This season has been a slow one for me in terms of frequency of skydiving. Between an early season injury and the ensuing rehab, along with starting a new job, traveling and enjoying the summer in Chicago, I haven’t been in the air nearly as much as past seasons.
Though, I can’t complain, I’ve got a lot of great stuff going on in my life!
Last weekend, things took a bit of a turn as I donned a wingsuit and headed up with some of the flock. More specifically, I took a first jump course that’s now offered at Skydive Chicago’s Flock-U branch. My training last season, though thorough, just wasn’t ‘official,’ and when it comes to skydiving and safety, I like to do things by the book as much as possible.
So, since it’d been nearly a year since my last flight I decided a refresher was in order! The course was quick, about an hour, then you get to slip into a Tonysuit Intro and head up with an instructor (shout out to Greg Drogaline, thanks buddy)!
So great to be back in flight mode! Let me tell you, it’s like riding a bike. Although with much newer equipment. My main concern in getting my wings back was that my slider has a tendency to get hung up at deployment, requiring me to reach up and give my risers a couple pumps to get everything in working order. With my old Birdman Classic 2 I wasn’t able to reach the risers without unzipping the wings, which concerned me.
So when I realized I’d be able to reach my risers comfortably in the Tonysuit, it seemed like a good time to get back at it. After one flight I moved on to the T-bird and placed my rental order with Wicked Wingsuits so I have one to fly for the next month (or two).
Thanks Simon, for heading out on the second flight to get some fun pictures!
I’ve gotta say, it feels great to have my wings back. Can’t wait till I get a bit more proficient and feel comfortable heading out with the flock.
As I mentioned in the last post, this year’s event is going to be low key compared to the past couple years. We’re encouraging jumpers from all over the country to take part by collecting pledges for their jumps for the weekend (Aug 12-14) to support diabetes research.
Remember folks: tax write off here!
For those who plan to attend at Skydive Chicago, here’s what you can look forward to:
* Saturday night raffle: Tickets are being sold for $25 each or 6 for $100.
-PD main or reserve canopy (grand prize)
-Free Taste of Base with Miles Daisher
-Cookie Helmet package
-Free first flight course with Flock U at SDC
-% off Vigil
-% off Infinity and Wings container
-% off Bev Suit
-SDC gear store discounts
-And MUCH more!
For the price of a lift ticket you have a chance to win a new canopy, or other badass prizes, just like that. We’ll continue to keep you posted over at the Facebook Page as we get more sponsors.
* Support the cause with each skydive: For those who want to participate and are feeling a bit too lazy to go out and collect pledges from their friends and family, you can help the cause just by jumping. If you’re at Skydive Chicago Aug 12-14, all you have to do is tell manifest when you check in that you’re Jumping for Diabetes and a portion of your skydive will be donated to the cause. Thanks Rook, for generously taking part!
We’ll be hanging out at Summerfest this year selling tickets, handing out pledge forms and working some general excitement for this incredible cause. Or, you can always email firstname.lastname@example.org to enter the raffle, get your pledge sheet or simply to find out how to donate to the cause.
So many of us have been touched by diabetes in one way or another, let’s all join together to help find a cure for this disease, shall we?
Love and Blue Skies!
For all those who don’t check their email or who might not get USPA’s emails for one reason or another, there was a recent Call for Action regarding canopy safety due to the recent fatal collisions this year.
And I know no one likes to talk about the black death part of the sport, but truth is if we’re paying attention, this is something we can all learn from in order to be safer in our friendly blue playground.
So, in case you didn’t see it, here’s what USPA has to say about canopy collisions and safety under canopy. Not only are they stressing predictable landing patterns, but they touch on high performance landings and S-turns to burn off altitude as a couple of factors that could throw off other canopy pilots and cause potential collisions. Keep it on the straight and narrow folks!
Since late February, there have been five fatalities (and one critical injury) that were canopy-collision related. Every skydiver is asking the same questions: “How is this happening, and why?” It appears that skill level and proficiency are not indicators. One accident involved two jumpers with about 23 jumps each who were the only two jumpers under canopy at the time. Another accident involved a jumper with 17,000 jumps and another with 8,000 jumps, both very proficient and with very little other traffic around them.
It is time that we all accept the responsibility of ending the canopy-collision threat.
We are asking all skydivers to join in this CALL TO ACTION. Individual jumpers must follow the guidelines in the Skydiver’s Information Manual that have proven to keep our skies safer when they are applied correctly. Additionally, we are asking that all S&TAs observe and correct poor habits at their DZs. We are asking that DZOs become more involved in canopy safety by establishing canopy flight rules, and safe landing patterns and landing areas. This type of accident MUST STOP, and we all can be a part of making that happen.
Jay Stokes, USPA President
SKYDIVER ACTION CALL
The time has come for us to change the way we are looking at ourselves and those around us and to insist upon a different set of outcomes. We have lost nearly 30 fellow skydivers in recent years to situations in which two canopy pilots ran into each other. Some of these accidents are attributable to jumpers executing “induced-speed” (or high-performance) landings, and others are not. There have been many different circumstances surrounding these incidents, leading to many theories about the causes and steps that can be taken to prevent additional instances. In recent months, USPA Board members and staff have had in-depth dialogue with many skydiving experts and skydivers who care. USPA is committed to canopy education and will continue working on those recommendations. Meanwhile, here are some generally agreed-upon observations, followed by suggestions, some of which can be applied by every one of us.
- Skydivers have become increasingly concerned about their personal safety. Many jumpers are experiencing a substantially increased fear of being unexpectedly, and perhaps fatally, involved in a canopy collision-being struck from behind or above by a more aggressive canopy pilot. Some have publically expressed a lack of desire to jump at drop zones that do not promote a safe canopy flying culture. It is no longer “politically incorrect” to be an advocate of good canopy-flying behavior.
- When skydivers are trained in canopy-flight techniques and (perhaps more importantly) in canopy-flight decision-making, they become better and safer canopy pilots. They make better decisions and are significantly more aware of their surroundings under canopy. Industry experts agree that improving canopy education is critical, but we also know that it takes time.
- Higher wing loadings increase risk. Canopy pilots that fly at higher wing loadings are not necessarily unsafe, but statistics bear out a higher level of threat to the highly loaded canopy pilot and those who fly in his or her vicinity. Highly loaded canopies fly more quickly and react much more radically to toggle and riser input than lightly loaded parachutes. Skydivers who fly high-performance parachutes must maintain a great deal of respect for the flight characteristics of those parachutes.
- Mixing of standard landing patterns and high-performance landing patterns is dangerous. True separation of landing areas by distance and/or time is crucial. This includes not only the final approach and touchdown zones, but also the airspace above the drop zone where high-performance and standard-pattern flyers may intermix during pattern and/or landing maneuver set-up. Simply put, we can’t just paint a line down the middle of the landing area and think that it will provide adequate separation. The total three-dimensional aspect of the airspace and any potential conflicts must be thoroughly considered in the landing zone layout.
- Predictability is the key to safe landing patterns and accident avoidance. Excessive turns in the traffic pattern are exponentially more dangerous than straight-in final approaches following a 90-degree turn from base to final leg. This is true of jumpers busting out big turns to final (180s, 270s, 720s, etc.), as well as the old-school jumper doing S-turns or a braked accuracy descent down the middle of his final approach path. Both can become rapidly unpredictable and result in unexpected outcomes like low-altitude collision-avoidance turns and worse.
- Many jumpers don’t pay attention to their surroundings as much as they should while flying their canopies. Everyone needs to pay attention to their environment and look out for everyone else.
- In some cases, the only way to educate is to enforce rules and provide consequences for bad behavior-especially repeated bad behavior.
Here are a couple of ideas that we can implement today. USPA is asking all members to take action to address this situation. There is something that you can do, regardless of your status on the drop zone.
Each skydiver should:
- Recognize the need to get more training, gain more knowledge and improve your canopy skills. Start now by reviewing Sections 6-10 and 6-11 in the Skydiver’s Information Manual.
- In air, improve your visual scan and awareness of where others are in the sky. Look not only where you want to fly, but look for where others may be. On final approach, maintain your scan and awareness of others; don’t get tunnel vision on your landing spot.
- Realize that every turn increases the chance for converging flight. When descending into the standard landing area, fly a standard pattern and continue to scan the airspace for any conflicting canopy traffic while keeping your turns to no more than 90 degrees.
- Set an example through your behavior. Become a proponent of safe canopy flight. Walk the talk, fly the pattern, and share the knowledge.
- Demand a safe canopy flight environment at your home drop zone. Talk to your DZO, S&TAs and fellow jumpers about it. Insist upon a culture of safe canopy flight.
Each DZO and S&TA should:
- Establish DZ canopy-flight rules and be certain that they are clearly communicated to all jumpers.
- Establish and utilize a method for determining and communicating landing direction on each load.
- Truly separate high-performance and standard landing areas. Consider the approach portion of the airspace and be certain that the opportunity for overlap in differing wind conditions and jump runs is minimized.
- Be certain the rules for each landing area are well established. Limit turns in the standard landing pattern to 90 degrees. Let your jumpers know that radical diving and speed-inducing maneuvers, as well as S-turns and braked accuracy approaches to the standard landing pattern will not be tolerated.
- Consider other restrictions on your high-performance landing area, and be sure that everyone knows about it.
- Consider instituting a “Canopy Safety Monitor” or “Landing Safety Officer” approach, where an experienced staff member is empowered to observe and evaluate canopy flight from the ground in order to provide immediate feedback to errant canopy pilots. This “monitor” could be an S&TA, Instructor or simply a trusted and empowered jumper. This allows the DZ to monitor and address potentially dangerous situations in real time.
- Step up your use of counseling and enforcement tools to address irresponsible canopy piloting. Your USPA Regional Director will be happy to assist with this process if it is desired.
This weekend marks the beginning of the skydiving season (well, for me anyway). Last year I was blessed to have ample travel opportunities throughout the winter, along with a dropzone within driving distance that’d let me huck myself out of a Cessna on sunny, yet still frigid days. So needless to say there really wasn’t an “off season” for this chick last year.
I must admit, coming back is a bit nerve wracking. Attending Safety Day at both Skydive Chicago and Chicagoland Skydiving Center helped as they were both nice refreshers, but nothing can fully cure these butterflies aside from getting back in the sky!
With today being Friday I can’t help but have skydiving at the forefront of my mind. I’ve actually got a bit of spring in my step thinking about the upcoming adrenaline pumping Saturday. And though there was another canopy collision incident this week that lead to the death of two highly skilled skydiving instructors, those of us diving back in this weekend should learn from this and stay aware in the sky.
Safety first y’all.
So, along with the skydiving season comes a number of rituals, so to speak, that we skydivers seem to pick right back up, as if we’d never had a moment away.
- Compulsive weather checking. Maybe some of you do this all year anyway, but for most of us, we’re checking multiple times a day to see what the forecast is going to be for the upcoming weekend, the next day off or for an upcoming boogie (even if it’s weeks out). This is especially true for those of us who live in more weather temperamental locations. What can we say, we just can’t help it.
- Videos, Videos, VIDEOS. Whether it’s watching them on YouTube, Facebook or on the TV at the dropzone, filming them in the air, editing or sharing, the skydivers I know are all about videos…especially of themselves. This time of the year more and more videos appear on the interwebs and we are all eager to share our recent skydives with fellow jumpers and whuffos alike.
- Bye bye fair-weather outings. If it’s nice out, you know where to find the skydivers this time of year. So much for planning picnics, trips to the local beach, etc. Unless it’s too windy, any day that’s not rainy or cloudy is a dropzone day.
I’m sure there are many, many more, but it’s time for me to get some work done so I can get out there and jump!
For all those who are heading out to skydive this weekend, be safe and have a great one!
This year I attended Safety Day at two different dropzones. I’m lucky to live in an area where there are two high-quality establishments, each with their own unique community, but both having incredible staff and instructors.
Last weekend I headed down to Skydive Chicago after work on Friday. I made it in time for the break out sessions, learned about safety and emergency aircraft procedures, sat in on a canopy and emergency refresher and finished the evening with a discussion on planning a dive. The break out sessions were really nice in that it gave you a chance to ask more specific questions on particular subjects that you might not feel as comfortable asking in the larger group. It was also a way to be more hands on, practicing emergency canopy procedures and the like.
After the sessions it was time to hang out, eat, drink, and socialize, which took place right on site in the SDC lounge. They sure to have some nice facilities.
This weekend was Safety Day at Chicagoland Skydiving Center (CSC) at it’s new location in Rochelle, IL. Moving a dropzone is no easy task (not that I’m speaking from first-hand knowledge here, but from what I heard, it was a challenge) but plans for the new facilities are well underway and we have a temporary hangar in the meantime.
The day started with a refresher course led by Barry Williams, the head of Freefall University. Arriving in style (or rather, a couple hours late) I only caught two of the breakouts, but it was nice to see an arial of the new DZ and talk about outs, canopy control, etc.
The “official” safety day presentation was held lecture style, with presentations from a number of the staff talking about the new location, plans, aircraft, wingsuiting, fatalities, and more.
What I found interesting was a look at fatalities and the trends over time. We’re lucky to be at a place now where there are more USPA members than ever and less fatalities. This speaks volumes about the education and focus on safety in this sport. More than that, in the 70s and 80s there were a significant number of deaths due to low or no pull situations. These days, most fatalities have to do with canopy flight.
Looking at percentages from last year, 70% of the fatalities happened when equipment was completely fine. Scary huh. Between swooping and low turn accidents, to canopy collisions and unawareness, these types of issues could have been completely avoidable.
One thing that struck me between the two Safety Days was that there was a large focus on canopy skills. Emergency procedures were reviewed as always, but there just seemed to be this extra emphasis on ensuring safety from tracking away and deployment all the way back to being in the hangar. One of the instructors said it best, “the skydive isn’t over till you’re back in the hangar and packing up for that next jump.” Awareness and landing patterns where discussed and it was stressed more times than not to understand the canopy you’re flying and how to approach scary situations close to the ground.
Personally, a canopy course (or two) are at the top of my to-do list this season. Though I’m a small person, I’m flying a 120 square foot canopy – that’s high performance no matter which way you slice it – and I want to know everything I possibly can about the fabric that’s over my head and how to use it safely.
Having been in the sport for 2 full seasons, spending plenty of time on the ground (I am a wind pussy, after all) at dropzones and boogies around the country, I can’t recommend a solid canopy course enough. You never know when you’re going to need some last minute tips that could save your life, and the lives of your fellow jumpers.
:: off soapbox now ::
Hopefully everyone was able to attend Safety Day this year – or at least a refresher course with an instructor. This time of the year, nerves can get the best of you if you’re not prepared.
Hope to see everyone in the sky again soon.
With the weather warming up a touch I can’t help but think about Safety Day that’s just around the corner and finally getting back in the air!
A few of my fellow jumpers in the Chicagoland area have asked me to talk about coming back to the sport after a long period off, like you know, the winter. Of course, I’m not the best person to ask since last winter I didn’t go more than 3 weeks without a skydive, so speaking from experience is going to be difficult.
Regardless, this is a great time to take a look at the challenges in coming back to the sport since so many of us will be doing so in the near future. So I’ve skimmed my resources to provide some thoughts for making your transition back to the skydiving world as smooth and painless (figuratively and literally) as possible.
- Attend Safety Day – the official USPA Safety Day is on March 12. Many dropzones choose to have theirs on different days to accommodate jumpers who might want to attend other, larger Safety Day events. Regardless, be sure to attend at least one. For those who may not realize it, Safety Day is more than just about getting back in the air / completing recurrency jumps (if the DZ you’re at is even flying that day). It’s about refreshing your memory on safety in the sky. You’ll have a chance to not only review the USPA BSRs and any changes to the SIM but also refresh on your home dropzone regulations. You’ll review landing patterns, pilot policies and have a chance to hear from the S&TA. I can’t stress the importance of this day enough. You might be surprised how much has fallen out of that brain of yours over the long winter months.
- Check your gear – if you weren’t due for a reserve repack or inspection, be sure to give your gear a good once over yourself. Make sure your 3 rings are in good shape, that your closing loop isn’t worn, that your pilot chute is cocked. If you doubt your last pack job on that final jump of the season, you may even want to shake out your canopy and give it a fresh pack.
- Review canopy skills – I’m a big believer in being a safe and competent canopy pilot; it could save your life. You never know when that rogue student might enter your landing pattern and necessitating a last minute adjustment. Parachutist Online has a great article on becoming a better canopy pilot. This is a start, but if you haven’t before, a canopy course is always a good idea. That’s high on my priority list this year for certain!
- SIM on the go – I mentioned this yesterday on Twitter but if you’re an iPhone user, be sure to download the USPA SIM app. What a better way to stay fresh on those BSRs than by having them in your pocket? You can download the app here or by searching USPA SIM in the app store.
- Watch and read to learn - as I mentioned a couple weeks ago in my currency post, I can’t recommend enough watching videos and reading indicent reports to help you learn what not to do. Get the butterflies out by watching a few cutaway videos, find out what went wrong in seemingly routine skydives that ended in injury or even death by scanning your Parachutists and Dropzone.com incidents. Learning from others mistakes can possibly save your life.
- Make that first jump a safe one - speaking of getting the butterflies out, you’re bound to have some on that first skydive back. I certainly did, even after I was only out for 3 weeks. I imagine it being a bit more intense this year. If you don’t need a recurrency jump with a coach/instructor, make sure that first jump back is with someone you trust and/or someone you’ve flown with a lot. A 16-way zoo dive likely isn’t the best way to get back in the air, just a thought.
I’m sure this isn’t all, so let’s hear it from those of you who’ve been around longer than little ole me….what are some of your suggestions on coming back after a long period off?
As I sit here looking outside at what meteorologists across the Midwest are referring to as Snowpocalypse, I can’t help but dream about those sunny afternoons spent in free fall.
If you’re a skydiver living in a place that gets all four seasons like I do, then you understand the inherent challenge of staying on top of the sport throughout the long winter months.
Time off of this magnitude can not only be detrimental to your spirit, but to your ability to keep your body and mind in tune with the sport. Regardless of what the title says, this post is about more than just having enough jumps to not have to worry about recurrency skydives come spring.
But, that’s a great place to start. According to the United States Parachute Association, “skydivers returning after a long period of inactivity encounter greater risk that requires special consideration to properly manage.”
Lucky for us, they provide strict guidelines of this “period of time” so that it’s not left up to the individual skydiver to determine the meaning behind this subjective statement.
Students: Students who have not jumped within the preceding 30 days should make at least one jump under the direct supervision of an appropriately rated USPA Instructor.
A license: USPA A-license holders who have not made a freefall skydive within 60 days should make at least one jump under the supervision of a currently rated USPA instructional rating holder* until demonstrating altitude awareness, freefall control on all axes, tracking, and canopy skills sufficient for safely jumping in groups.
B license: USPA B-license holders who have not made a freefall skydive within the preceding 90 days should make at least one jump under the supervision of a USPA instructional rating holder until demonstrating the ability to safely exercise the privileges of that license.
C and D licenses: USPA C- and D-license holders who have not made a freefall skydive within the preceding six months should make at least one jump under the supervision of a USPA instructional rating holder until demonstrating the ability to safely exercise the privileges of that license.
*This could be a coach or an instructor.
You can get more details about recurrency requirements here under section 5.2 of the Skydiver Instruction Manual.
Okay, so now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at some other fun tips to keep your head in the game in the off season:
1. Travel – this is the obvious one. There are so many winter boogies to attend, like Everglades in Clewiston FL and Puerto Rico and Skydive Arizona’s Easter Boogie. Not to mention all the tunnel boogies that are popping up. Of course, you don’t have to go to a boogie, even though they’re so much fun! You can always just take a quick weekend trip somewhere warm to get in a few skydives. The best way to stay current!
2. Snow jumps – of course, if you can’t afford to make a trip to warmer climates, there’s always the option to jump in the cold and snow. This, of course, assumes that there’s a dropzone within driving distance that’s flying year round to take you up. I promise you, altough it sounds bad, we did this a handful of times last year and it wasn’t that bad. Stay covered and you’ll be fine. It’s worth it to stay current and to get that free fall fix. Yes, the feeling does eventually come back to your fingers.
3. Google it - seek out every skydiving resource you can online. Use Dropzone.com to stay informed with articles you haven’t read yet, discussions on forums, incident report, even take a look at the latest used gear for sale in the classifieds to get you jazzed up for the season. Seek out articles on canopy piloting, wingsuiting and other disciplines you might be interested in tackling this season. Skim the SIM online (here) in preparation for Safety Day – officially March 12 this year. If you can’t stay current in the sky, at least keep your mind current with all the information that’s out there to consume.
4. Read, write, watch. You’re in the right place for this tip! Don’t feel like you have to spend all your time reading the hardcore articles and incident reports, you can learn from the fun stuff too. Pick up the latest issues of Blue Skies Magazine and Parachutist, see what they have to say. Find your favorite skydivers on YouTube and watch some videos to get you really jonesing.
There you have it, a few tips for staying sane and current in the off season. Of course, keeping in close contact with your adrenaline junkie friends around the world helps…misery loves company as they say.
Good news is Safety Day is just around the corner, though I do have to say it’s hard to believe with 6 foot snow drifts in the Chicagoland area right now. Here’s to a safe and quick winter.
For the past couple years I’ve been the girl who has preached living in the moment. As a skydiver it’s something you can’t help but do – after all our sport, and adrenaline sports in general, tend to be live-in-the-moment activities that often translate to other aspects of life.
This is definitely a positive. However, I’m also a believer in looking toward the future a bit. Planning every now and again.
Here’s a scenario to help paint this picture for you a bit better.
A couple conversations with fellow female skydivers last summer got us to discussing relationships in the skydiving community; specifically romantic relationships. I’m a huge advocate for finding the person you’re supposed to be with simply by taking part in activities you love. Having a shared interest that you both have a passion for, especially one as unique as skydiving, helps the relationship flourish. (It worked very well for me!) Naturally, this has lead me to advise my single lady skydiver friends to take a look at the men around them at the dropzone for companionship. But, from what some of these ladies have told me, their male skydiver counterparts live too much for the moment and they want someone with an ability to also look toward the future, as they don’t want to just be the lady of the moment.
Sometimes, these activities that have us living in the moment and craving the here and now, can be a hindrance when it comes to thinking long-term.
One of the lessons that spending quality time at dropzones has taught me is that there’s a need for balance. It’s not infrequent to find adrenaline junkies who are unable to comprehend, let alone practice, a balanced life. But with my other passions like yoga, photography and writing, I find that balance helps me keep my sanity in the otherwise nutty world of skydiving (you know, the whole being surrounded by type A personalities where half of them are walking around on ego trips all day).
Thankfully, having a husband (oh did I forget to mention we got married…) who lives a life just as full of passion as I do helps to keep me motivated in all aspects of my life. Lately, I’ve been spending more time getting excited about the future. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that I haven’t had freefall in my life for a couple months so I’m jonesing for a jump, but I think it goes beyond that.
By nature I’m a planner and a list maker, whether or not I end up sticking to these is a different story. Recently I’ve found that these plans are highly flexible, something that tended to be rather rigid in the first 20ish years of my life. You’d think that in your 20s it’d become priority to “settle in” a bit, into a career, a location, a family, and grow some roots so to speak. But I think anyone with an addictive personally – espeically those who channel that in a productive way – can attest to the fact that there are endless possibilities for the future, even things you likely don’t see yet.
So maybe I’m not as ready to grow us as I thought I’d be in my mid 20s – but why does there have to be anything wrong with that?
Sports like skydiving keep you young at heart. We’re all a bunch of big kids out there and the sky is our playground. Growing up seems a bit overrated when you look at it – but that’s certainly not going to stop me from taking a look at what the future has to bring. There’s oh so much out there to explore, both in the sky and on the ground.
Love and Blue Skies!
SDC: Alright Ms. Melanie, let’s start with the basics – when did you start skydiving and what’s your “story” on getting into this sport?
MC: My Dad actually owned a small drop zone in upstate New York for many years called The Verona Skydiving Center. I was lucky enough to be exposed to skydiving at a young age, could have done it when I was 16, but was scared, wasn’t ready.. when I was 18, something in my flipped and I was ready. Told my Dad I was going to do it the next day, I did, and so it happened that the entirety of my adult life was spent fully immersed in my love of this sport and community.
SDC: For those of us who have jumped with you, we all know that you do a little bit of everything, even swooping. So tell us, what is your favorite discipline?
MC: Currently, my favorite discipline is 4-way VFS, because it’s still quite a bit of a challenge for me, I don’t feel that good at it yet, and with the bigger gap open for improvement, so is the opening for feeling awesome when you rock it. Outside of that though, pretty much my only personal goal in skydiving now is to only surround myself with awesome, hilarious people I love. Seriously. I’m not kidding. That’s for team stuff– awesome, hilarious, teammates I love, only. Professionally, I love going to/working at/organizing major events– I love that I get to meet and jump with a million new people, ever expanding the connection with awesome hilarious people I love. Hahaa, but seriously! I’m so so so all about that. On top of the obvious fun of travel, experiencing the country/world, and enjoying the skies and views from so many beautiful places. Man, I’m grateful.
SDC: Is there anything you haven’t tried yet that you really want to (like, have you wingsuited or BASE jumped)?
MC: I have tried wingsuiting, did about 20 jumps, had a hard pull and a reserve ride, and then hung it up for good. I tried it because of the awesome organizers (Taya Weiss, Jeff Nebelkopf, Phil Peggs, etc) of the Wingsuit Records held at Elsinore.. but yeah, I don’t like having my limbs restricted like that, and honestly, overall, am a very risk-averse skydiver. As for BASE, I have no desire. Zip, zilch, nada. The videos totally turn my stomach. I get no enjoyment out of increased risk– I like to calculate my risk to a point of feeling as safe as one can feel inside the skydiving environment. I love my life, so I make choices to protect it, and for me, that boxes out certain things. Totally appreciate that others love it, that it’s incredible in it’s own right, and that maybe down that line I’ll change my mind.. yeah, all good.. as of now though, I’m happy pushing myself in the competitive arena, and in coaching, very simply, helping people have more fun.
SDC: Aside from Elsinore and the Chick’s Rock boogie (cuz we all know that’s the best one around), what are some of your favorite dropzones and Boogies?
MC: CarolinaFest is amazing!! James LaBarrie and DZO’s Danny and Annette Smith put on a fantastic show, awesome people, great night life, fun extras, awesome organizers (hehee), extra aircraft, all the vendors, Rodriguez Brothers initiations, any discipline of skydiving covered.. everything. Even though it’s a co-ed event, we’ve started calling it the Chicks Rock of the East.. cause the vibe is just so awesome, welcoming, loving, and fun. Hell yes. Other than that, in 2010, the Pimp My Fly Boogie in Hanko, Finland was INCREDIBLE!! What an amazing nearly week-long event these girls put on to inspire the lady freefliers of Finland. SO grateful to be a part of that one, and can’t wait for 2011!!
SDC: We just missed that event last year, having spent a long weekend in South Carolina only a couple weeks prior. But you’re so right about everyone there – definitely a place we plan to visit again soon…maybe for the boogie!
Any place/event you really want to attend but haven’t yet?
MC: I’ve never been to Empuriabrava.. not sure what’s there really, I guess the draw of the exotic foreign location is appealing to me…. taps into that bug of wanting to see the world. I guess Dubai is on the list now too!
SDC: Who were some of your mentors as you grew into the sport? Who do you look up to now?
MC: Lou Ascione was one of my earliest teammates, and has basically taught me everything I know about belly flying, 4-way, and teaching/coaching. He is a phenomenal teacher and teammate, totally fucking hilarious and awesome person all around. I definitely credit him for turning me into a great coach, teaching me how to teach mostly by just leading by that example. In freeflying, Amy Chmelecki has always been just the pinnacle of freefly badassness to me.. because she is!!! She is amazing, and now that we’re actually friends, I swear, still, and this is no joke, I sometimes have that thought of, “Seriously, I’m friends with Amy Chmelecki??” She’s even better than what you’re thinking, everyone. Trust me on this one.
SDC: You know, Mel, there are probably more people out there that think that way about you than you know…just sayin’. There are a lot of little skydiving chicklets (like, ehem, me) who look up to you, cuz you know, you’re badass and all. Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are now. The road to Melsinore if you will.
MC: Hahaha, the road to Melsinore.. that’s funny.. well, I actually believe that my story is a perfect example of what happens when you choose to follow your gut, and take the leaps of faith to do what your heart really pulls you to do. I was completely and totally in love with skydiving and my involvement in it. Any opportunity I had come my way, I directed it to align with my skydiving goals… went to Australia in college cause it had weather for skydiving… moved to LA from New York to be in a more skydiving-friendly environment now that I was making adult money… drive to the DZ every single weekend for 3 years working full-time at an investment bank, spending too much of that office time working on skydiving skills camps and team building and voracious reading, etc…….. That kind of dedication, persistence, stamina, seems to me like it can only be fueled by love. I stuck with it, I stuck with it, I stuck with it. Literally nothing could stop me. I saw no obstacles to my doing this. It was just a fact. I was doing this. I spent all my money on skydiving, it wasn’t even a question. Truthfully, only after the fact was I able to see it as the “investment in my future” it actually was. Because at age 27, I was able to quit my job in corporate America, start full-time at Skydive Elsinore, and the rest is history.
SDC: Personally, I love how involved you are in this community – it’s more than a job to you, it’s a lifestyle. What is it that draws you into the skydiving community?
MC: It’s absolutely a lifestyle. I am happy to say that I am finally getting some balance in my life now from that feeling of over-saturation, having just left Elsinore full-time, going free-agent in my professional skydiving, pursuing life coaching more, and actually taking steps and making time for a for-real personal life! hahaa Skydiving is a huge family that cradles each of us in like-minded community.. where everyone is welcome, regardless of their age, skin color, or skill level. I LOVE that. Skydivers are a unique breed of people, so even in my seeking balance now, I still, and always will be, involved in our community and family… going to events, coaching people with heart, cheering on my man on Airspeed, etc. Skydiving will always be a part of who I am, and I will always be grateful for and take comfort in that.
SDC: You seem to be very pro-chick, it’s heartwarming, especially in a sport that’s pretty male dominated. Tell us a little about how the Chick’s Rock boogie evolved?
MC: Funny you say that, cause truthfully, I wouldn’t call myself pro-chick.. I’m pro-people. Chicks Rock Boogie was actually started two years before I got to Elsinore, and when I took the job working there full-time, that event was on the list of things I was in charge of. Because I’m so pro-positive vibes, I was so all about Chicks Rock because it always seemed like that event was just the awesomest vibes in skydiving! Totally grew on that, and went with the hook of it being a chick-themed thing, and I was a chick.. it worked out. I actually have always been one of those skydivers that does not support the women’s division in competition since this is a sport where we CAN compete at the highest level with men, and do. Eliana Rodriguez, Natasha Montgomery, Amy Chmelecki, just to name a few. So yeah, the whole chick thing actually annoyed me for a number of years. Then, in 2007, my teammate Meili Modini pestered and convinced me to attend the Women’s Vertical World Record. Because I was anti-segregation, I honestly wouldn’t have gone had it not been for Meili’s enthusiasm. Anyway, this experience ended up being one of the best skydiving experiences I had had to date in my entire career. There was no vibe of we’re-not-as-good-as-the-guys at all, in fact, it felt like a big version of my favorite thing in skydiving– a team. We all worked together, got the record, and for the first time I really GOT how inspiring it all is for all the women in the sport to have that type of experience to look forward to, that type of experience to motivate them, to include them, to lift them up in our male-dominated sport. Ever since then, I’ve been totally all about it. I get it. Finally! hahaa, and so glad that I can be a part of inspiring our latest surge in female participation… the latest record we just did was 41-women!!!! And there were nearly 60 of us in total between the record and the support team. That is truly incredible. So many lovely ladies found inspiration in this totally amazing possibility for us all, and you know what, we came together, and we fuckin did it. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it. LOVE YOU, LADIES!!!!!! (insert lots of smiles here)
SDC: So you recently made a pretty cool life decision when it comes to your work, want to fill everyone in on that, let people know how they can get some stellar life coaching?
MC: www.melaniecurtis.com!! Thanks for the plug, Ashley! hahaa.. yes, I actually just got 3 new clients this week, no joke!! Basically check out my website, and any questions or to set up a Sample Session, just email me at email@example.com.
SDC: Any advice you’d like to give to the up and comers out there? Something you wish you’d known as a newbie skydiver?
MC: Jump, a lot.. be current… get coaching from someone good.. it’s soooooooooooooooooo worth it to get good coaching, guidance, and good habits from someone awesome straight out the gates. Undoing bad habits costs more in the end, and doing it up front saves us the frustration of sucking, makes us better sooner, and when we’re better, we have more fun. Just how it works. Same with life coaching! Wheee!
p.s. Mel practically vomited smiles all over this post, but my darn template is all wacky with emotocons these days, so be sure to reread the interview picturing her with this massive smile plastered on her face – as always!