Tim and Ted Wagner - Judge(Able): The Great Debate

    "Judging was only a little bit better than last year's (Nationals). Only because it couldn't be worse." Ted Wagner at the U.S. National Skydiving Championships 2000.
    Many competitors and judges simply do not understand each other. They certainly don't agree on some of the scores that end getting posted. And maybe too often, judges miss making accurate calls, which ultimately determine some teams standing worldwide. This situation is not new to just skydiving; it's prevalent in many other sports. But observing the outcome of this year's Nationals and the numerous busts that the judges missed in their multiple viewings brings up the questions on how judges are trained and how they address their work task.
    In talking with Ted and Tim Wagner, both who have designed and revolutionized the sport with their scoring system, Omniskore, and Rob Work, who was a judge at this year's Nationals, they all agree that certain modifications would not only help everyone, but are desperately needed. All three are also former competitors and Golden Knights, so they're very aware of the views from both sides of the fence.
    Fifteen years ago, skydiving did not have full-time teams. Now, there are many, but there are still no full-time judges. Judging has not kept pace with the evolution of the sport.
    At the Nationals, the judges get paid a mere stipend of $40 a day. Tim suggests that maybe if they got paid $100 a day plus all expenses, the demand for the position would be greater.
    "Make it competitive. Sign up 15 judges, put them through boot camp before the Nationals and whoever pushes the buttons the best, put them in the meet," Tim says.
    He feels that teams that are already paying tens of thousands of dollars will be more than cooperative in paying more in entry fees just to get a higher caliber of judging. It is these very judges, who score their performance at the Nationals for example, who determine if they get to go to the World meet. This is not taken lightly by either side; however, competitors have more to lose from a false ruling or inconsistencies.
    The judges also need to practice more throughout the year. The Wagner brothers designed a piece of software a couple of years ago that mimics a judging panel, called the Omnitrainer. People can play the skydive on their VCR and practice pressing the buttons.
    More important is "knowing the dive pool inside and out like the chief judge needs to know the rules," says Ted Wagner. This is a valid reason why competitors make better judges and need to get more involved in the other side. Judges miss grips placed on the wrong leg or a jumper turned a 180 degrees in the opposite direction all the time.
    Tim brings up the theory of "perceptual judging vs. analytical judging." He compares it to reading a book. When one looks at a word in a book, one knows what it means as a whole and also knows instantly if it is misspelled. One is not dissecting its parts, or letters. Judging needs to more like that. More instinctual, instantaneous and less analytical.
    Rob Work defends the other side by saying that when he got into the judging room, he found it to be "an eye-opening experience." He notes, "They are doing their job better than I expected."
    Rob says that competitors don't understand all the elements going on inside the judging room and should experience it for themselves, if only once. Skydivers need to see how many things judges are actually looking for at the same time and the details that go into preparing a judging round. The judges can't talk to each other or shake their heads if a blatant bust occurs, and they only know a team by its number, not by its standing. Overall, it's hard, hard work.
    The judging volume at this year's Nationals of "47 skydives in a hour for 10 hours straight" does make it challenging, and human error does creep into the picture. With two panels of five judges, "hopefully, the majority catches (the bust)."
    Tim Wagner is putting together a Judge 2000 Training Tape. He did another video like this with the '98 Nationals. He compiles 40 to 50 of the more challenging skydives from the Nationals on a tape and proceeds to analyze every jump with a 30-40 page manual. He points out what the judges should look at and how they should judge, often comparing the results to how they were judged.
    He does have "the advantage of being at home, alone, with his VCR, without the pressure they're feeling here." But his goal is to supply judges with a competent tape and a full summer season in 2001 to practice.
    "The biggest obstacle is the concept of pushing the point button until they see a penalty," says Tim. "They should hover over the penalty button until they see a point, and that should be the modern concept."
    He continues, "You're not doing you're job if you don't have a lot of red marks. With fast teams like Maubeuge, you have to be on your toes. You have to be really fast."
    Because as Rob Works notes from his coaching and competitor background, it is a well known practice to try to "blind them with speed. The judges get into a button pushing mode and are not going to see it."
    "Judges are afraid to offend," says Ted, and Tim adds, "A really good judge is not there to make friends."
    But they need to know their job really well. So instead of taking a defensive stance when they're confronted by glaring, demanding competitors, judges can come back with a confident and informed response, "Show me your tape, and I’ll discuss in it what I saw or what I didn't see."

    By admin, in News,

    Three Jump Plane-to-Plane

    Joe Jennings is back at it again! Only this time, the stunt is bigger and better than anything like it before. The group shot this stunt at Skydive Arizona, in Eloy, for a television show called "That's Incredible"-a remake of the 70's show that inspired many of our current skydivers and stunt people today-which should air in late spring. Teaming up with some of the best skydivers in the world-Omar Alhegelan, Greg Gasson, and Steve Curtis - Joe planned a stunt that started three skydivers in one airplane and ended with them in a completely different airplane.

    Photos: Brent Finley
    Joe Jennings flew the main camera with other angles shot by Brent Finley (who graciously let us use his pictures) and Blake. Joe enlisted the piloting skills of Larry Hill and his son, Sean, to fly the two birds. Larry flew the Otter that the jumpers started in while Sean flew the Porter, which was the final destination for the jumpers. Joe also hired Scott Christianson to rig the drogue chute for the plane with an assistant, Chuck Ross. Carl Nespoli was in charge of turning on all the P.O.V. cameras mounted to the Porter and also jumping from the Porter with the drogue d-bag to deploy the drogue.
    Joe's team started testing the stunt on a Tuesday, but was only able to make one jump due to the production company dealing with legal and insurance issues. On Wednesday, the production company that was originally in this backed out, so Joe hired the crew under his own production company. Thursday came and the team did one jump, which resulted in a broken drogue chute. Sean Hill recovered the Porter and landed. After that, 60 mph dust storms and the broken drogue chute brought an early end to the day. Friday came early and yielded blue skies and a wind warning. The team rushed to the DZ and had a go at it.
    The team went up in the plane, ready to jump. They made their first practice jump for the day. Omar caught up with the Porter, climbed in, and waved to camera flyers! During jump number one, the three jumpers-Omar, Greg, and Steve-caught up with the plane and climbed in by 8,000 ft. This whole stunt was achieved in only 40 seconds! In an e-mail, Joe said, "We could have done it with five guys, but three was all we needed for a great stunt, so our work was done." Soon after the stunt was finished, the original producers returned and finished up the job. The final product seemed as though they never left.
    Congratulations to Joe and his whole crew on this unbelievable stunt. I am sure that we will be seeing much more from Joe after this.

    By admin, in News,

    Third Fatality in Eight Days at Skydive Chicago

    DAYTON TOWNSHIP. The third skydiver to die in eight days at Skydive Chicago in Dayton Township was killed Sunday afternoon. Bruce A. Greig, 38, of Jacksonville fell to earth at about 12:46 p.m. when witnesses reported his parachute failed to properly deploy, according to La Salle County Coroner Jody Bernard.
    Greig landed on Skydive Chicago property south of the hangar. He was taken by ambulance to Community Hospital of Ottawa, where he was pronounced dead at 1:30 p.m.
    An autopsy was scheduled for today and the Federal Aviation Administration was notified.
    Greig was an experienced jumper, according to his father, Curt Greig, of Jacksonville.
    "He loved skydiving and talked about it all the time", Curt Greig said in a subdued voice. He was there (Chicago Skydive) every weekend and loved that group (fellow parachutists) up there.
    Curt Greig said his son was a friend of Deborah Luhmann and Steven Smith, who died Oct. 6 in a skydiving mishap at Chicago Skydive and attended their funerals last week.
    Bruce Greig was a program installer with AGI based in Melrose Park.

    By admin, in News,

    Thief lands stolen plane on South African highway

    A South African thief who stole a plane for a joyride had to land on a motorway when it ran out of fuel. He made the emergency landing on the N4 highway near Bronkhorstspruit, about 30 miles from Pretoria.
    Police say the aircraft was undamaged and the thief got away before he could be arrested.
    "We have no idea who the suspect is," police spokesman Capt. Piletji Sebola said.
    There was no apparent damage to the plane and there appeared to have been few cars on the road when it landed. One of the highway's two lanes was closed to traffic, Sebola said.
    The Cessna, used for skydiving, had been brought into Wonderboom airport in Pretoria on Sunday for a routine maintenance.
    The plane was stolen sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning.
    According to the flight instruments, it was flown for roughly one hour and 36 minutes before it ran out of fuel and was forced into an emergency landing.
    "I'm dumbstruck. He really knew what he was doing," said Carlos Garcia Cabral, the plane's owner.
    Police and airport officials were investigating how the plane was stolen.

    By admin, in News,

    There are no tall buildings in Kentucky

    A 33-year-old Kentucky man, lured to Manhattan by its skyscrapers, parachuted from a downtown office building last night and landed on the sixth-floor rooftop of an adjacent building, police said.
    Donald Mathis of Louisville was arrested at the scene, 310 Greenwich St., and charged with reckless endangerment and criminal trespassing. He was not injured.
    "Police said he came to New York for the stunt because "there are no tall buildings in Kentucky."

    By admin, in News,

    The Tunnel VS 1 Gets Land

    Marissa Partners, LLC has come to terms on a property located on the corner of Mission Trail Road and Corydon Street in Lake Elsinore CA. The 2 acre parcel is adjacent to the Lake Elsinore MotoCross Track and in very close proximity Skydive Elsinore. "The Company is very excited about this location and we see some wonderful opportunities to work with both Skydive Elsinore and Lake Elsinore MotoCross on this project." said a spokesperson for Marissa Partners, LLC.
    The Tunnel VS 1™ is the world's most advanced design indoor skydiving facility. The state-of-the-art complex will be the widest diameter commercial facility of its kind at 14 ft. and capable of producing wind speeds in excess of 150 mph.
    The Tunnel VS 1 Promotional Giveaway
    To promote The Tunnel VS 1 the company is giving a way 500 T shirts for FREE to registered Dropzone.com users. The promotion will start run for 30 days till October 15, 2002. For more information and to register to enter the promotion, click on the link below.
    T-Shirt Giveaway Registration
    About Marissa Partners, LLC
    Marissa Partners is an investment holding company. Our primary business is the development and operation of The Tunnel VS 1™. The Company’s focus is to create and market an exciting new indoor sport called Sky Flying ™ and to provide a realistic skydiving and freefall simulator for skydiver and military training.
    CONTACT: Marissa Partners LLC Bruce Federici, 909/615-3052 fruce@TheTunnelVS1.com

    By admin, in News,

    The Transfer of Ownership

    Most of us have no idea what amazing feats we are capable of. However, when we face life's challenges we are able to achieve personal breakthroughs that can result in permanent change. Leaving the perceived security of an aircraft in flight and leaping into the clear blue, arriving safely back on mother earth, creates a perfect opportunity for such an experience. A first jump tandem student can shatter self-doubt, conquer long-held personal fears, and can sometimes be launched into a journey of self-discovery. I have had the honor of being the trusted host of many such experiences as a tandem instructor: a mother who nearly died during childbirth living her life to the fullest while her baby girl looks on; a close family member conquering a fear of heights she had allowed to control her since childhood; a young man with a crippling disease busting through the limits imposed on him by social stereotypes; and many who are completing yet another item on their "list of 100 things to do" in their lives. Each one of them are real people who not only achieved a significant personal transformation, but taught me a little about myself as well. Some of you may be smiling and nodding your head in agreement; for those of you who aren't familiar with this experience, I hope this article will result in significant personal rewards for you as well.
    The journey toward what I call "the transfer of ownership" starts at the introduction. I ask my students why they want to make a skydive - nearly every student will eventually tell me something that I can use to make their experience more personal, and sometimes one of the most significant experiences of their life. At that time, from the student's viewpoint, the lion's share of "ownership" of this skydiving experience belongs to me. After all, I am the one teaching them how to be my partner in the air for those few short minutes, emphasizing the simple things they can do to help make our skydive as safe as possible, and calmly addressing the inevitable flurry of questions that come from the doubt surrounding any first-time experience. Eventually, my students trust me with their life - although it may go unsaid, they all know that is ultimately true.
    Sometimes a student can be "high maintenance." Kay (not her real name) is my best example. The wife of a local doctor and mother of a young daughter, Kay was introduced to me by her husband. As our conversation progressed, she found out that I am a part-time skydiving instructor, and I asked her to join me for a tandem jump. Her body language was unlike any I had ever seen; she began to withdraw from the outside in - something serious was going on in her heart and mind that I thought would surely keep her on the ground.
    Shortly afterwards the torrent of questions began . . . she researched the risks of skydiving on her own by reading internet content including dropzone.com incident forum posts, USPA fatality reports, and soaking in every over-hyped reality TV segment involving a skydiving incident. Between personal conversations, phone calls, and emails she must have asked me over a hundred questions - some of them very difficult to answer. I could have easily become frustrated, but the reality of the situation was that I really wanted Kay to make a skydive; I would answer every single question if it meant there was still a chance she would jump. To keep me sane, I repeatedly imagined seeing the joy on her face after landing. After all, that was the place both of us were working so hard to reach, and it motivated me to keep answering all of Kay's questions.
    The day came for our jump, and our pre-jump training and ride to altitude was filled with increasing fear on her part, eventually manifesting itself in physical shaking after I hooked her harness to mine. Despite her obviously being incredibly scared, she never once stopped moving forward toward the door. I asked her if she was ready, and she nodded her head. Exit and free fall were uneventful, and after the canopy opened cooperatively at 4500 feet, her demeanor was surprisingly calm. I could tell she did not like heights by the way she kept leaning her head back, but she continued to respond to all of my gentle instructions.
    After a smooth seated landing I unhooked her harness and she began to sob loudly, which I realized was an emotional release of years of pent up fear of flying and high places. After she calmed down a bit and I pulled her to her feet, there in front of me was the real life expression of joy that I had imagined to keep me focused through months of questions. At that point came the transfer of ownership - I directed her attention to the blue sky above, and explained to her that this entire experience happened because she chose to rise to the challenge of an opportunity to conquer her fear. She had indeed trusted me with her life, but more importantly she had trusted herself to do something she knew would be one of her most fearful yet critically important experiences. This was not about me at all - it was all about her. Now that I had painted that clear picture for her, full ownership of the experience was hers alone.
    I found out later in a letter from Kay that her first husband had been killed in an aviation accident nearly fifteen years before, and since then she had been deathly afraid of flying. Somehow she recognized skydiving as an opportunity to confront and conquer that fear, and knew that she could trust me to be means to that end. The letter, too personal to include verbatim here, is one of the greatest personal rewards I have received in 22 years of skydiving.
    You see, even though you the instructor are the one with the ratings, the high degree of skill, the confidence in the process, and literally in charge of every student skydive, in the end it is all about the student. Through their trust in you they briefly place their lives in your hands because most of them know that although skydiving is a calculated risk, on the other side of that risk lies some sort of unseen benefit that can empower them in ways they never imagined. Now before you lies the choice of arriving for work at the drop zone to haul human cargo for hire, or to arrive in expectation of whose life you might be able to change, along with the possibility that yours might change a bit in the process. There are many more souls out there like Kay, for whom the breakthrough of a lifetime is just one leap of faith away from becoming reality.
    John Hawke is an active duty U.S. Army Sergeant Major and part-time Tandem and AFF Instructor at Raeford Parachute Center in North Carolina.

    By admin, in News,

    The Secret of Banana Hammock

    A Few Nuggets of Golden Advice from a Winning Self-Funded Skydiving Team
      It starts like a bad joke: a Californian (Kenny Beach), an Italian (Alessandro “Alex” Struppa) and a Frenchman (Lawrence De Laubadere) walk into a skydiving competition...
    “Our team name was Banana Hammock,” Kenny grins. “We decided that while we were drunk ice skating.”
    Yep. Banana Hammock.
    “Alex made a logo,” he continues. “It’s a banana in a hammock with his hands in the air. His arms are my jumpsuit and his legs are my teammate’s jumpsuit, and the banana is drinking a martini.”
    The punchline of the joke? Banana Hammock took the 2-way MFS gold at the 2014 Nationals. (*Rimshot*!) It was a damned good result, especially considering where Kenny was at the outset.
    “When we did our first team jumps,” Kenny remembers, “Alex was already able to fly head down and pick up grips. I would leave on my head and then flop away and fall past. Byyyyyye.”
    As it turns out, the road from flopping to flying your way to the top of a national podium is paved with very intentionally-executed intentions. Without meticulous planning and open team communication, there’s very little chance you’ll ever make it to the first round. And, for most mere mortals on self-funded teams, you’ll have a very limited number of chances to get it right before the money and/or the wherewithal runs out. The struggle is real.
    That said: If you’re looking for an example of a skydiving team done right, this is it. Banana Hammock not only walked away with a gold medal but with the teammates’ friendships intact--gold within gold--and Kenny is willing to share the wisdom he gleaned from that epic endeavor.
    1. Compete for the right reasons.
    When Kenny was first looking for teammates, he ran into a lot of friction from people who simply didn’t want to compete without the guarantee of a win.
    “You have to understand that it isn’t the winning that makes you better,” Kenny observes. “It’s the fact that you are getting in with a like-minded, dedicated group of people and you are doing the same skydives over and over with them. You each learn how the other flies, and then you can focus on the really fine details.”
    “When you train to compete, as long as you approach it from the mentality I’m not going to win, I’m going to become a better skydiver and I’m going to use this as a tool to buckle down as if I’m trying to win,” he muses, “then you will be giving yourself the opportunity to learn all these particular skills within whatever discipline you’re training, in a really focused environment.”
    2. Overstaff.
    The most deadly contingency for most skydiving teams is that of the suddenly-absent member. Shore up.
    “If you want to do a 4-way team, find 8 people,” Kenny says. “If you want to do an 8-way team, find 16. People are going to bail on you. I’ve seen teams that have been destroyed a week before Nationals because their outside center flyer decided he couldn’t go to Nationals anymore and the entire team’s training was shot because they didn’t have a backup. Make sure you have more people than you need.”
    3. Start talking.
    Got some people interested? Great. Now it’s open-communication time.
    “When you get the people, put together the plan for your schedule and the goal of what you want to achieve: to win; to place; to develop; whatever that is. Figure what everyone wants to do and find a general consensus. For example: You might have one person who is, like, I want to win the Worlds this year and somebody else who is, like, I just want to see what a competition is like. Both of those people won’t get what they want. The person who just wants to see what it is like isn’t going to put the energy in to train hard enough to win the Worlds. You are going to have to meet in the middle if it’s going to work. Find people you can work with and who will work together for compatible goals.”
    At some point along this journey, emotions are bound to escalate. When that happens, be ready. Kenny advocates getting everyone into a quiet room and passing around a talking stick (or a talking altimeter or a talking helmet or a talking rock or whatever ya got).
    4. Everybody gets a job.
    Kenny insists that, once the team is in agreement about the goals, it’s time to give everyone a very specific set of roles to play.
    “Try to divide up the responsibilities for each member,” he says. “Have one person be responsible for making sure there is coffee in the morning; one person be responsible for making sure the video flyer gets taken care of; one person be responsible for making sure your pack jobs are done. You’ll pool your resources to pay for everything, of course, but have the admin jobs divided up so that everyone is responsible for part of the team so it comes together as a fully functioning unit. You don’t want one person getting stressed because they’re having to do everything. Everyone shares ownership.”
    5. Plan down to the minute detail, and do it on paper.
    “I think the thing that helped us the most was sitting down and getting a calendar and scheduling out every single day we were going to train, with concrete goals lined out. Not just, We want to win Nationals. Instead: We want to win Nationals and have this kind of average point. We put down on the calendar what skills we needed to work on at what time, and we broke it down to be really structured around what we were going for.”
    That hyper-detailed schedule might sound imprisoning; for Kenny, it was anything but. It gave him the freedom he needed to dedicate himself completely to the task.
    “If I knew that in the month of February, I would be at Paraclete for the second week and training three full days over the last weekend, then when February comes around, I’d know exactly what my schedule was going to look like to plan ahead for work. The strictness of the schedule ensured that we were getting the number of jumps we needed, the amount of tunnel time we needed and the amount of work we needed, all within our schedules.”
    Not a spreadsheet nerd? No problem. You’ll get the hang of it.
    “I literally had no experience of even how to set up a schedule,” he adds. “I went from working at McDonald’s to a full time skydiver, and then I quit my job to pack parachutes.”
    In fact, Banana Hammock’s training schedule derived from a 4-way-specific structural starting point gifted to Kenny by uber-competitor Dan B.C. The team agreed on a certain number of jumps and a certain number of tunnel hours that they needed to accomplish in the nine intervening months between their training start date and the Nationals competition in October. From there, it was a matter of division--but with a twist.
    6. Cluster ‘em up.
    “You just divide up the jumps by the number of months you have available,” Kenny explains, “but you try to schedule so you are trying to do your month’s jumps in 2-to-4 day time period. You don’t want to do 40 training jumps over the entire month. You want to do 40 training jumps in 3 days and then maintain currency the rest of the month. That way you are honing in and developing those skills rather than just maintaining some vague point of currency. Like: Do I transition on my right or my left shoulder? Do I back up two feet or a foot? When you do 10 jumps in a day, you can dial that in. If not, you are not going to get that level of resolution.”
    7. Then plan for the contingencies.
    “Then we went on to build a plan for all of the things we could think of that could possibly go wrong,” he continues. “When we did our first team jumps, we had already had a contract that we had written up and both signed that said, ‘if this happens, this is what we are going to do.’ That way there was no animosity between us if any of it happened.”
    Happily--and somewhat predictably--but for a few speed bumps, Banana Hammock ended up cruising cheerfully along its well-oiled tracks to meet its golden goal. While the team decided not to compete again (self-funded, y’know), Kenny reports that everyone involved considered it a happy ending, and he, for one, is glad he took the time to do it right.
    “The best advice I can give you,” he smiles, “Is don’t give up. Don’t quit. It won’t always seem like it, but it is worth it. If you’ve ever considered competing, you owe it to yourself to try.”

    By nettenette, in News,

    The Road to 100 Dropzones - 77 and Counting

    I often get asked by Whuffos "Why do you jump out of planes?" At first it's always fun to say "Because the door was open" and after a few laughs I try to explain. I try to explain the 60 seconds of absolute peace. That 1 minute that nothing else matters and you're 100% focused on the moment and what you're doing. To a non jumper that explanation isn't ever really good enough I feel, and often refer to the cliche quote of "To those that jump, no explanation is necessary, and to those that don't, no explanation is possible" Because it's the closest thing to the truth.
    I feel lucky to be apart of a community of amazing people! People that put aside status, careers, race, politics and are so excited to share the amazing sport of skydiving with new jumpers like myself. I didn’t know that about skydivers when I did my first tandem jump, nor did I know that I would end up traveling all over the US, meeting people from all walks of life, people I would end up calling friends and my sky family. However, one thing I do now know, is how thankful I am to have started this journey.
    Everything started for me on October 14th 2013 and the set of upcoming random circumstances would lead me to so many different Dropzones around the US, which resulted in me being asked to write this story.
    I was working in an industry where it was common to work really hard for 4-5 months and then take a couple months off. Right after my work season ended I decided I was going to skydive. A decision I arrived at due to various circumstances I found myself in. I was previously in the army and broke my foot the week before airborne school and always regretted not being able to jump and be apart of an airborne unit in the army. A few years after that I was working on my pilots license at a very small airport in Goshen Indiana that had a small skydiving operation on the other side of the field. Other than hearing "Jumpers Away" and making sure I didn't hit any of them while practicing take off and landings I never made it over there, even though I told myself repeatedly that I would try. Then a couple years later I met a guy by the name of Tim Kelly, randomly on a cruise ship and he had just started his skydiving training a few months before and was so excited to share with me his excitement and how awesome the sport of skydiving was! These events always left me wondering if I would take the time away from flying and scuba diving to start a new hobby.

    Getting Licensed
    So there I was in La Porte, IN several years later and woke up one morning and decided today is the day! I'm gonna jump out of a plane! I called all the Chicago DZ's and none of them could take me because I weighed 260 lbs. so I called around the Indianapolis area and it was the same result. A friend told me "I think they jump over in Plymouth call them" At this point I was pretty discouraged, but I had already made up my mind that somehow I was going to do a skydive! I couldn't believe that all the big operations couldn't accommodate me, but somehow the little DZ 25 min down the road might be able to. I called them up with my situation, desperate to jump, and the DZO said "Come on in. We will take a look at you and depending on your height and build we can take you if it's safe to do so".
    Dropzone #1!
    I hopped in the car alone and drove straight to the DZ! After arriving a gentleman named Steve Verner came over and after weighing me and sizing me up decided that it was no problem. The main parachute was rated for our combined weight and he was more than confident (with over 10,000 jumps) to safely take me on a tandem skydive. I was beyond stoked! And started filling out paperwork, watching the mandatory videos and soaking up every bit of instruction Steve was giving me.
    The plane ride up consisted of Troy the DZO and Pilot on that day, Steve my Tandem Instructor and his wife Jenny the videographer. It was a 20 minute ride of smiling, while also refreshing everything I had learned on the ground. I was very impressed at all the attention that was put into safety! 10,000 feet, door opens, head back followed by 40 seconds of amazement! As soon as we landed I said I have to learn how to this! I don't care what it takes, let's get started!
    That day I filled out a USPA membership application and scheduled ground school, along with my 2nd mandatory tandem, which I scheduled for the next day at the same DZ (Plymouth Sky Sports). After completing my ground school and 2nd tandem the next day I bought my first Cookie G3 Helmet. I was also measured and even ordered my first jumpsuit. I was already committing to the sport after only 2 jumps! The Dropzone would be closing for the winter 2 weeks later and the upcoming weather wasn't looking great either. I would have to wait until the next season or travel somewhere warmer to continue training, which is exactly what I did!
    Dropzone #2
    I called several Dropzones in Florida because I was told that with my weight and being a student, I would need a 300 sq ft Canopy to start my training (300lb Exit weight). After about my 5th call the Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales Florida, they told me to come on down! They had a rig that would fit me and instructors to provide the training. 1 week later I rented a small 1 bedroom house in Lake Wales and walked into the DZ to fill out paperwork. After spending a few days on a weather hold I decided to drive up to Deland and order my first container from Mirage. Apparently most people don't order their first rig until they know they are going to make it through the training, but I was committed and in my mind there was no turning back! The manager measured me and helped me design my custom green and black colors and then the wait would begin!
    2 days later after a very successful AFF Level 1 skydive and a very bad no flare/no wind landing that left me wondering if I could even stand up or wave my arm to ensure my instructor I was ok (as he pleaded with me over the radio). As I heard the words "Holy Shit Bro, are you alive?" coming from a golf cart that was approaching me, I learned there was a lot more to skydiving than simply jumping out of a plane. Yes, I was alive. It was while being driven back to the hangar on the golf cart that I learned the importance of a flare. 6 hours later while in the emergency room at the VA hospital in Orlando I would also learn that a mans ACL doesn't agree with 300lbs falling from the sky without a proper flare. A lesson I wouldn't forget.
    Dropzone #3
    4 months later I was fully healed up and working in San Antonio Texas. This is where I would resume my training at Skydive San Marcos. My new rig was completed and I showed up at the DZ looking like a seasoned pro in my bright colored jumpsuit, helmet and new rig (but still had no idea what I was really doing). They would confuse me for a licensed fun jumper who was waiting to fill out a waiver when I was really there to start with my 4th overall jump and only my 2nd solo! After telling them an interesting story and that I was actually brand new they paired me up with 3 of the most amazing instructors I have met to date. Hank, Kevin & Pun. These were the guys that would train me now that I was healed, give me my confidence back and nurse me through 3 months of weather holds and countless times riding the plane down with other students, due to the winds kicked up too high. I stayed at San Marcos through jump 15, when a new Dropzone opened not far down the road. I ended up taking a trip there with some of my new skydiving buddies to check it out.
    Dropzone #4
    I decided to continue my training at Skydive Lonestar because at this point I was on coach jumps and they would allow me to use the new rig I had sitting in my car. Something the other DZ wouldn't allow me to do per their rules. This would save me gear rental fees and allow me to start getting comfortable in my own rig. The Dropzone had only been open a week and I would be their first AFF student. The staff and DZO was amazing, salt of the earth people. For days and days they would send the Otter up with only 6 or so people just so new guys could jump and I could keep training. I would always be grateful for this and wouldn't realize until later how rare it was. I would complete another 5 jumps there before moving to Houston.
    Dropzone #5
    I moved to Houston and Skydive Spaceland would become my new home for a while and 5 jumps later I earned my A license! It felt great to finally be a real skydiver because it had been 9 months, 5 Dropzones, several instructors and 1 injury later that I was finally able to achieve this goal. I would then learn the meaning of "BEER!" As I got my A license and stamp at Skydive Spaceland. I would learn that tradition again a few weeks later when I would biff my landing and my cutaway handle would be pulled between myself and the ground while sliding 10 feet across wet grass. (I guess that doesn't happen a lot and I have yet to see it happen again) It was apparent when the skydiver picking up his canopy 30 feet from me yelled "How the fuck did that happen! I have never seen a reserve pilot chute pop out while someone was sliding across the ground before! I bet you owe beer for that one!” Needless to say the gas station down the street would get to know me well in those first weeks.
    Dropzones 6-77
    Over the next year while traveling all around the country for work and taking some trips, going hours and even hundreds of miles out of the way just to jump at a new Dropzone I would figure out why I was traveling to all these DZs. I loved to jump, as anyone that completes training does I'm sure, but I found that in all my life that skydivers was the most interesting and awesome people that I have ever met. They are the only group of people (besides poker players) that you could sit amongst people without worrying about class, race, work status and discuss something you truly loved and share stories and drink beer and it would never get old. A member of the PD factory team would jump with you just to help you learn, guys and girls with thousands of jumps would share there knowledge and not make you feel inferior; But instead would share their experiences to help better everyone around them. I figured as long as I was traveling anyway I would make it a point to go to as many Dropzones and boogies and I could and seek out these amazing people to hear there stories and learn from them.
    Heading For 100
    It was probably about Dropzone 20 or so that I was jumping with new friends and the fact came up on how many DZs I have been to. It wasn’t strange to me to travel all over the country for work or to find new dropzones because i desperately wanted to keep jumping! However to my new friends that always jumped at the same DZ since they got licensed they found it very interesting because in a lot of cases 1 plane is all they knew. I met 100’s of people that had only jumped from a 4 person Cessna and nothing bigger. I decided then that since I was able to travel, that I was going to make it a goal to visit 100 Dropzones and try to jump at as many as I could, and from as many different planes, helicopters and balloons that I could. I knew weather would play a part and some places would only take tandems, but I was gonna do my best and just have fun with it. I started taking the "Selfies" next to the DZ sign early on to document my journey. Several years earlier I drove to all 48 continental states and did the same thing. A lot of people watched my journey on Facebook and thought it was fun, so I thought it would be a good idea for skydiving as long as I was out here doing it anyway.

    More of Justin's images can be seen on his Dropzone.com profile
    Common Questions
    Now I could write pages and pages about my experiences, stories, boogies, jumps etc etc. But as I travel and people find out that I have jumped so many places and will continue to I get a lot of the same questions which I'm always happy to answer and still developing new answers as I jump. So I wanted to share a few of those Q&A;'s at the request of Dropzone.com and because I know I had a lot of the same questions about different places.
    1. What's the nicest Dropzone you have been to?
    That's a hard one to answer because there are a lot of nice DZ's. However my personal choice is CSC (Chicagoland Skydiving Center) Their facilities are amazing, all there rental equipment is top notch. The staff there go above and beyond to welcome new people to the sport and they have the nicest gear shop and restaurant in the country in my opinion. It was pretty much built for skydiving. The DZO is one of the friendliest guys you would wanna know. I don't just mean a friendly skydiver but Doug is just a pleasant friendly person in general and his attention to detail in running his operation is second to none. All of these things make it the nicest facility that I have had the privilege of jumping at.
    2. What's your favorite Dropzone?
    Always a difficult one to answer because it's really a 6 way tie for different reasons and the people that jump and work at these Dropzones make them a great time not only to jump at but to also hang around and have fun. They also all have a very high level of respect for safety and people willing to help you learn from your mistakes when you mess up. Those would be Skydive Windy City in Michigan City, IN. Skydive Spaceland In Texas, Chicago Land Skydiving, Skydive Chicago, Skydive Lonestar and Skydive San Marcos. I have jumped at these places more than any other and I have good friends at each of these DZ's which makes them really fun to jump at when I can.
    3. What's the best view?
    For me that's a tie between Skydive Utah & Skydive Windy City. Utah has these amazing mountains and the view of the Great Salt Lake. Growing up and living most my life in the Midwest I don't get to see mountains a lot and certainly not jump near them so Utah is amazing. I also love Skydive Windy City. I consider this my home Dropzone (formerly Plymouth Sky Sports) and between all the trees that surround the DZ and the view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago City Skyline on clear days it makes it a beautiful jump!
    4. What's the best gear store?
    Well in my mind there is no contest and that's Rock Sky Market. They are located at ChicagoLand Skydiving Center and literally have everything a skydiver could want in stock and probably with several different colors to chose from. I have purchased almost all my gear from Steve and Jenny since day one when they were selling t-shirts and pull up cords out of the corner of a hanger in Plymouth and they are the best people to work with. Not only are the knowledgeable on so much with years in the sport and well over 10,000 skydives between them but they have first hand knowledge on most of the products because they jump almost daily and use them. Between everything being right there to buy that day, there knowledge and the excellent customer service it's no contest in my mind.
    5. How many DZ's have you jumped at in 1 day?
    The most different Dropzones I have jumped at in 1 day is 3 and all 3 was in different states. I started off at Skydive Midwest in Wisconsin for a fun jump and then went down to Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Illinois to buy a helmet case and jumped there then on my way home I jumped at Plymouth Sky Sports in Indiana. That was an exhausting day.
    6. What's your favorite boogie?
    This is always a tough question but the 2 that come to mind are Summerfest and Couch Freaks. I don't know if they will hold the Couch Freaks boogie in Fort Dodge again and I might have attended the last year for it but I had a blast! Just read the back of the boogie tickets and you know you're in for one hell of a ride! I really hope they have that boogie again because the stories from the old timers there about the start of big event skydiving are second to none. As a new jumper at the time I attended I really got an education! Summerfest is also amazing with the amount of planes that come in you can really jump as much as you want. From the fireworks and glowing wing suit flights to the dinner time meals and dancing into the night. Summerfest at Skydive Chicago is really a top notch boogie!
    To finish things up I’m really thankful for all the friends I have made along my journey and hopefully will continue to make. All of these opinions are of course my own, and being so new in the sport I’m sure they will continue to change as I learn and grow. I hope to hit 100 DZ’s and a few more boogies before summer is over. I hope in writing this article that the 1,000’s of jumpers who are in there comfort zone of 1 DZ will get out and experience some new DZ’s and make some new sky family. I haven’t had a bad time yet and all dropzones are welcoming to new jumpers I have found and are excited to share there stories and there sky with you! -EFS-
    Justin Baker B-40015

    -Blue Skies-

    By admin, in News,

    The Power of the Flare

    Squirrel wingsuits just released this amazing video, aimed at illustrating how wingsuits are able to climb in altitude. The concept of wingsuits being able to ascend was disputed by quite a number of skeptics over the past decade, but over the past few years we've seen evidence that not only can a wingsuit flyer gain altitude, but that they can ascend by a few hundred feet. At the time the claims were made, it was probably correct to assume that the wingsuits weren't gaining altitude, but that's only because the performance wasn't there yet.
    Wingsuit performance has seen a massive gain over the last decade with new companies like Squirrel getting involved in the market, and for the most part, dominating it. The increase in competitive wingsuit flying has also meant there is a larger drive for performance increases from manufacturers. Despite being one of the newest comers to the wingsuit market, Squirrel have already asserted themselves as one of the leading manufacturers in the industry and whose wingsuits have seen a number world cup wins over the past few years.
    In the video, a group of wingsuit flyers and organizers are seen plotting their flights and discussing what the risks involved with the jumps.
    The idea behind the video is that they would be using a large canyon in Moab, Utah as a point of scale for their wingsuit ascent attempts. In skydiving, it's generally quite difficult to judge the ascent, if any of a wingsuit flight -- not only because the increase in ascent isn't generally aggressively targeted as a goal, but because there is no static reference to give an indication on the altitude gained.
    The video, which provides some seriously awesome cinematography -- also shows us, for the first time, just how much altitude can be gained by these modern wingsuits. In some cases more than 250 feet were gained. The measurements were estimates based off both camera angle and in some cases GPS logs.

    By admin, in News,