Originally printed in issue #11 (June/July 2010) of Blue Skies Magazine.
As we gain experience in our sport, are we forgetting what it was like at the start?
My ride to altitude was a blur of handle checks, fiddling with goggles and eyes clenched shut as I mimicked the “real” skydivers dirt diving their jumps in the hopes that some of their confidence would rub off on me. It wasn’t the unknown rush that was the first jump, or even the barely contained terror of the level one AFF. It was knowing that I would graduate on this jump—and then I’d be set free in the world of skydiving with no fucking clue what I was really doing.
I was lucky. I graduated my AFF program at a Nevada drop zone that happened to have an amazing crew at the time. Bruce Henderson, Kurt Issle, Chris Stump, Will Forchet, Mike Skeffington and a few others were all a huge part of my beginnings in the sport. Not just because they got me safely through my tandem, AFF and gear crossover, but because they didn’t just leave me hanging after the fact. That amazing crew of guys took me to Perris Valley to show me what the real sport was like. I survived a broken leg at 25 jumps and my first cutaway at 27 jumps. It was these guys who not only helped me find all my shit but forced me back on the plane before the day was done, ensuring that I wouldn’t be just another guy who once made a few jumps back in the day. They were the ones that made wisecracks after pounding myself in on that bad landing, burning into my brain the need to never make that mistake again … Yet I find that as the sport has gotten older right along with me, and become much more mainstream, I seem at times to have lost some of what makes it so special.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are still a hell of a lot of wonderful people in our sport who love passing on all the little things we take for granted, but they seem to be harder to find these days. On more than a few occasions, I’ve seen teams snub those looking to learn from them—unless, of course, it’s a paid gig or one required by their sponsors, and that’s a very disappointing thing to see. Almost gone are the days when Mary Tortomasi and I could load Shark Air to go do a fun jump with the Flyboyz. Eli, Fritz and Mike were the freefly team of the day, yet would happily give up training jumps to go flail around with a couple of newbies like Mary and me. It was an amazing experience to find ourselves in the air with, for lack of a better word, our heroes.
Much harder to deal with than The In Crowd making it hard on the new kids is watching instructors do the very same thing with their students. Watching an instructor work with a difficult student with barely contained disgust is a horrible thing. Some of us were able to glide through our training with ease, but others had to fight and scratch for each and every level. It’s these students that I find become not only the best overall skydivers, but the most caring and attentive instructors. These are the people more than likely to give their all in the sport because it’s something they have incredible pride in—pride earned from a difficult task overcome with drive and determination, along with the helping hands of an instructor that gave a damn.
Whether you’re an instructor or a very experienced jumper, remember what got you into the sport, and more importantly, what kept you in it. Remember to pass on all the wisdom that you’ve gained over the years and keep it as fun and exciting for the students and low-timers as your instructor or mentor did for you. Instead of finishing the day having drinks in a team room or being closed off from the rest of the DZ buried in your clique, invite that new guy or girl to join in with you. Let them see what our lifestyle has to offer once the last load has landed. And don’t forget about all the little after-hours things you may have had to learn the hard way; teach that 50-jump wonder who decided to hang out for the weekend that he may want to consider taking his shoes off before he passes out at the DZ …
I also believe it is of the utmost importance to teach your students how to deal with the aircraft, the ground crew and the pilot as well. Teach that new jumper that the airplane you fly to altitude in is your lifeline right up until you jump out and deserves respect befitting its importance because your very life depends on it.
Teach them that one of the hardest jobs on the DZ is manifest, and it would be wise indeed to always remain on their good side. The term “Manifest Bitch” is one they need to learn to use with EXTREME CARE, if ever at all! Teach them that the ground crew helping start, move and load the aircraft are ultimately there to help and shouldn’t be given a handful of shit for telling you where to be, how to load or when. It’s their job and they are doing it to help provide the best service possible, as well as keep everyone safe. And if you think about it, at the end of a 12-hour day in ninety degree heat, wouldn’t you be a bit fucking irritable, too?
And for Christ’s sake, teach the new girls coming up in the sport how to get extra altitude. If you’ve been in the sport for a while ladies, let’s get back into the swing of things! I’ve noticed a drastic lack of titties in recent years, and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve given extra altitude for a good boob shot. The pilot needs love too, and you’ll find your local “Fuckin’ Pilot” will be much happier throughout the day if you help keep this particular tradition alive.
We are all guilty at times of forgetting what has drawn us to—and kept us in—our sport. As with anything, sometimes we forget how it used to be. Use the energy of that tandem student or recent A-license recipient to get yourself just as jazzed as them. Teach them a thing or two in the air and on the ground and see if you don’t end up just as excited as them!
About the author: Dean “Princess” Ricci has more than 6,000 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving. He calls Skydive Dubai home now after a grueling stint in the Caribbean flying for The Man.