Walls and Windows

I’ve been skydivingfor a little over two years now. Working/planning jump #1000, I want it to be very unique. The nude jump thing is past my prime, and aside from that…it doesn’t interest me much. But planning this has caused me not only to reflect on the past two years, but the past two decades and the events I’ve been involved with, and what led me to skydiving.
The skydiving social circle is incredibly eclectic. Doctors, lawyers, rednecks, waitresses, product managers, construction workers, elitists, sociopaths, snobs, giving, energetic, lazy people populate this dysfunctional family of adrenaline-enthusiasts. Not many other sports or activities draw from such an extremity of classes.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of dysfunction and not much family. The dysfunction is like an impenetrable wall of stone, with a foundation based in psychosis. Did I mention we’re talking about skydivers here? 🙂

But like any wall…if you follow the line far enough, a window or door will become apparent. Looking through the window or walking through the door, opportunity presents itself as an escape from the inside of the wall. Walls are there to keep something or other contained, but skydiving is a spiritit’s not a “thing.” It cannot be contained nor constrained. Either it’s felt or it isn’t.

In the nearly 900 jumps I’ve accomplished in the past two years…I’ve learned one thing in particular; share what you know with others. Always. Don’t get pissed when you share something and turn around to find the person you shared with has managed to master whatever you’ve shown them, even if you haven’t. Congratulate yourself on helping them get to whatever level of success they’ve risen to. For me…damn. I LOVE seeing someone succeed and feeling like I added some level of value to their journey.
Don’t pose. Eventually, someone will recognize your pose for what it is; a bullshit posture that is just another wall. Do the best you can, and be proud of it.
Then go out and do better.
If you’re not constantly improving as a skydiver, then you’re not in it for the right reasons. It’s self-challenge. If you’re trying to impress anyone other than yourself…you’re messed up.
One instructor I recently ran across claimed 3000 jumps and hours upon hours of tunnel time. That’s all cool until the time comes to fly with that instructor. It’s obvious that either jump numbers are grossly inflated, or this instructor truly has almost no talent. His buddies pretty well all scoff at his numbers, double their own, and they all started as a single group.
Then there is the newly-dubbed instructor I met who has perhaps 1k jumps, who flies better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Because he loves the sport. The first person…not so sure he loves the sport as much as he loves the attention he receives because of the sport. When knowledge is shared, it’s almost immediately apparent what motivates the more knowledgeable person. Hopefully, they’re motivated because of a love of the sport, not a love of where the sport elevates them above others.

Scott Stapp said it well;
If I had just one thing to say
Before my last breath fades away.
Keep your head way up in the clouds
And never let them get you down!
Never let them get you down!

Keep hoping and dreaming and you will soar!
With a little faith and love.
You will soar!

If I had just two words to say,
To explain my life away.
I could say ups and downs,

I just wanna fly. I just wanna keep challenging myself. I just wanna figure out how to get over/under/around/through the walls before me put there by myself/lack of skills or by others. I want to find the doors and windows. Because skydiving, unlike so much of my “real” life, truly is “all about ME.” It’s about making myself better as a flyer, as a student, as a person in my dysfunctional family. It’s about *personal* growth. It’s about the window into my soul that truly only I can see and eventually comprehend. I’m my own worst critic. I know I suck, but I truly suck less than I did a few months ago, thanks to personal dedication and to people that want to help me help myself improve.I used to despise walls; now I somewhat enjoy them. If there are no obstacles in the road, there is nothing to stop and force me to look around, to assess my location, and determine any new direction of travel. If there were no walls, then doors and windows would be meaningless.
All the dysfunction in the world can’t change that anticipation and excitement. The family part…that’s just social culture.

BTW, those that think dysfunctional families in skydiving are abnormal…try a bowling league or knitting class. Social groups are pretty much the same no matter what genre. Sitting around the fire drinking beer, sitting around a table drinking wine, or sitting around the pool drinking lemonade…

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Love is in the Air

Y’know…most love affairs wear off. Eventually. Or at least in my world they do. Sometimes being in love with being in love is enough until the next passion strolls past…sometimes it’s so concrete it’s akin to being smacked in the head with a rock after a brief courtship with ignorance and/or stupidity.
I’m still in love with the air, and grow fervent in my relationship as each day passes. Love is about how you feel about yourself, how you perceive yourself, and how caring the other side of the relationship may be.
Bodyflight provides one of those rare moments where you can feel, really feel, everything going on around you. There is that jolt of energy and it feels great, awe-inspiring, but yet it hurts like hell, deep down inside and on the surface with a sweetness in between. Colors are more saturated, sound is more clear, the air seems more fresh, food tastes better…
And you just know, you just KNOW the other side feels the same way about you.
The intensity is killing, it’s debilitating, it’s exhilarating, and it’s fresh. It leaves me breathless and pulsating, scared to death, confident as a stone. Moved yet unmoved. An endless orgasm of emotion, understanding, confusion, passion, and pain.
All I want is more.

Another Demo Jump June 2008

Nother small demo jump tonight. Didn’t wear the wingsuit though, wanted to keept that one clean this time. I’d done a little smoke damage on the previous jump, even though I’d taken some precautions…Chris W. did an outstanding job repairing the smoke damage on the tail wing. That guy is one incredible rigger, IMO. Jump went very well.
Spent the rest of the weekend doing long-distance runs in the wingsuit. Our pilot (justin) is really great about working with me, GPS, and Google Earth for various exit points. Cliff did a distance jump with me, we covered just under 5 miles. He wore a TonySuit Raptor, I wore a Birdman Blade. We landed at our second alternate landing area about 1000 yards from the northwest boundary of the airport.
Joey also did a wingsuit jump, his first in 5 years. We got in 2.5 docks (was breakoff altitude at third touch/dock so we didn’t lock fingers).
Overall, was a terrific weekend of jumping.
Monday, got in two long distance jumps, one cross wind and one with the wind at my back. Made full distance on both of them.
Chris, Jack, and Phil have all been working with me to improve the length/power of my “swoops.” Still only doing 90’s, and still not using much rear riser to extend, but getting the feel of it. Thanks for the help, guys

First Wingsuit Smoke Jump

Tonight I wore smoke with my Blade as we jumped into a demo at a rodeo grounds. Exit was somewhat low at 9000 feet, but we still got nearly 100 seconds of freefall. Jason Carter jumped with me, wearing the TonySuit Raptor. It was his second jump on that suit. Over 6′ tall and only about 180, Jason floats like crazy. He flies very well.
We landed on the racetrack at the arena, there was a target scoped out in the dirt. Three of us hit the target, everyone landed safely and the crowd appreciated the jump.
I learned a valuable lesson about the smoke canister; the back gets very hot, and it burned a hole in the tail of my wingsuit. A beer can needs to go on BOTH sides, not just the smoke side, if I want to protect the tail of the suit. Duh.

Jumping with Space Shuttle Discovery

I think today was the most memorable jump I’ve had yet, jumping at Sebastian as the space shuttle launched. This photo was taken by Scotty Burns, and I’m still filled with appreciation for the opportunity to be on this historic wingsuit jump.
As we climbed to altitude, the excitement was as thick as the air we were jumping into. All of us on the load were concerned we were late, but it turned out we were just on time.
When the pilot called “time to go” the fun jumpers/high pullers exited, and we stayed in the plane for a moment. Grey Mike looked out the door and said “We’re not going yet, it’s not right.” The pilot started to argue, and Mike simply said “No.”
A tandem that was scheduled to go after us pushed their way past the four wingsuiters where Grey Mike stubbornly stood in the doorway, counting out the time and the launch of the shuttle. The pilot even tipped the plane a bit to express the thought of “get the hell out!” Mike held his ground.
And then he called “Let’s go!”
The timing was PERFECT thanks to his experiences with previous shuttle jumps.
We exited way out over water.
GreyMike took the lead, I brought up the rear with Scotty hanging in the camera slot on the outside rear of the Otter door. It was “hustle” from the start, flying very, very fast. In hindsight, it could have been a slower float, but it worked out as it was.
GreyMike laid a very fast base, so it was a surprise to get any photo from the event at all. It was a real trip for a newbie wingsuiter like me to be able to keep up with GreyMike and PurpleMike, but I did, and it went wonderfully.
The roar of the shuttle didn’t reach us until around 8k, and it was as if Thor’s Hammer had struck, the air pressure and thunder were so enveloping and sudden. Nothing like a thunder clap, but more like a physical presence. It was magnificent, magical, and humbling all at the same time.
Scotty hung with us until the shuttle was out of the headline (where our bodies were in relation to the sky and the shuttle), and then he deployed. I believe he dumped around 8k, as he got some gorgeous shots from under canopy.
The next concern was getting back to the DZ. We were out, really out, and hauling ass back to the DZ. As we crossed over US1, I knew Mike had safely led us home and as we landed, I reflected on the moment with these guys. All of em’ are men I trust with my life, although I might not trust them with my wife, girlfriend, daughter, or beer….we came together as brothers to experience something virtually no one on the planet has ever experienced quite in the way we did. and with fewer than 10 shuttle launches planned for the future, perhaps no one else ever will.
I hope for the opportunity to repeat it one day. Thank you Scotty, for making this happen. I hope this moment in time catapults you to heaven. It surely gave me a piece of heaven, even if only for about 2.5 minutes.

Editing to add: This photo won the USA Today photo competition. Not only was it picked as the best by the staff at USA Today, it was also chosen out more than 50,000 reader votes as the best photograph.
Congratulations Scotty! One cool aspect, is all three wingsuit manufacturers are represented. Mike M is wearing a Mach 1 from TonySuit, Mike S is wearing a PhoenixFly Vampire, and I’m wearing a Birdman Blade.
Sweet!!!

Feelin’ Groovy

What a week…. (WEVA Wedding Event Videographer’s Association) was my first foray into the world in which I lived prior to my skydiving incident that left me with a shattered pelvis, ACL/MCL destruction, and a few inner body parts leaking into the pelvic cavity. It’s been four months since I’ve been vertical. WEVA got me off my butt, yet I hit the ground running when it came time to go to NAB Post in NYC.

Snow came TOO early this year.
Snow came TOO early this year.

Saturday brought snow and could it ever be earlier? It’s rare to see snow before Hallowe’en. I hope the ski resorts are happy, because I’ve still got to mow the lawn and drain my sprinker system. And finish getting my mobile home ready for the winter, and put away the bike and….it’s a long list of things ta-do. Everyone has one, right?

With frost on my windshield early in the morning, I set out for SLC International to fly to NYC for the NAB Post Production Conference being held at the Doubletree hotel. The frost was so bad that my windshield wipers stuck to the windshield and the wiper arms didn’t, ripped from their sockets like arms torn from a skeleton. Not exactly an auspicious beginning indeed.

I was at the least, over joyed to find wifi on my flight. Had the airlines been a little more intelligent a few years ago, I’d GRATEFULLY paid an additional 25.00-50.00 per flight for wifi. Instead, airlines chose to be stupid by penalizing travelers with 5.00, 10.00, 15.00 luggage fees (speaking of which, have you heard the latest outrage? Charging 10.00 more for flights on the “busiest days of the year.”  Ummm…can you imagine Walmart charging an entry fee during Black Friday? Where do these people get their marketing education?).

Radio City Music Hall in late afternoon
Radio City Music Hall in late afternoon

Gawd, I love NYC at night. Tailwinds got me into JFK nearly two hours early, leaving me some time to explore my favorite-visit city. I walked from my hotel between 4th and 45th street all the way up to 8th and 60th. I found a delightful fondue place and I’m not a big fan of fondue. There was something decadent about putting beef into cheese. Cheeseburger on a stick?

‘Tis always fun to be part of an All-Star lineup with people like Jeff Greenberg, Rich Harrington, Yosse Tessone, and others. I had four sessions to teach, and was a little concerned about how my body was going to manage a full day of instruction. My mind was up for it, but the whole “mind over matter” thing just isn’t always reality. Between my back and the braces on my legs, plus the one-mile walk to the venue, it was touch n’ go at best.

“The Director’s Eye” led the day, a 90 minute class on how to compose shots, shot sequencing, and looking for the angle that best tells your story. “Chromakey Techniques” was the second session of the day, and it’s always a learning experience to hear the problems and challenges facing shooters in the field, and being able to help fix their problems based on a life-time of screwups and experience. In this session, not only do we put up a key, but also spend a lot of time working in post. This session was fun because I had a bunch of great Artbeats footage to put underneath my keys, putting people in ocean waves, churches, and against my favorite Artbeats library, “Code Rage.”

By lunch I was beat. Brain in motion; body not. Thank heaven for the hotdog vendor in Times Square that had a can of GoFast (that cost more at the stand than two cans at 7-ll). About that same time, Dan Berube and Keith Larsen showed up and their presence was an infusion of enthusiasm. Keith’s smile always makes one want to do their best. He’s just that kind of guy.

Dan Berube, Douglas Spotted Eagle, Keith Larsen at NAB Post Plus in NYC
Dan Berube, Douglas Spotted Eagle, Keith Larsen at NAB Post Plus in NYC

My favorite subject lately, “AVCHD and HD Production Workflows” started the second half of the day, and it always amazes me how many folks have been duped by HD mythology. For example, I had one student stutter for quite a while about why AVCCAM is superior to AVCHD. Marketing hype….AVCCAM is just Panasonic’s branding for AVCHD, just as they re-branded DV and called it DVCPro, initially the same 8 bit, 25Mbps video stream as every other camcorder manufacturer shot and stored.Additionally surprising in this session was the number of people considering using Canon 5 D and 7D still cameras for production. Personally, I’m interested in using the 7D for a small production, simply to see how she flies. With true 29.97 frame rates, it should be a solid production tool.

Ending the day with “Video for the Web,” it was a ball calling up various VASST and skydiving videos at fullscreen, showing folks how great web video can look delivered in Flash and MP4. The days of convergence are truly upon us. We predicted it nearly 15 years ago, and it has started to hit so fast that broadcasters don’t know how to manage it, methinks. I haven’t turned a TV on in nearly a week; hulu.com, youtube.com, and other sites hold for much more interest and channel surfing can easily become an endless vacuum much like Carroll’s rabbit hole.

And now it’s time to leave. Leaving New York City is like leaving a beautiful mistress; you don’t want to go, but know you can’t stay. It’s just simply not “home.” With the wistfulness of a teen leaving his first date on the porch…I wave goodbye to the bright lights of New York and head for the city that never sleeps.

Go Yankees! After all, Yankees and Delta gave me several bags of Cracker Jack, one of my favorite snacks.
Go Yankees! After all, Yankees and Delta gave me several bags of Cracker Jack, one of my favorite snacks.

Las Vegas, here I come.