- Originally printed in issue #17 (February 2011) of Blue Skies Magazine.
- Buy a reprint of this issue.
It never really crossed my mind. Being from Northern California, more specifically the Bay Area, I’ve been surrounded by them all my life. You get to a point where you flat out just don’t notice the difference anymore. I’m speaking of course of foreigners. In almost every major city in the U.S. it seems as though every third person you come across is from somewhere else. So when I got into skydiving, the fact that more than half of the jumpers I met were from another country never really registered.
Perhaps it’s because all in all the U.S. has some of the most favorable conditions for jumping. Relatively consistent weather, a large fun jumper base and an almost never-ending supply of first-time jumpers make the States one of, if not the, best place on the planet to be a professional skydiver. Whatever the case may be, the United States is absolutely soaked with Brit, Kiwi, Aussie, South African, Mexican, Italian, Swede, Swiss, Brazilian, Canadian, Slovakian, Russian, Polish, Japanese, Korean, Thai … You get the point. Yet up until 2006 it had never crossed my mind to go anywhere outside the States for work, or even a fun jump for that matter. It was an Aussie friend of mine working in California with me who first put the idea into my head.
The fact of the matter was, by the end of 2005, the thought of being stuck in Davis for another winter was almost enough to make me want to go out and get a real job! The previous winter I’d spent my time chucking drogues and freezing my ass off just outside the Bay, and even if the money had been good, which it surely was not, it wasn’t worth repeating. I’d worked in the States every winter since I’d started jumping, and had frozen my ass off every time.
Then in passing my friend Brad mentioned that he’d spent a winter season jumping in Fiji. He said that they were always looking for instructors AND pilots, so I figured what the hell, an e-mail couldn’t do any harm.
A week and a half later I was on a train bound for Los Angeles to catch my Air Pacific flight to Nadi, Fiji. The train had been the idea of the girl I’d been dating at the time, and turned out to be one of the worst ideas she’d ever had. Worst in my opinion, just behind going out on a date with me. Eleven hours on an Amtrak train with a sullen, quiet and very UN-horny girl (why the fuck we got the sleeper car if she didn’t want to screw around is beyond me), followed by the ever looming fourteen hours over the Pacific in coach was enough to make me slap my AmEx card down on the counter for an upgrade to first class. Best damn money I ever spent, I tell you! Coach was still loading while what seemed to be my own personal stewardess was asking, “Would you like fresh pepper on your salad Mr. Ricci?” The bottomless bottle of rum turned the flight into a happy blur of movies and naps and I woke twelve hours later to a soft hand on my shoulder asking if I was ready for breakfast.
It was just about then that it dawned on me that I was about to land in a country on the other side of the planet, and someone there was actually going to pay me to be there! Not only was I being provided with a place to live, transportation AND a job, but it was all happening on and above one of the most beautiful spots on the entire globe. The job was mine after just a few e-mails back and forth because as it turns out, a multi-rated instructor with lots of jumps can just about write his own ticket. As time passed I found to my dismay that working in Fiji wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but the place itself was amazing. So what does a newborn gypsy skydiver do when a DZ just plain sucks? Quit, of course!
Having left the job I was hired for almost two months before I was supposed to leave also unwittingly gave me one other thing in common with most of my foreign friends: It voided my visa and made my staying in the country very illegal! I’d gone and managed to become an illegal alien in another country and now had to watch my ass to avoid getting deported! Although granted, busted in my case meant they sent me back to LA, but it still would have been quite the pain in the ass.
What Fiji did for me was, as I’ve been told, exactly what the first trip to the States did for quite a few of my friends: It gave me a serious bug to travel. By now I’ve had the opportunity to work at close to a dozen drop zones in the U.S. and seen most of our fifty states, yet now, like more and more of my American brothers I’ve set my sights on lands outside USPA’s territory.
Thanks to my friend Paul, as I write this I find myself on a bus traveling from Auckland to Whangarei, New Zealand. From here I intend to spend the winter chucking drogues over the beach, scuba diving, drinking and meeting heaps of new people. I’ll be bouncing back to Fiji for some amazing shark dives, backpacking over to Thailand to wander for a bit and basically letting this sport of ours show me the sights. That, and take great pleasure in being the foreign guy for a change!
If you’re tired of the Brit or the South African banging all the hot chicks ‘cause they’ve got the fucking accent, then it’s time for you to go where you’re the one who talks funny! Take those ratings you worked so damn hard to get and go see the world! Go drive on the wrong side of the road. Go be the one living in a tent behind the hangar till the hot ass fun jumper takes you in. Go become an illegal alien and flirt with the possibility of being deported. Fuck it! It’s a big god damn planet but it’s a small sport, and because of that, you just might find you can manage to see it all!
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. He calls Skydive Dubai home now after a grueling stint in the Caribbean flying for The Man.