- Originally printed in issue #16 (December 2010/January 2011) of Blue Skies Magazine.
- Buy a reprint of this issue.
Fifteen years in this game, and the variety of reactions I see still amazes me. The reactions of the students and even of the instructors in our sport seems sometimes to fit in to just a few pre-arranged categories that can be read like the menu at the snack bar, but more times than not, it’s a complete fucking mystery.
Like most long-time tandem instructors, I like to pride myself on the ability to get a pretty good read on my students within just the first few minutes of our meeting. The sharp, focused look in their eyes or the glazed-over Valium stare, sweaty palms on that first handshake or, if you can believe it, what can only be called complete disinterest. Yet sometimes they start with one attitude, run through the entire spectrum and end up back where they started without missing a beat. It’s this variety of reactions that to this day makes tandems my favorite form of skydive, but it certainly didn’t start out that way.
When I was first “approached” about becoming a tandem instructor, I was completely and totally against the idea for about a thousand reasons—namely, every damn one that I had filmed up to that point. I’d seen the ones that had gone very right and I’d seen the ones that had gone VERY wrong, and the only part of tandems that appealed to me at all was filming them. It was primarily for this reason that when Mikey Hawkes (he hates being called Mike, Mikey, or any variation other than Michael, hence the reason I’ve put it in print) of the original Skydive Las Vegas (now thankfully under new management) told me that if I didn’t agree to become a tandem instructor for him, I could fuck off and go be a cameraman for someone else, I just about shit my pants.
The best of the best tandem gear at the time was the Vector tandem rig with 360s, 421s and the dreaded 500s as mains, all of which were made of F-111 and opened like freight trains. Flying them was like trying to do bar dips with 200 pounds strapped to you, and when you flared these damn things, the only fucking thing that changed was your expression. These canopies sometimes opened so fast and so violently, especially in a desert environment, that the cameramen were known to hurt their necks trying to keep the tandem in frame. Yet the fact remained that I had absolutely no choice but to agree to go through the training. I was completely vested in the sport by that time, rooted in Las Vegas, and completely fucked.
It was Mr. Simon Wade that did it to me. He was the one who got me successfully through my tandem course, and in the process forced me to believe that I’d made some serious miscalculations with my life. It was him who showed me the sidespin video, him who drilled into me all the different ways that a student could fuck me (figuratively), and him who redeemed himself by being the dumbass to ride on the front for the required drougeless tandem. He drilled into me the importance of making sure I communicated to my student all the things they needed to do to help make the skydive a success, and then sat back and laughed his ass off as manifest assigned to me a Japanese student who spoke no English.
With very little skill and a whole lot of luck I managed to survive my first 100 tandem skydives without fucking anything up too terribly bad. The fact remained that I hated pretty much every moment of it—right up until I met a student who would change my mind about the whole damn thing.
His name was Randy, and he was a complete fucking tool. He’d been brought to Skydive Las Vegas by his wife and two close buddies to make the tandem skydive that he’d been given as a 40th birthday gift. He was sporting a pair of Oakley Blade sunglasses a few inches above his ‘70s porn star moustache, a nice fat gold chain around his neck and a No Fear™ t-shirt about two sizes too small stretched across his chest. He tipped the scales at just over 220 pounds and I hated him instantly.
As he put on the required (by Mikey) jumpsuit, frap hat, gloves, elbow pads AND knee pads—all taped on, no less—he did nothing but bluster in front of his wife and friends about how he not only felt No Fear™ over the upcoming tandem, but how disappointed he was that he was required to do it strapped to another person. When I told him that I was glad he wasn’t scared because I was terrified, he thought I was kidding and laughed like a total jackass, right along with his No Fear™ (and No Jump™) buddies.
As we rounded the corner to load the Otter for the jump, his behavior flipped quicker than a Catholic schoolgirl’s after her first hit of Ecstasy kicks in; he went from the full-of-himself-couldn’t-care-less asshole to a scared little kid. I thought I might even have to help him up the ladder to get in the plane.
As I told him it was time to sit on my lap to start getting ready, he was totally done in. He looked me in the eyes, and with more sincerity than I’d ever seen, told me to “Please please, make me do this, no matter what!” As I began getting him all attached and ready to go, I seriously began to fear that good old Randy just might piss all over me, and had just about decided that he was going to be my first student refusal as a tandem instructor. To my surprise just a few minutes later, I found myself in freefall with him.
As the canopy cracked open I could hear, with increasing volume, Randy screaming his ever-loving ass off. At first I didn’t know if he had completely lost it, or if it has just been that good. Then I started to make out the words, “FUCK YEAH,” and “HOLY FUCKING SHIT,” and what I still to this day swear was a bit of a sob, and realized that Randy had just quite literally had the time of his life.
With more skill (or luck) then I had yet displayed as a tandem instructor, I put Randy down to within twenty feet of his wife and friends and disconnected him, expecting the usual jog over to give the boys a high five before kissing the wife. Instead, in a flash, he turned to face me, jumped up and wrapped both his legs around my waist, dropped me to the ground like a sack of flour, and kissed me full on the mouth! I was so completely shocked by the radical turn of events that I just flailed around like a turtle turned over on his shell, wiping off my mouth and trying to figure out why my face itched…and just like that, I loved being a tandem instructor.
Fuck you. No, it’s not because I realized my untapped gay side (that still is and shall forever remain untapped, unless it’s prison and then it doesn’t count). It was because for the briefest of moments, Randy was truly just Randy. He wasn’t the image of himself he’d painted over the years, he wasn’t the Randy that his wife and his friends expected him to be; he wasn’t anything but the product of an event that he never truly could have imagined before that day, and it was me who had the privilege of giving him the experience. He had in turn, without knowing it, shown me just as quickly and clearly the gift that I had been given: The ability to show people what living in the moment really is, and just how amazing, even for the briefest of times, our lives can be. For that, I will never forget, and always thank, that big prick for being EXACTLY the way he was when he arrived, and the completely different person he briefly became before leaving.
It’s for that same reason that I am still chucking drogues, still telling the same old terrible jokes, and still shocked and thrilled every time I get lucky enough to meet another tool like Randy.
[team_member image_url=”123875″ name=”Dean Ricci” role=”Monthly Columnist”]About the author: Dean “Princess” Ricci has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving.[/team_member] [products_mixed layout=”listing” orderby=”ID” order=”asc” ids=”26630,121868″ title=”Get more like this!”]