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We are nearing the end of the interviews from my epic trip to DeLand in 2016! This interview makes number five of six; have no fear though, we have several other badass folks in the pipeline for your reading pleasure. As you may or may not know, this series is designed to let you get to know some of the epic characters in the skydiving community in a way that focuses less on the shine of their skydiving resume, and more on who they are as individuals.
In this interview I want to introduce you to someone who has a long history as a competitive canopy pilot, and has gone on to design and produce parachutes and paragliders. He is a visionary, maybe a little bit of a mad scientist, and absolutely someone who was really interesting to get to know over the course of the interview. I would like to introduce you all to Scott Roberts.
[Editorial disclaimer: Scott is married to Blue Skies Mag co-owner Kolla Kolbeinsdottir.]
Zach Lewis: It seems that nobody is actually from DeLand; are you the exception?
Scott Roberts: I started off in Colorado. I was born in Denver and went to high school in Pueblo. I moved to Bolder for university, and then I moved to Florida. Recently, Kolla and I got a summer home in Utah so we can get out of Florida in the hot months and get closer to our [Fluid Wings] factory.
What is the best way to really piss you off?
Make a commitment and not follow through.
Outside of skydiving what do you do for fun?
Anything that has to do with flying. Pretty much all of my hobbies center around flying. Paragliding, para-motoring, airplanes, a little bit of kite surfing. Unfortunately, it is a little bit single dimensional, but I love to fly as much as I can.
How do you pay the bills?
Fluid Wings and engineering. I’m an engineer by trade. I do a lot of forensics and failure analysis and that has really funded my passion for swooping and now for designing wings.
Did you always want to work in the skydiving industry?
I’ve always tinkered with it. I worked for the Army Corps of Engineers for six years. I interviewed for the tour rep job at PD, and they offered it to me. I really wanted it! There was a really cute girl there named Kolla I wanted to hit on. I really wanted to take the job but I couldn’t make the money work and also make it to all the swoop events. I always tinkered with it, but I could never make it work on my terms until recently.
What do you suck at?
Regular sports like baseball and football. Sometimes people. Sometimes the intricacies of human beings can be complex for me.
What accomplishment, skydiving or outside of the sport, are you the proudest of?
My daughter. That’s the best thing I’ve ever done, by a mile.
Drink or cocktail of choice?
Beer. A good hoppy beer. I’m an IPA guy and also like Makers Mark with ginger ale, or any way I can get it.
Would you consider yourself an extrovert?
Are you a master chef?
I’m pretty good on the barbecue, but if it is off the barbecue I am pretty hopeless. If you need meat cooked on the grill I can cook it and cook it well, but if you need anything in the kitchen … Forget about it.
What about physical fitness? What do you do to stay in shape?
Up until my accident I was a pretty avid runner. I still run, cycle and walk. I’m not a sit-still type of person. When I used to compete I worked out every day. I was an athlete and treated it that way.
What is the most important thing in your life?
In the last 20 years or so, it seems like there haven’t been many new players in the canopy manufacturing world. Further it seems like the newer and smaller guys stick to the relatively “safe” and proven intermediate 9- and 7-cell designs. Your company seemed to go right for the extreme wings. Tell us a little about that.
I don’t want to copy someone else’s stuff. We want to do something completely new and be original. The middle of the pack wasn’t where we wanted to go. We wanted to go right to the top of the performance range and we wanted to establish credibility. People don’t trust you until you show them that you can do the big stuff. We can play with the big boys, and we can do it well. You can believe us, trust us and follow us because we showed you that’s what we can do. Also, that is the part of the canopy world where I came from, and that’s where my interest drives me as a designer. Either you are designing a 9-cell Sabre knockoff, or you are designing something that can do 103 mph.
You have a week to do whatever you want to do in Florida that isn’t skydiving or flying related; what would you do?
That’s a tricky one! I’d spend some time at the beach, and do some cycling. I’d also love to spend some time with the kiddo and take her to some theme parks and things like that.
Anything you won’t eat?
Have you had the opportunity to eat a dog?
I might have accidentally eaten a dog in Vietnam. I wouldn’t have done it consciously.
What might be something people would be surprised to know you do well?
I like to play the ukulele, and that might shock some people. My daughter loves music, and I want to try to share that with her and impress her while I still can.
For the new jumpers out there, would you like to share any tips or advice?
Take your time and drink it all in. One year turns into 20 faster than you can blink, and if you shortcut things you will never see the 20. A small injury can change everything. The older I get, the more I agree with the old saying that “There are old aviators and bold aviators, but there are no old and bold aviators.” It’s really true. Find your limits, but find them with small baby steps. You can get lucky, and I got lucky. Many of my friends got lucky, but other friends didn’t get lucky. We all know the guys that you look at and know they are going to either be great or they are going to be dead. Inevitably they fall into one of those categories.
Who do you look up to?
The guys I look up to now are the guys who have been skydiving for 30-40 years. It’s not the top athletes in their class anymore. Now I look up to the guys who have done some amazing things and still go to the drop zone and make a few jumps every few weeks. Some are 70 years old. The guys who made real accomplishments but don’t feel like they have to brag about it. Guys like Scratch Garrison, Pops and the old school guys. Outside of skydiving I really look up to my dad. He dedicated his whole life to make sure his family had a good life.
Do you consider yourself a generally happy person?
Yes. I’m pretty blessed in what I get to do. I can get pretty cranky because I like things my way. Especially when it comes to skydiving I can be incredibly particular about a lot of things. But at the end of the day I get to wake up each morning and realize that I get to spend the day doing what I love. I wake up early and can’t wait to get to work.
What makes your heart race?
Test jumping! That scares the crap out of me, because now I know what can happen. Unless you have been through it, and jumped something that doesn’t fly and doesn’t work well, it is hard to grasp. Now I know the fine line we walk with parachutes and with every wing. The bliss that comes with ignorance was really nice. That’s what scares me. The things that come out of left field, when you have no idea that when you change one thing it will impact something else. I’m always on high alert, and it really gets my heart going. You just never know.
I love to sneak in a massage when I can, or when I can convince Kolla to scratch my back. I’d do that all day every day if I could; I love a massage.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
Try to figure out where the heck I am, because I don’t wake up well. I struggle, and left to my own devices I would sleep until 10 or 11 every day. Waking up has always been a chore for me. It has always been difficult.
You mentioned you like to fly—tell us about your airplane.
I have a Stinson 108 that I bought from Kelly Farrington after my Cherokee got wrecked by a fuel truck. It’s a taildragger, and I can’t believe I didn’t start flying taildraggers much sooner. I want to learn how to be a bush pilot; that would be a ton of fun.
What’s next on your travel list?
I’d like to go back to Iceland this summer, and maybe to Turkey to paraglide.
What places you can spend your whole paycheck?
Sewing machine stores and fabric stores. I go totally bonkers shopping there.
We had a quantum leap in parachutes when we went from rounds to squares. Over the decades squares have greatly evolved and changed. Do you think there will be another quantum leap in our lifetime?
I want to be the hare, not the tortoise. I don’t want to win the race with a sprint. It is going to be a continual evolution. Look at paragliding and where it has come from. They started modifying parachutes years ago, and look where they are now. Aerodynamics are pretty well established, but there are a lot of nooks and crannies that we haven’t explored yet. It is going to be a slow and steady change. I think we will see a lot of different shapes, cell structures and materials over time. We need to bring that to the table in a controlled and tested manner. I think that is what we are going to see, and what we are striving for.
Describe your dream skydiving canopy.
I would love something that has a really big range. First it would be something I could do some real acro on. Real acrobatic style maneuvers like helicopters, sats, power loops, loops and things like that. From there I’d love that same wing to then be able to lay down a monster swoop when it is time to land.
Teacher’s pet or class clown? Clown
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Physical strength or mental fortitude? Fortitude
Sing or dance? Both
7-cell or 9-cell? Who cares?
Bi-plane or low wing? Bi-plane
Love or passion? Aren’t they the same?
Beach or mountains? Mountains
Vodka or whiskey? Whiskey
Chocolate or caramel? Caramel
Surf or turf? Surf
Comedy or horror? Horror
Rare or well done? Rare
Friends or family? Family
Formal or casual? Casual
Early bird or night owl? Early bird
Loyalty or ambition? Loyalty
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