Let’s see here: skydivers love to hang out after a day in the sky drinking it up on the ground – any reason for a party is a good one, right? And of course, what better reason that Halloween?
This is one day of the year where it’s totally acceptable to dress up in a funny costume and go out in public. It’s the one day of the year you legitimately get to be something that you’re not.
But for me, I dressed up as exactly what I am…let me explain.
We went out to the dropzone on Saturday, even with high winds. Gusts weren’t really in the equation, but the uppers were in the 40s. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of the winds, so I grounded myself. That is, of course until the DZO and his wife wanted a second sunset load full of freeflyers and confirmed that the winds had calmed significantly.
All I have to say, is thanks Carolyn for making me go!
Then I packed up, or rather, trash packed up, and morphed back into the wind pussy that I am.
Yep, I went as a wind pussy for Halloween.
The party was small this year and people were a bit hesitant to get their costumes on, but once Andy came strolling in as one of the yip yip martians, the rest of us followed suit.
The food buffet was yummy and I even joined in on the party with a tequila sunrise or two, a rare occasion for me!
Thanks to Greg Drogaline for being the party photographer for the evening.
So what did y’all do for Halloween this year?
As you’ve likely heard me say before, Mondays are bad for me. They’re the busiest day of the entire week at the office and most of the time I’m trying to catch up with chores at home from being away all weekend.
The former still applies, however having kept close to home this weekend I was able to find a little spare time to put together a couple of promised videos – from the Work Stinks! Boogie and Jump for Diabetes (about time, right?)!
So, while I bust my butt at the office, you can take some time on your Monday to enjoy the highlights of two of my favorite skydiving events every year.
Jump for Diabetes 2010
Work Stinks! Boogie 2010
This is one of my favorite columns in Parachutist Magazine and one of those things I make time to read in every issue. Some of these people have incredible stories of how they got into the sport and how being a skydiver has completely changed their lives.
Looking back over the year and change that I’ve been a part of this sport and a part of the community, I can add myself to that list of people who feel like their lives have been completely turned upside down since skydiving entered their life. I can also say that my life has changed for the better, and in some ways, I feel like it saved me.
Though my story is sort of ho-hum when you look at those featured in Parachutist, so instead of submitting to the magazine, I thought I’d share right here on the blog .
For those who have been following along since day 1, this may not come as much of a surprise, but for those who have picked up in the middle, you might pick up a thing or two about my journey in this crazy world of skydiving.
Skydiving has changed my life in so many ways, it’s hard to know where to begin. I suppose I’ll start at the beginning (that would make sense…right?).
In my early 20s all that mattered to me was my career. My friends from college were scattered across the country and none of us were making enough money yet to visit each other, so rather than spend time building a new life, I spent it behind a computer, working my way to the top. My efforts did not go unrewarded. Promotions happened frequently and I earned my position in social media marketing through hard work and dedication to my company and my clients.
No regrets there. I worked hard for my successes and am proud of where those efforts have taken me. But something was missing. I wasn’t passionate about my life. I got up in the morning because I knew I had to in order to get ahead, in order to pay the bills, in order to save enough money to take trips to see my friends that I missed so dearly. I worked hard to find myself again, blogging about life and the “adventures” I had meeting new people and traveling for work, but in the end, these corporate trips were not sufficiently scratching the itch that the travel bug was constantly giving me. So 3 years into my career I took my first real vacation, one in which I made my first skydive, and had my eyes opened to what life really has to offer – what it means to truly be alive. It showed me what I was missing, that there’s more to life than getting ahead in the corporate world, that life needs more facets than just career success.
Skydiving presented a new personal challenge, and a new challenge is just what I needed…something to keep me on my toes, something to remind me that I’m alive! It showed me just how strong I am, just how much I am capable of overcoming – it showed me that I can do just about anything I set my mind to. Never did I imagine that I would learn so much about myself in such a small amount of time. Skydiving freed my soul from the confines of those things that are proper in life, the boundaries and the you shoulds that are forced upon you throughout your childhood and into your adult life. Skydiving showed me that you never really have to grow up!
Though it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, let me tell you that. Skydiving presented some hard lessons along the way too. I quickly learned what it means to not be invincible, that bad things can happen to anyone if you get complacent. These lessons presented themselves in the sky and on the ground. The community surrounding the sport taught me the importance of heightened awareness – keep your eyes and heart open, be prepared for the unexpected, you never know when a fellow jumper might make that wrong turn under canopy, but you might be surprised with whom you make deeper connections.
Above all else, skydiving has taught me the importance of being a part of something greater than myself. It’s shown me how critical the community around you is to your well-being. There needs to be a sense of trust and understanding with those whom you share the sky. As skydivers, we inherently understand what makes each other tick, our common bond is one that the majority of the world will never understand. I’ve found that this sense of togetherness is strengthened when the community joins to support a cause that goes beyond that of the individual skydiver and truly tugs at your soul. Coordinating Jump for Diabetes this year gave me a glimpse of the immense generosity of the individuals within the skydiving community. It was so incredibly heart-warming to see so many manufactures, skydivers and their family and friends come out to support a cause that is greater than all of us combined. It speaks volumes about the type of people the sport attracts, and further solidifies why I continue to be drawn to the skydiving community.
What all these lessons from the world of skydiving have in common is this: be passionate. Having passion for something, anything (whether it’s skydiving, or tending a garden, or raising a family, or a multitude of life’s treasures) makes life fulfilling. Passion gives you something to live for, it provides motivation, it gives you a better sense of who you are as a person; a living, breathing human being who is on this Earth for a reason. Since I started skydiving little more than a year ago, I’ve found that I live my life with purpose. There are numerous facets of Ashley that I’m proud to admit have all become priority – friends, family, travel, career, new experiences, photography, writing, health & wellness, and of course, skydiving – these are all things for which I have great love and passion. Skydiving continues to teach me about the person that I want to be, and one step at a time it’s helping me get there.
So tell us dear readers, how has skydiving changed your life?
Love and Blue Skies!
(This is why they call it the Blue Sky Ranch)
For my 26th birthday, my wonderful freefly partner took me out to The Blue Sky Ranch in New York for a weekend of skydiving.
I was excited to be in a location where they have three Twin Otters and a bi-plane (which, let me spoil this for you right now, I didn’t get a chance to jump…even though it was my birthday).
Regardless, we still had an incredible time! Our friend Tom was out there on Friday with us as he was passing through town for work and headed to the East coast for a wedding. Our first couple jumps at the Ranch were with a familiar face, which was nice.
I was nervous on that first jump about finding the dropzone. The arial maps were hard to see and given the location of the LZ I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find it, but turns out we got out pretty much right overhead so it worked out well. Not difficult at all.
One of the first things I noticed from 3,000 ft was this:
There’s a story behind it that I’ll leave for the Ranchers to tell, but I will say that it’s a cemented imprint from a guy who impacted the ground and left a 4″ crater. Enough said.
As the day progressed the spot seemed to get longer and longer. The last jump of the day was a little hazy and we’d decided on the load that we were going to have the pilot do a go-around so that we weren’t completely screwed. Well turns out, the spot did end up screwing us in the long run. We landed about 2.5 miles off in a development that looked like this.
Thankfully they found us quick and we got a ride back to the dropzone. A warm welcome over the PA system from Sarah was what we heard as we walked back into the hangar.
The next couple days were a blur of jumping and socializing – but needless to say it was a great time. We made a few new friends, promoted Jump for Diabetes, and Rick got in his first wingsuit jump!
Aside from not being able to jump the bi-plane, the only other bummer was that there weren’t people swooping the pond. Guess I was under the impression this took place all the time…
If you’re passing through NY and are jonesing for a jump, stop by The Blue Sky Ranch – be sure to tell Sarah and Lauren I said hi .
Until next time, I’ll leave you with a few more pictures that I took from this weekend:
(Sky was stunning on Saturday)
(The infamous swoop pond)
(More of the pond)
(Lone skydiver heading to the loading area)
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!
Welcome to part 2 of my interview with Norman Kent. As I mentioned Wednesday, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Norman and picking his brain on everything from skydiving to photography to travel. He’s led an interesting life and I’m so grateful he was willing to share it with us right here on the blog. So let’s dive right in, shall we?
SDC: Looking at your career, you’ve done some pretty amazing things – from shooting movies to world records – what are some of the most memorable moments that you’ve had?
NK: Well, this is really hard because there’s so many and they were so different. I have a loving memory of each one in it’s own way. Some of them are memories of personal growth and challenges. Some of them are experiences because the uniqueness of a location. Some of them even involve dangers or unknown situations that bring back memories from growing up in Mexico City.
So I can describe some of the flavors of the things that were right up at the top. Like for instance going to the Olympics and being a part of the team that presented skydiving to the Olympics. This was important to me for several reasons. I was part of a team that was responsible for doing the live air transmission around the world. This was very consistent with what I wanted to do from day one, to share something magical with everyone. What an ultimate thing to do to tap my signal and spread it around the world. Also, one of my photos was chosen by Time magazine to depict the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. And of course just the experience of being there, being a part of the Olympics and the ceremony.
Another experience that stands out was going to the North Pole, and being a part of the first expedition that landed there. I’ve done other expeditions like into the jungles of Venezuela, but this one was right at the top because of it’s uniqueness. The place looks like a different planet.
Other experiences include being the 2nd most person who has jumped with the falcon, second only to the trainer of course. This was a privilege to be with a flying creature, when we pretend to fly, but to witness this is fascinating. This is one experience I could talk for hours about, the mechanics of all the things we had to do, when the falcon attacked my parachute – there was so much that went into this. All I can think when I get to do things like this is “what a privilege.”
Of course, all of these experiences have in common that I was able to shoot it, share it and bring it back. So it was really rewarding that way.
Among my experiences I had the opportunity to work on some very rewarding projects. For example the movie Get Smart because I designed a lot of the scene and was trusted to do a lot of it on my own. There wasn’t a need for much supervision and I was trusted to get the shot I thought was best, and I was even asked for recommendations from the director of photography, and it was very rewarding.
In fact, before the movie was released, there was a 5 minute movie teaser available through iTunes. My sequence was picked to be the representation of the film – the movie teaser was my entire segment. That’s when you really know that you have the skill and knowledge it takes.
As far as huge accomplishments, it’s films like Willing to Fly where it was my own project where I learned personal lessons along the way. Designing a movie, creating it and putting it all out on my own. Those are huge accomplishments for me.
SDC: Tell us, what’s a little known fact about Norman Kent?
NK: One of the things that’s been the most special in my career is that one of my scenes from Willing to Fly was chosen for a big screen movie. One of the agents I was working with called me up one day and said there was a director who wanted to see the raw film of a specific scene from Willing to Fly. Upon further discussion it was revealed that this director was Steven Spielberg. Among all the footage that he viewed, one of my scenes that was shot from a camera strapped to the strut of a Cessna 182 – which is kind of crude compared to Hollywood where they would bring in special helicopters to shoot such footage – mine was chosen as the background for superimposed images of the flying pterodactyls at the end of Jurassic Park 3.
That’s the kind of stuff to me that’s incredible. It’s a personal accomplishment because I created this on my own and on it’s own it survived, on it’s own it got found, and on it’s own it got picked for no other reason than your creation. And you don’t have the credit for it because it was purchased as a piece of stock film, but when you look at Willing to Fly you can see the shot and when you look at Jurassic Park 3 you can see the shot. I’m fascinated by the process of how this happened and when I look at it I can say “it’s mine!” So when people look at my resume and see the collection of movies I’ve participated in and they see Jurassic Park 3 they ask “well what does that have to do with skydiving?” Well, it doesn’t but I’m proud of it just the same.
SDC: So in skydiving, or photography, or just life in general, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
NK: The best piece of advice I’ve been given, I’d say is, be in the moment, live the moment, embrace the moment. Not missing the moment by having your mind somewhere else.
Skydiving is a clear example of this as an automatic process. Your fear, which is natural, is expressed by checking your gear, checking your handles before you exit, and this is preventive, to make sure you’ve done everything you can. Then you leave the door and there’s a destiny awaiting one minute later: a malfunction, a possible accident, possible death, whatever. But what happens is, you leave that in the door. Even if the thought is there, you exit and all the sudden you’re all about the jump. And that destiny comes later and in most cases it’s just what we predicted and that’s why we do it because it’s not really that crazy, we just have control over it like we said earlier. Then you have this glorious parachute ride… but that is a great representation of being in the moment. You’re not thinking about anything else. You’re only thinking about things related to that place and time.
Often, I’ve made the mistake, and I think many people make the mistake, of not doing that with things in life whether it’s photography or skydiving or anything else and not being in the moment and not being in the beauty that surrounds us and in the love the surrounds us in our friends and our mates. Quite often we focus on wanting more. Anytime I find myself doing that, and part of the messages in my films are to have new eyes. See things as new every time, experience things in a new light every time. Being in the moment and being in appreciation of the moment, even when they are bad moments, that’s definitely the best advice I’ve been given because it applies to every part of life.
SDC: You mentioned earlier that you’ve been spending some time in the tunnel practicing your skills. What advice do you have for skydivers who want to improve their technique?
NK: My advice is two-fold. For skydivers who are looking to physically improve in the sport and to advance as rapidly as possible is to spend time in the wind tunnel. These days, a wind tunnel is very crucial for that. The amount of time you can spend doing something repetitively it records itself into your motor skills and into your mind very differently and improves your rate of progress.
With that, pay attention. The tunnel is not skydiving. Think of the tunnel as a tool to help you with skydiving. Keep your mind open to the goal and where the tunnel or any other device or teaching helps you or hurts you. You may think that a certain type of training is going to help you, but you need to pay attention to how it works for you for your specific needs.
And engage, engage, engage. I often see people who want everything handed to them ready to go. For example, people who want to learn photography think that there’s a secret to it. The most common two questions I get are 1) what settings do you use and 2) what lens? And my answer is, all of them. I use every single lens depending on what I’m trying to create. It’s not as if there are secret settings on a specific lens that will get you the perfect picture every time. It’s like asking an artist, what color do you use. Haha.
So you really have to open your mind and engage that way and gain your individuality in the sport by doing so. Design something for you, that works for you, for your own hunger for your own purpose. And if you decide you just want to be a casual camera flyer or you just want to be a weekend skydiver, embrace that. Instead of tormenting yourself, which is the same as embracing the moment and being in the moment, and have fun with the fact that you make three jumps a month or a year. And then you go “this is the kind of skydiver I am, and I am a skydiver. And my skill level is consistent with that, and the friends I can jump with are consistent with that.” And go be fascinated about it. And that’s the biggest thing I can give people.
SDC: So do you still do video work for the average Joe skydiver?
NK: Yeah, you know, I do. And I need to make it more clear on my website but there are a lot of different things that I do.
For instance, I intentionally went to boogies and did that on my own because there was this misconception that “oh there’s Norman Kent and you can’t talk to him because he’s unapproachable and of course he won’t wanna jump with us so don’t invite him.” And then I’m going like, “hey will someone invite me on a jump please.”
And then I’m thinking, well who can I go with? And then I ask people “hey can I jump with you guys” and they get all nervous and the jump goes like hell. It’s like dude, you know, I’m a skydiver can be in skydiving please? Invite me! So I had to go to the convention and places like that where people are there to experience rides, like the specialty aircraft and helicopters and a jet. So I became a ride, like hey, come ride me, lets go have fun. So I’d go on these jumps and take pictures and stuff.
But yeah, that was what I wanted to do and I do do that. So when someone asks me “hey would you go up and take my picture?”
Sometimes it’s not even a photography thing, people just want to make a jump together. And that’s my motivation for going to boogies. I’m a skydiver. And I’d hate to all the sudden not fit in because I got too famous. I’m a jumper just like you and I just happen to have a passion that’s gotten me a certain status but that doesn’t stop me from being just like you.
SDC: Well that’s good to know because my freefly partner and I are going to be in Florida next week and we’d love to have some more pictures from you .
Of course, we all remember this little gem from the Work Stinks Boogie.
SDC: Well I really appreciate you chatting with me for almost two hours now. Thanks for talking with us, Norman.
NK: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. And this was a lot of fun!
I’ve come away from this interview with a great new perspective on not only the world of skydiving, but life in general. As he spoke about “breeds of people” when discussing who has inspired him throughout his skydiving career, I couldn’t help but think that he’s one of those exact people – the type of person who is out, chasing his dream, using photography as his motivation in skydiving, being motivated to share this sport with skydivers and non-skydivers alike, all the while staying true to who he is. He’s truly living his passions. Norman has done some incredible things in his life, but all the while he’s remained humble – hell, he was willing to sit down and talk to me for a couple hours, so what does that tell you.
If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend “Willing to Fly,” a film that was created from beginning to end in Norman’s head. Check out his web site for more on his career and to take a look at all the photography he has to share. After all, that’s his goal – to share this experience with skydivers and non-skydivers alike.
Thanks again, Norman. You’re quite the inspiration.
In keeping with my semi-weekly column of Hear it from the Expert, I am proud to say we have quite the expert here to inspire us today.
Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to sit down and chat with renowned photographer Norman Kent. He allowed me to pick his brain for a couple hours and he enlightened me with some of the incredible stories of his life as a skydiver and photographer.
This interview really only scratches the surface of our discussion, which I’m sure only minutely touches on the life that he’s led, but I wanted to share with everyone some of the amazing things that were shared with me through the eyes of this accomplished individual.
Below is part 1 of the interview with Norman Kent. As I mentioned above, we chatted for quite some time and I wanted to capture as much as I could – after all, it’s not often that opportunities like this one come around!
SDC: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, Norman. After having chatted with you briefly at the Work Stinks Boogie this year I remember saying to myself, “I’d love to sit down and pick that guy’s brain some day,” so this is a great opportunity to do that.
NK: Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s my pleasure to do this for you.
SDC: So let’s start out with the obvious question, when and how did you get your start in skydiving?
NK: I did my first jump on Aug 24, 1975. It was a static line jump. I think this is a very common story. It was meant to be a birthday gift to myself, and I was going to do it only once. Well, I was offered a 5 jump package for pretty cheap, and I refused. Like anything else the first jump was the most expensive, like two-thirds of the cost, and the other four were fairly inexpensive, but I refused because I figured I was only going to do it once. Then I jumped and it was instant love and I knew it was something I was going to do forever. The first thing I said to my friends when I landed was that I was going to do this for the rest of my life. And that’s how it all started.
SDC: Yeah, that seems to be a pretty typical story. Not many people go into their first jump already saying “this is something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.” It’s a cool feeling when you get back on the ground and all you want is to do it again. So with all the traveling you do, where do you consider to be your home dropzone?
NK: My home dropzone is Earth, that’s the way I look at it. Though technically my home dropzone is Skydive Deland. Because I had seen other DZs going for records and things like that, I realized that I didn’t want to be in one place only and get involved in the politics in that once place. As you stay in one place long enough you see and get involved in the politics of that place. So I thought, every place I go could be a new place and you always see all the good stuff from the outside and experience the awesome place for these short periods of time. I figured that’s sort of the world I wanted to live in, I really get to see all the good things about all the places I jump. That’s not really how I planned it, but that’s sort of how it played itself out, so that’s when I decided that my home dropzone was Earth.
SDC: I’ve noticed you do a lot of freefly photography for world records and stuff, do you consider that your favorite discipline?
NK: No. And let me clarify that.
When I first started skydiving I was already a photographer. I fell in love with photography the same way I fell in love with skydiving, with a specific event that inspired me. With no training and no schooling, I knew what I wanted, and I wanted to communicate the things I saw and experienced in life.
With skydiving, photography really became the priority for me. I always said if I had to choose one for some reason, if someone said to me, “you can’t have so much fun” and I had to choose [between skydiving and photography], I would pick photography.
With that said, my motivation in skydiving is photography. It’s the visual capturing of the sport. I also feel that it’s a sport that I love so much that provides very unique visuals. I feel very blessed to be able to see and capture light the way that I understand it. And I feel in a lot of ways that skydivers and non skydivers alike miss out on it and that’s what my motivation is, to communicate it. Meaning that skydivers are so focused on the jump, the grips, the formation, the skydiving elements of it, even though they’re enjoying and they understand what an amazing thing they’re doing, which is part of the turn on of it, they’re really missing out on how we look as far as people playing in the playground, Earth.
The second element is that the non-skydiver doesn’t really get to understand that unless they skydive, and then again they only get to understand it from a skydivers point of view. So to me the motivation is to show the world of skydiving to a non-skydiving audience in the form of beauty which they can understand – rather than in the form of “how many points did we have,” well they don’t really care, but they just want to look at it as “wow that’s amazing, that’s a lot of people, and wow look at the clouds, and wow where were you?” and that’s what they care about.
Because of that, I want to shoot everything in the sport - freeflying just happens to be one of the dynamic new elements of the sport, and it actually represents a problem for me in the sense that the sport has diversified and branched off in so many directions that it’s hard for me to keep up with all of it and that’s one of the biggest challenges for me. If I want to shoot all of it as far as the sport is concerned, then I need to do a little bit of all of it, and freefly is one of the most challenging things so I spend a little bit more time doing that. In fact I’m constantly training the in tunnels in order to get better and stay with the dynamics of the sport.
So yes, I do a lot of freefly because it is very dynamic and it’s challenging and I love it, but I love it just as much as any other part of the sport. I just spend more time doing it because I find belly flying really easy. I’ve done it for many years and also, physically speaking, it’s so much easier to do that I don’t need to spend so much time doing it and I can pick it up right away, even if I haven’t done it for a little bit. And the reason is because of the physics of it…for instance, in freeflying, you’re leading with your head, so any kind of head movement to point the camera in a different direction for composition, results in a change in direction in flight, or you must alter your body position drastically to continue your same direction. This is more of a challenge, and you’re also dealing with faster speeds and consequently a higher degree of difficulty and of risk. So that’s one of the reasons I spend more of my time freeflying. I love all of those challenges from that, so you could say it is one of my favorites. But really, a lot of the reasons why I do that is motivated by the photography. I want to do whatever it takes to not let freeflying pull away to where I can’t participate in the state of the art, cutting edge things that are happening like records and things like that.
SDC: That’s great! I was actually going to ask next which came first, skydiving or photography and you beat me to that. Tell us a little about how the two merged…
NK: Photography happened for me the same way skydiving did. I found myself in a situation where I said, “wow, this is what I want to do,” and I was a photographer instantly. It took a long time to really make it pay off in terms of money and all that, but the passion was there and I wasn’t turning back. Then of course when skydiving happened, it was a similar thing.
So there was this passion for shooting and passion for skydiving and I couldn’t wait to merge the two. I remember I wanted to jump a helmet with my static line jumps, and of course they wouldn’t let me. My first [camera] jump was jump 23, and with static line I didn’t have much freefall under my belt, but I was in a hurry because all I could think of was shooting this wonderful world. And that’s how it all started as far as putting the two of them together.
SDC: Who has inspired you as a skydiver?
NK: I’d have to say that I don’t have a specific person who acted as a mentor to me so much as I’m inspired by a specific type of person: anyone that’s willing to go the distance and go all out for their feelings and become a champion on a project or record. These people aren’t necessarily ego oriented, but are in search of a dream. Of course, I look up to the pioneers in the sport – some of those whose names have gotten left behind in the sport, but people who have helped make it what it is today.
I do have my mentors and the people that made a huge difference for me in photography, but in skydiving it’s almost like I had so much support and I had so many experiences with so many cool people that it’s almost a breed of people [rather than specific mentors].
SDC: We talked a little about your experience with freefly, but tell us, what have your experiences been with other disciplines like wingsuiting.
NK: As I said before, I’m interested in every part of the sport. But I should define what really has worked for me and what hasn’t. Anything that has to do with regular belly flying, whether it’s competitions or large formations, it’s all sorta the same. I’m a certain quality of flyer. I’ve shot some style, but it hasn’t attracted me as much. I shot LOTS of freestyle because I was married to Deanna who was one of the pioneers who pretty much created that. Wingsuit I do also. I shot the 71 way record and if you go to my website you can see some amazing pictures of that. I’m not as current on that as I am on other disciplines, but it’s very dynamic and I love it.
*Photo by Norman Kent, NormanKent.com
One thing that I completely turn my back on for survival reasons is swooping. One of the reasons is because to shoot swooping, you don’t have to be a swooper, a lot of it happens near ground level. So I didn’t want to have to keep up with that. But because of the danger I didn’t want to go that route, especially when I’m not going to be approaching it as a specialization. Something that dangerous should be a specialization, not just as every once in a while visiting it.
And on top of that because my priority is in surviving the deployment with my big helmet, sometimes my helmet weights up to 32 pounds when I’m doing movie work, and so when that happens I need to have a specific parachute and a specific way it’s set up, and it’s completely not consistent with the kind of canopies you need for swooping. So slowly that’s left me behind and I’ve decided not to chase it; the parachute for me is a survival device. But most of the other disciplines I practice and love, both for photographing and participating in.
SDC: I remember thinking to myself at the Work Stinks Boogie, “how does he hold his head up with that camera helmet on, let alone skydive with it.” But I guess it’s something you get used to over time.
NK: Yeah that’s exactly how it is, you figure it out. If you really think about it, the analogy I use is one that most skydivers can relate to which is skydiving is looked at the same way by non skydivers, like “how can you do that.”
And then the skydiver goes “well what do you mean?” To us it’s pretty normal.
What you’ve done is turned something that wasn’t normal into something normal by simply understanding it, practicing it, getting comfortable with it. And at that point it becomes a normal part of your life and what you consider comfort level, and then, it’s really not that crazy at that point. And so the same things happen with a helmet. The reason why it’s considered crazier is just because it’s less common that people have on a huge helmet like that and the size appears to be not as necessary. But you have the same thing, you get used to it, you make it normal, you understand it, then you have a relationship with it that to you makes it not so crazy. That’s sort of the same with any sport and anything else.
To be honest with you, my theory is that that is the addiction in our sport and the addiction of anything like that. Meaning, the addiction is taking something that seems abnormal, you work it out physically and mentally so that it becomes normal, and now you’re living in this world that’s completely extraordinary, but you are in a comfort zone there to a certain extent. And when you do that, then you add something else and start tackling more disciplines to engage your mind.
…stay tuned on Friday for part 2 of my interview with Norman Kent and learn a little more about his career, the practices and techniques he recommends for skydivers, and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard.
(*Photo by Ashley Mead)
This weekend was one of my first experiences with BASE jumping. There were a couple other scouting missions I’d been on with fellow skydivers, and a ground crew opportunity here and there, but nothing quite compared to a weekend at the New River Gorge.
This year was the 30th anniversary of Bridge Day - a BASE jumping boogie in Fayetteville, West Virginia. It’s held every year on the 3rd weekend in October and it’s the country’s premier legal BASE event.
(*Photo by Ashley Mead)
For those who may not be fully aware, BASE jumping is an adrenaline sport dedicated to jumping from static objects, rather than from an aircraft as we do in skydiving.
BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span, Earth – the four categories of objects that jumpers typically throw themselves from when making a BASE jump.
Similar to skydiving, you can get a BASE number by having documented jumps from each of these categories.
Bridge Day is a great experience, not just for the ensuing post-jump parties, but it provides opportunities to participate for all involved.
First time jumpers can take a day-long course to teach them the ins and outs of canopy piloting (F-111, 7-cell canopies can be tricky to flare and land if you’ve never had that experience), packing, and safety. Given that the bridge is 876 ft., this provides first-timers a little comfort knowing they have some altitude to play with.
(*Photo by Ashley Mead)
Experienced BASE jumpers often spend the day jumping multiple times, in two-ways, three-ways and doing some amazing tricks.
The landing area is small, uphill and a little rocky. Even with the cold temperatures, rain and sleet on Saturday, many jumpers still chose to land in the river than to risk pounding in a hard landing. The motto going around that day was, “you dry faster than you heal.”
Very true. In the hour or so I spent down at the LZ, I saw multiple hard landings, including one that ended in a broken leg.
But, with the hundreds of jumps that took place that day, there were very few injuries to report – most were minor.
Let’s move on to the positives, shall we?
This year, Bridge Day was opened up with a jump by my friends Paul and Lonnie. They were providing our friend Dan ‘Danger’ Mathie with his first BASE jump in the form of an ash dive. (They are the first jump in the video below.)
You’ll notice Dan’s ashes puff out as they deploy their ‘chutes. What an amazing jump, guys!
Luckily for that jump, the weather was nice. Chilly, but the sun was starting to peak out for a few minutes. Though it didn’t last long. The afternoon was spent watching jumpers in the rain and sleet.
Well worth it, though, as I got to head to the LZ at the bottom of the bridge and take photos of my freefly partner on his 5th jump off this bridge – his first ever legal BASE jump.
Check out some of the photos of his jump sequence:
(*Photos by Ashley Mead, taken at the base of the New River Gorge Bridge)
After Rick’s jump I was able to meet up with John from TraventureMan so we could do a little interview action. It was great meeting you, John! I’ll be sure to let y’all know when it’s posted.
The rest of the day was spent watching the remaining jumpers from atop the bridge and heading to the HQ for some pizza, beer and partying.
We ended up calling it a night earlier than expected. A day of jumping and photography really takes it out of you.
The next day before heading out of town, we made our way down to the base of the bridge with some of our other friends so they could see the perspective from along the river.
(Happy birthday, Rick! So glad I got to share this experience with you.)
Hopefully the weather will be better next year when I return to make my first Bridge Day jump – because you better believe I’m going to be nice to my bones and land in the river.