- Originally printed in issue #24 (September 2011) of Blue Skies Magazine.
- Buy a reprint of this issue.
“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!
[team_member image_url=”123875″ name=”The Fuckin’ Pilot” role=”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. [/team_member] [products_mixed layout=”listing” orderby=”ID” order=”asc” ids=”26630,121868″ title=”Get more like this!”]