumps. Unfortunately I was unable to satisfactorily perform the DRCP’s (dummy rip cord pulls) in order to pass to the next level. The next year, on my birthday (sept 2), I showed up for my first AFF jump. Mary O’Reilly took me through another FJC (first jump course) and got me in the air. It was another year before I finished AFF…mostly due to being broke! From there I went full speed ahead! Went straight to the dark side (freefly) and jumped my ass off every chance I could! Before long I was offered opportunities to work doing video and packing at various DZ’s in the area.
SDC: What’s your favorite discipline in skydiving?
AS: I enjoy various aspects of every part of our sport, but the swoop is what really keeps me going! I love freeflying, camera, belly, tracking, wingsuit, CRW, AFF, and tandem. There are great things about all disciplines. The freedom, exhilaration, and danger of diving a highly loaded wing at the ground at outrageous speeds really gets my blood pumping! I get excited just thinking about it!
SDC: You’ve got some serious cajones, I’ll give you that. So do you BASE jump to get your blood pumping too?
AS: I’ve never BASE jumped…yet. I definitely see the allure of it. Honestly it scares the crap out of me, which is probably why I want to try it, just haven’t got there…yet.
SDC: How did your career in skydiving evolve into getting your riggers ticket? Tell us a little about your path.
AS: At the beginning of my skydiving career I was a fun jumper, like most, a weekend warrior. My love for the sport and lack of finance pushed me into the packing area. I started packing early to offset the cost of jumping (honestly it was to jump more). The way we had to pack the static line chutes at CPC happened to be the same way you flake a reserve. It was a natural transition to become a rigger, not to mention it was encouraged by the owner (Bob Gates-the man). Along with his encouragement and the help of many mentors (Mary O, Lisa Adcock,, Larry Wereb, Aaron Teel, and Jeffery McCann) I finally got my self together and got a riggers ticket.
SDC: What are your recommendations for those who want to become riggers one day?
AS: I encourage skydivers to learn about the gear, it’s important! If you’re interested in becoming a rigger take your time and learn from the most experienced riggers you can find. Note “riggers”, it helps to see different techniques and tips. Remember a rigging ticket is for life so don’t stop learning, things change and you have to keep up.
SDC: Don’t stop learning. That’s great advice – something that everyone in this sport should strive for, in my opinion . So as a former Parkman jumper, what do you miss most about that DZ?
AS: Being a CPC (more infamously known as Parkman) jumper, I mainly miss the people and the friendship/family feeling that made Parkman the great place that is was. So many memories, so many awesome people. I still love them all and miss them daily!
SDC: Yeah, there are a lot of great people who grew up at that DZ.. Who are some of the people that have inspired you, that you look up to most in the sport?
AS: The Parkman crew. When I started jumping I had the best instructors, Mary O, Bob Gates, Tom Sutton, Don Schwab, and John Dutton. They had the patience to help me through AFF. Afterwards I learned from a lot of really talented skydivers. Joe and Dave Lunardi, Pat Ralph, Dave Lepka, Lisa and George Adcock, and Dan Mathie all helped me learn to freefly, RW, and fly camera. Even beyond skydiving the family I had there was very supportive, no matter what life threw at me. More than just learning to skydive they helped me grow to be the person I am to this day.
The people that inspired me the most at the beginning of my skydiving career werefor his attitude toward life and skydiving (not to mention all the help he gave me along the way!), he reminded me that you always have a choice. John Dutton, John Cable, and Dave Lepka, watching these guys swoop was just amazing, I had to learn to swoop. Mary “O” for teaching common sense and keeping things in perspective. Dan Mathie, just for for his natural talent in the air.
SDC: Ooh, I just got chills – it’s great to hear that the people who encourage and mentor me have been doing the same for so many years. I’m a true believer that it’s the Bobs, Toms, Dons, Joes, Daves and Marys of the world that really make this community what it is. But that’s enough out of me, this is your interview…
SDC: After spending time with you down at Skydive City, it’s apparent that you’ve found your place in the skydiving world. What helped you get to where you are today?
AS: What helped me get to the place I am in the sport? Constant help and support from family and friends and the desire to be a part of the sport. I couldn’t have made it this far without everyone’s help (it’s a long list). Thank you!
SDC: What’s one of the most unique experiences you’ve had as a skydiver?
AS: Most unique experiences? Huh! It’s a toss up between the Demo jumps I used to do at the Nelson Ledges Quarry Park – huge quarry surrounded by 100ft trees and rock ledges with a little patch of sand to land on – or sitting at the open door of the twin otter realizing how stupid and dangerous the majority of the world below me thinks this is…and smiling to myself
SDC: What do you like most about your involvement in the sport and the community that surrounds it?
AS: We have such a unique community, that’s one of the best parts of our sport. Weather you’re just fun jumping or doing some sort of competition, most people are very friendly and helpful. I love being a part of it. From introducing someone to skydiving to teaching them to do it on their own, it’s all fun! I hope to keep skydiving for a long time to come, with any luck doing more swoop competitions in the future!
SDC: Thanks, Aaron, for taking the time to chat and share your experience with us today.
Though it wasn’t exactly outlined in the interview – Aaron is a tandem master, videographer, swooper, freeflyer and rigger at Skydive City in Zephyrhills, Florida. If you have a chance to check it out, I highly recommend that dropzone. Definitely lives up to it’s reputation as the friendliest DZ in Florida!