Fucking Facebook

Online Reprint

The saying used to be, “If it’s not on video, it didn’t happen!” The saying now is clearly, “If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.”

Social networking is, in my personal opinion, one of the best and one of the most fucked up things ever invented, and I can’t decide if it’s helping the world by bringing it closer together, or destroying it one post at a time.

There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone reading this has either heard of or been directly involved in the total annihilation of a relationship because of Facebook, MySpace, or some other social media site. It can turn the most innocent situation into what appears to be a torrid scandal, or simply air out a scandal for what it is, all depending on the picture posted or the words used. The truth is, if you’re stupid enough to allow pictures or video everyone shouldn’t see posted online, then you kind of get what you deserve.

If you post “fuck this person” or “that person is such a dick” without making sure they aren’t your “friend” on Facebook first, then once again you absolutely have it coming! Funny thing is, this isn’t the reason that I have a real problem with these sites. Those are actually a few of the reasons I love them!

The real problem I have with Facebook is that the powers that be have finally caught on. “They” are totally hip to the fact that on the whole, people are narcissistic idiots willing to hang themselves out to dry trying to look cool. I’m afraid that I, like most of the people reading this article have occasionally been one of those idiots, having posted the odd picture or random statement I wish I hadn’t. Consequently, I learned quite quickly and quite early where to draw the line. The problem now isn’t people hanging themselves out to dry, but someone else either accidentally or quite intentionally tossing their friends under the bus.

Recently, while flying loads at the drop zone, I was paid a friendly visit by a very nice member of the local FSDO office and badge-carrying representative of the FAA. She was stopping by the operation to perform her due diligence, in light of the FAA’s new policy of “higher visibility” in skydiving, and “ramping” me as the pilot in charge. Being ramped is kind of like being pulled over by the cops, only the FAA doesn’t need a reason to do it. You may not have done anything wrong, but they still want to see your license, registration and insurance, so to speak. Now I’ve always been very good about staying on top of all my paperwork as a pilot, and our aircraft were up to speed as well, so the ramp check went without incident. Without incident until she brought up Facebook, that is.

You may have noticed at the beginning of the previous paragraph that I referred to the FAA official as “very nice,” and the truth is she was. She was nice enough to let me in on the fact that her boss was, as she put it, “hot around the collar” over a number of pictures that he found on the drop zone’s Facebook page! She was even nice enough to slide behind the desk at manifest and show me exactly where these pictures were. I was breaking out in a cold sweat while she did, seeing that most of the photos in question were either of skydivers in or quite near clouds or aircraft performing flybys that didn’t exactly appear, in the strictest sense of the word, legal.

Now as I’m sure every jump pilot would agree, I would never EVER perform a maneuver in an aircraft not deemed completely legal, nor would I EVER allow a skydiver to maintain anything but the legal cloud clearance limits, but these fucking pictures didn’t make it look that way! It also didn’t help that in each and every one of the pictures, the pilot flying the aircraft was tagged in the photo. As cool as the photos were, if the FAA had decided to make a real issue out of it, things would have gotten very serious very fast. As it turned out, the photos were removed almost before the official’s feet were out the door, and no more of these shots have been put up…yet.

Think this is only an issue that pilots need to worry about? Think again. Just go talk to Steven Jackson. “Jacko” is a close friend and fellow instructor in the sport, with around 15,000 jumps and more skill than any one person deserves. He’s a talented freeflyer, great AFF instructor, and in my opinion probably the best tandem instructor on the planet. Even so, he not only lost all of his ratings for quite some time, but had to fly to the USPA Board Meeting in Reno to fight USPA and the manufacturers, face to face, to get them back. Why? All due to photos posted online of him flying tandems in a way they deemed inappropriate. Think it couldn’t happen to you? What pictures do you have up on your “love me” wall?

Facebook has, without a doubt, connected me to long lost friends and acquaintances I never would have seen or heard from again. It has opened doors and closed chapters in my life that would not have been possible without it, and in most ways it’s a tool I’m glad I have. Yet there is a very dangerous side to this very powerful tool. In our modern and very connected world, we don’t need Big Brother to watch over us, and why would we? We have twenty million little fucking cousins to do it for him!

Maybe that really sick shot of you on your head with a tandem will remain just a conversation starter and not turn into a USPA red flag. Chances are, the sunset shot of you flying the DZ Cessna really damn low over a hangar full of skydivers won’t amount to anything at all. What are the odds that the FAA gives a damn that there’s a wonderful picture of you straddling the tail of a Twin Otter? Probably pretty slim, but if they do care, and the tail number of that plane is in the shot…

The Fuckin' Pilot

Monthly Columnist

About the author: The Fuckin’ Pilot has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving.

Get more like this!

Wisdom from the Masters: Norman Kent

Online Reprint

It’s real easy to just have fun and go shoot pictures; the real issue is what happens to them next. My motivation for photography has always been to share. To share the beauty I see. To share how in love I am with skydiving, how in love I am with the environment, how in love I am with the world. From the very first time I decided to shoot, my motivation was thinking, “Wow, this is beautiful and I would love the world to see it.” And that has never changed.

Wisdom from the Masters: Norman Kent | Blue Skies Mag i67: July 2015 | blueskiesmag.com

When you have a passion about sharing and you actually embrace that as part of your photography then you can become passionate about the methods for sharing. And that’s one of the key things: Become passionate about the whole process, not only about the photography. Because after all, if you shoot the photography and it goes nowhere, it’s almost like you didn’t shoot it. If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound?

We live in community, especially now with this huge social media revolution. You may be creating great photography but it really doesn’t exist until it exists in community. And I don’t mean just quickly uploading everything to Facebook, which is convenient but opens a whole other can of worms in terms of quality and it’s not always a positive outcome. How you distribute your work and how it is perceived is of most importance.

You get more when you have a goal than when you just make what you’re doing the goal.

Flying is a clear example for me. I’m not the best flyer in the world. Yet I still am an in-demand photographer so somehow my flying is enough to get me where I want to be on skydives, especially ones that change directions and go fast and so forth. However, when I’m training I’m horrible; it’s like I’m thinking, “Okay do this position to achieve that and try this move, etc.” and it’s horrible. When I’m great is when I’m not thinking flying—when flying is just a way to get there so I can do my photography. All I’m thinking is capturing images and my body takes me where I need to go. The same thing goes for the photography. If you focus on expression, the photography itself becomes easy.

What do you want to do that photography is a tool for?

If all you want is great pictures, what do you want those pictures for? If you have a desire to express something, whether it’s beauty or love, anger, whatever it is, then the photography becomes a tool and it’s not as important. It takes a lighter side and it becomes easier to learn.

What do you stand for in life?

Why do you want to do photography? If your answer is, I just wanna get a job so I can jump a lot but I don’t really care about photography, then it will be hard to excel in the way that we’re talking about here as far as what makes unique photography stand out. What makes unique photography stand out is the unique content of your motives, your motivations and what you stand for. These emotions become part of the image and are felt by the viewers.

What makes unique photography stand out is the unique content of your motives, your motivations and what you stand for. These emotions become part of the image and are felt by the viewers.

For me, I want my photography to signify creativity, love, courage, beauty—powerful things—and that’s what I want my images to convey. I try to get beauty independent of what’s happening in front of the camera. The formation may go bad but if I capture a beautiful picture of it going bad, to me it was beautifully executed—a group of people went out and attempted this beautiful thing and maybe it didn’t happen exactly as they planned or hoped, but it was still a beautiful execution of an attempt. It is “being.”

What can you get back from photography?

Imagine, for instance, you’re trying to convey a message of the beauty of the sport and you go up and you see an environment that’s changing. You notice how the clouds are changing, how they fit into the kind of skydiving you’re doing, what the group is doing and you make creative decisions and then you all of a sudden you come back with a great image. Even if it seems like luck, because I thrive on luck. I’ve been lucky for more than forty years. When you do that, it’s not the photography that you got; you got a chance to live this experience in your life. People search for these experiences their whole lives. So to actually get up there and see this and go after it and capture a, b, or c—whether it was what you planned to capture or something else, you had an experience of various emotions in a special state of mind. That “trying to get something,” whether you got it or not, and this whole thing made you in that space and time the person you are now by experiencing it. Isn’t that what we’re all after? What do you want out of life? If that doesn’t give you a buzz, I don’t know what will.

Norman Kent

Master Photographer

About the master: Norman Kent is among the world’s most prolific, accomplished and successful skydiving photographers. His life’s journey is not easily summarized in two sentences–normankent.com/norman for more.

So Hard To Say Goodbye …

Online Reprint

Wait … What? With a title like that, it kind of sounds like the Fuckin’ Pilot is about to get all mushy or something! Ladies and gentlemen, may I officially present to you “Princess Fuckin’ Pilot” …

I did it. I turned in my official letter of resignation as the Chief Pilot of Chicagoland Skydiving Center during the middle of quite a pleasant afternoon. Then I went and had a complete mental meltdown for a bit.

[Editor’s note: Fear not, Fuckin’ Fans! The Fuckin’ Pilot did indeed leave us dirty skydivers back in 2011 when this column was printed; of course he came crawling back after a couple years. He’s happily back to his rightful seat in a skydiving plane as of August 2015. You can dry your tears now.]

When the call came in from Seaborne Airlines offering me a pilot position flying Otters in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I said yes even before my soon-to-be new boss finished making the offer. I’d just finished a rather stressful week at the DZ, which had ended on Sunday with eleven hours of flying jumpers followed immediately by a ferry flight in the Otter to North Carolina. I was fucking FRIED! The job offer, my answer and all the implications of both didn’t really start to sink in until I was wedged in between two big fat fuckers on a Southwest flight from North Carolina back to Chicago (via Nashville … Thanks Doug).

I have lived and breathed skydiving for the last fifteen years of my life. I have had near-life experiences on almost every one of the five thousand four hundred and seventy five days of my jumping life (and a few near death), and it feels as if it’s all that I have ever known. I take an enormous amount of pride in everything I have accomplished in the sport, from my first jump to my Nationals Silver Medal with Mary Tortomasi, to literally shitting myself on a hard opening, and yes, becoming a jump pilot. Skydiving and flying jumpers isn’t something that I have done, it is who I am. It is who I am. It is who I am… Exactly how does one go about saying goodbye to oneself?

As I write these words, I find that for the first time since I began with Blue Skies Mag, I have no idea what words will come next. I mean it when I say that I don’t know how to say goodbye to skydiving, and I believe I’m writing this much more for myself than for you, the reader. Is it really goodbye? Well, I truly believe “Once a Skydiver Always a Skydiver,” but as it stands at this very moment, I don’t know that I’ll ever strap another rig to my back or ever give another two-minute call to jumpers away. Fuckin’ sounds like goodbye to me … Every single one of you would laugh to actually see me tear up at the thought of this, jammed as I am in the middle seat of a commercial flight with my computer on my lap and Gators fogging up, yet here I am. Big badass Fuckin’ Pilot reduced to a big ball of goo over a job change, but the straight truth of it is, it’s so damn much more than a change of profession.

I have had amazing highs and incredible lows throughout my time in our sport (no pun intended), but I’ve felt a change coming on for some time now, and it seems it’s finally arrived. I’ve been pretty rough around the edges for the last couple of years (not that you’d notice from my writing), and there are quite a few reasons why. Like anything you do for as long as I’ve done this, you can’t help but get a bit jaded when things don’t go as you hoped, and at my age, you start to really question the decisions that led you to a twenty thousand dollar a year job deep in the corn. When that mindset gets hold of you, everything starts to take on a negative hue and just makes you fucking miserable. Luckily, I finally came to the conclusion that I would not allow that to happen to something I have loved so passionately for so very long.

I have tried, and succeeded for quite some time, to see the good over the bad, and I’m proud of myself for that as well. I’ve flown almost ten thousand loads during my career as a jump pilot, yet even on that recent stressful Sunday, I took the time to whip out my trusty iPhone and snap a couple of pictures of the amazing sunset going on all around me. On every load that I drop, I still gawk in amazement as I touch wheels down before many of the people that just leapt from my plane almost three miles above. As an instructor, after close to five thousand tandems, I still take the time to feed on just a little of the energy shooting out of the students I bring into our world, and I have never EVER allowed myself to regret any of it. Of course there is lots of heartbreak that goes with being a skydiver, and it seems to me that it’s that pain that makes saying goodbye even that much harder.

Sister Sarah. Lots of you out there just smiled. Sister Sarah was fucking amazing. She gave the best hugs on the planet, and when she looked you in the eyes and said, “I love you” you knew damn well she meant it with every fiber of her being. She was a packer, she was a freeflyer, she was a tandem instructor, and most important to me, she was my friend. She died on July 4, 2005 on a beautiful afternoon doing exactly what she loved. Vic Papadatto. X-Games Champion, awesome cameraman and a great fucking guy. I had the privilege to call him friend as well. He left us on Mother’s Day without even getting to see the new millennium. JJ Jaworski, Pat, Eli, PJ, Howard, Craig, Egon, Wes, and so many more friends over the years … They all gave everything they were to the sport, and it’s like saying goodbye to them all over again as well. To think that I won’t be an active day-to-day part of that life anymore is one of the strangest things I have ever faced.

I’ve put it in writing before, and I’ll do so again here. I have said over and over again that if I had some high-rise, high-powered job, I’d just have to give someone all my money to let me do all the things I already do. That statement is as true today as it was the first time I said it, but it only applies to the jumps, the flights, the people … The Business of Skydiving either outgrew me, or I outgrew it. I’m not really sure which is true, nor do I think it matters. I think what matters is knowing, and discovering it in time to move on, secure in the knowledge that my fifteen years deep in the lunatic fringe was not only not a waste of time, but the most defining decision of my entire life. Ain’t that something …

As I move on into my new career as a “real pilot” I do not intend to walk away from the immense joy I’ve found in writing for Blue Skies Magazine. Not only do I have fifteen years of big fish stories to tell, but also intend to keep a running and very honest log of this next adventure, making sure to be blunt and tell you quite straightforward if it’s great or if it downright sucks. Wish me luck gang, I’m off where many skydivers never dare to go, the real world! I’m gonna miss the hell out of you!

The Fuckin' Pilot

Monthly Columnist

About the author: The Fuckin’ Pilot has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving.

Get more like this!

Standing Gently by the Truth

Online Reprint

Jean Boenish, BASE #3

Right before the launch of “Sunshine Superman” in Los Angeles and New York, I sat down with director Marah Strauch and one of the stars of the movie, Jean Boenish. The first part of that interview was published in Blue Skies Mag i66: July 2015. This is a follow-up of my discussion with Jean about her philosophy on BASE and life.

Mara Schmid (facing away from the camera) interviews "Sunshine Superman" director Marah Strauch (middle) and Jean Boenish, BASE #3 (right). | Blue Skies Magazine i68: August 2015 | blueskiesmag.com

Mara Schmid (facing away from the camera) interviews “Sunshine Superman” director Marah Strauch (middle) and Jean Boenish, BASE #3 (right).

“There’s this sense of power that we have gained from a refreshing day of jumping. There’s a sense of enlightenment and being lifted to another place, that we want to be able to bottle and take away with us … and be able to figure out how to share it with other people.”

Taking the joy and transcendence from skydiving and BASE and disseminating it in a wider sense is very important to Jean. “We’ve been given something,” she says. “It’s a gift that we’ve engaged, but it carries with it the obligation to take what we’ve learned and somehow figure out how to convey to people the precious messages that will take away the hate and the fear and the abuse and the violence. And show that they can have uplift in their lives … that will offer them something better. [It] doesn’t have to be through jumping.”

Jean and Carl ready to go. Still from "Sunshine Superman" courtesy Magnolia Pictures. | Blue Skies Magazine i68: August 2015 | blueskiesmag.com

Jean and Carl ready to go. Still from “Sunshine Superman” courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

She is thrilled with how Marah Strauch’s documentary “Sunshine Superman” conveys this precise message. “The thing about ‘Sunshine Superman’ is that it reveals that flame. It reveals the presence of the flame. The flame never goes out, no matter what particular individual body it was attached to. It never goes out. And it can be shared in a way that is embracing everybody. It is not—absolutely not—an exclusive activity. It’s not meant to be. By nature, it’s not meant to be something that is only for special people or those who are the cream of the crop. That’s not it at all. It’s inclusive. It’s about touching everybody with a residue of good, and making sure that our impacts are only good. There’s nothing that could be exclusive about that true nature, that is BASE jumping, and skydiving too. So take away the airplanes, take away the hot air balloons, take away the cliffs, and there’s our challenge: to take what we’ve experienced and figure out how to apply it in ways that will give everybody that same level of uplift.”

Jean also hopes that the film will help reconnect current and future generations of BASE jumpers with the roots of the sport. “It gives the younger jumpers some of the idea of the true nature of BASE jumping, which I think has not really been conveyed very well, or just lost or rewritten for different reasons.

“It’s about the purity and the camaraderie. The technical preparation, once you’ve done that, which of course is very important—but that’s obvious it’s very important—then you’ve got more than 90% of it done, once the technical preparation and technique are decided on—so then the whole rest of the voyage, from the time you leave your door with your gear packed, is about the camaraderie, and the sharing, and the love, and the purity. Doing no harm, and taking good things to people. Getting beyond the jump, to getting to know the locals, and respecting the environment, stewarding it well. Leaving no bad residues. Only good impacts.”

Jean and Carl Boenish. Still from "Sunshine Superman" courtesy Magnolia Pictures. | Blue Skies Magazine i68: August 2015 | blueskiesmag.com

Jean and Carl Boenish. Still from “Sunshine Superman” courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

This thought leads Jean to an issue of great concern to her. “Probably one of the biggest things to me is environmental stewardship. We can’t wait. We can’t wait. I’ve seen how bad it’s gotten in my life. And to undo the environmental mess is the most important thing. We have to have engagement, by all of the governmental structures, and all of the people who are impacted.

“Everything can be reversed. There’s nothing that’s wrong that [can’t be fixed], even if it seems insurmountable. Let’s just start fixing it. Like pollution. You can’t just keep doing the wrong thing, or allowing it to happen. You have to stop it, and then start doing the right thing. So even if other people are saying, ‘Can’t do it, can’t do it, can’t do it.’ Well, fine, all right. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it … and people will join. They will come. Even if it takes a while. And you guys are the next generation, so you’ll keep doing it too …

“You can’t wait for anybody else. Because if you wait, then you’re part of the problem. We all have a way that we can gently stand by the truth, and we can stand by the truth in everything.”

(l to r) Jean Boenish, Mara Schmid and "Sunshine Superman" director Marah Strauch. | Blue Skies Magazine i68: August 2015 | blueskiesmag.com

(l to r) Jean Boenish, Mara Schmid and “Sunshine Superman” director Marah Strauch.

Mara Schmid


About the author: Mara Schmid is a writer, skydiver and the Editor-In-Chief of Hussy Magazine, www.hussymag.com.

Passion for Pay

Online Reprint

“You have the coolest fucking job on the PLANET!” or “I can’t believe you get to do this for a living!” or “You can make money doing that?”

Heard it or said it?

I vividly remember when I decided to strap a camera helmet on and go out and shoot my first video, despite being told by quite a few people that the easiest way to ruin the sport for myself was to start working in it. More times than I can count I was told, “Don’t turn your passion into your job or you’ll end up ruining both,” and I have to admit that there have been times when I agreed with that statement.

Like every long-time professional skydiver and jump pilot I know, there have been more than a few times when I stepped back, took stock of my life and couldn’t help but ask myself what the fuck I’d been thinking. How many of us have sat on the ground in a hangar that was colder than the fridge in the corner, watching the three-week-long weather hold continue to pelt down on us while our bank accounts shrank down to a level that required us to eat the ramen noodles on Saturday but save the starchy water to drink on Sunday? Over one particularly difficult season when I couldn’t afford to pay my American Express bill, I discovered that I could actually send myself a bill on PayPal, pay the bill with my AmEx and then use the PayPal money to pay the AmEx bill that I couldn’t afford to pay in the first place. (Read that one again, I swear it makes sense!) But then of course there’s the flip side of the flat broke coin.

First load airborne at 8 a.m. in the Skyvan, turn turn turn to 14k, land tandem #25 at 9 p.m., drink, sleep and repeat every Saturday and Sunday for an entire season. Trips to Old City in Philly with Jacko, Johno, Kim, Norman, Simeon and the gang and easily dropping $500 apiece on dinner and drinks at Cuba Libra, Continental or Swanky Bubbles on a Monday night after a $1,500 weekend. We’ve all heard the phrase “feast or famine” and if you spend enough time in this sport, you’ll surely get to live both.

One of my favorite lines to people when discussing my life in this profession is this: “If I were to go out and get myself a Real, good-paying professional job, not only would I have to work in that world, but I’d just have to give someone all the money I make so that I could do what I already do. I’d rather cut out the middle man, and just live this life.” Sometimes I actually mean it as well! I mean thirty minutes after landing a cute tandem on the beach in New Zealand, just sitting with my toes in the sand, the sun on my face and a rum in my hand. I mean it when I’m on jump run, watching a spectacular Midwest sunset to my left and the city lights of Chicago popping out to my right. I mean it when I’m ferrying the Otter over the Rocky Mountains at 18,000’ with the snow-capped peaks below me and my dog Diego sitting in my lap and sucking down the O2.

And to point out the opposite … It seems that I keep returning to one particular individual over and over again as an example and a cautionary tale. This time around I’ll leave out his name, but I will tell you that it’s also the name of a predatory bird, as well as the last name of a very well known professional skateboarder. This guy … Holy shit, what a fucking mess. He is the poster child for exactly why people of a certain nature should NEVER work in skydiving. Not only did he absolutely hate to skydive and, I believe, was scared as hell of it, but he hated pretty much every skydiver he ever met. I’ll be the first to admit that we jumpers can be quite a handful, and I’ll also admit you’d have to be completely batshit nuts to ever want to be a DZO, but this guy took it to a whole new level. On the ground, he was the worst boss a jumper ever had, having gone through close to 250 staff members in two and a half years. In the air he was just as bad, if not worse. On every jump I ever filmed him on he would throw the drogue unstable, then stare at his altimeter and count down from 10,000’ on his fingers until he vigorously waved off and panic pulled! I’ve even filmed him continuously wailing on his student with left and right hooks because they weren’t arching enough for him. At what point do you stop beating up your students and your staff and just decide it’s not worth it?

Let’s face it, we are all very different people and for the most part, we are all hooked on the same drug. Some of us are still caught up in the rapture of that first hit, some of us have settled into that long mellow high, and some of us are completely spun and crashing like Lindsay Lohan after a long week in Vegas. I think the trick with skydiving, as with anything else, is figuring out which stage you’re in and acting accordingly. Guys like Rob Stanley at Cross Keys have found a way to combine that first hit with the mellow high, and still have the energy and love of it all to grab a sport rig in between tandems to go freefly. Some are like the above mentioned, who should not only have gotten out of the sport 20 years ago, but would be better off medicated and under constant medical supervision.

Here are a few questions for you low-timers considering skydiving as a career: Do you care anything at all for money or stability? Do you enjoy having a wardrobe that consists of worn-out blue jeans and skydiving T-shirts? If you’re a smoker, do you mind rolling your own cigarettes? Riding a bike to work? Living in a tent? If these are things you think you can handle, then skydiving could be a real option for you.

And if you’re already a pro and trying to decide if you should stay or go, here’s a question for you: Have you ever been in freefall, actively pissed off and thinking about something that happened on the ground? If so, it may be time to start thinking about joining the others in the Real World.

The best recommendation I can give is to do the best you can to be happy. If you’re not, it’s probably time to fuck off and try another high!

The Fuckin' Pilot

Monthly Columnist

About the author: The Fuckin’ Pilot has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving.

Get more like this!