I arrived at Skydive Hibaldstow in 2013 with 80 jumps and a tent. My first season here was spent doing ground crew work as well as working the old bar in the evenings. I was focusing mainly on developing my FS skills beyond the bare minimum for the FS1 sticker which I already had. I was also learning basic head-up freefly skills and getting my FF1 sticker. Towards the end of that season, once I had acquired that magic 200, I put a camera on my head and started following out tandems – the first real step toward professional skydiving.
Over the following winter, I took a break and then returned to the DZ in March to start training as a dropzone controller and canopy handling coach. These were the first steps toward my first instructor rating, the Category System Basic Instructor (CSBI). All the while I was continuing to follow out as many tandems as possible to get my footage (along with editing and packing) up to camera pool standard.
It took me exactly 50 unpaid tandem follow-out jumps to be accepted onto the Hibaldstow tandem camera pool. I think this figure is one that will vary massively between individual camera flyers – some people could get there in 20 jumps, others in 100. I’ve always felt that the standard at Skydive Hibaldstow has been very high in all areas, the camera pool included. This has resulted in a high level of satisfaction once I was told I was ready.
While I started doing paid tandem camera jumps, it started off fairly slowly as I was still predominantly a DZ controller. I enjoyed learning dropzone control, and again feel I was taught to a very high standard by those that mentored me in this area. It was an area that I soon learned could be incredibly satisfying.
Running a 3 Dornier operation smoothly or getting a tough spot perfect are some of the best feelings I’ve felt on the dropzone and I’d encourage anyone who works regularly in skydiving to take an interest in DZ control – the rewards for learning an appreciation for this area are well worth it. DZ control was where I started out as a fulltime skydiver and to this day I pride myself on being good at it. It’s a skill set that has already proved invaluable to me as an instructor and as a skydiver and I’m sure will continue to do so as I continue to progress.
In late August I took my CSBI course and received the minimum recommended probationary period before returning to sit the Category System Instructor (CSI) exam course. The CSBI course was a very enjoyable course and the coaching received throughout was fantastic. Aside from the coaching received from examiners, it was interesting to simply see how instructors do things differently at different DZs. The CSI course was different. It took a lot of classroom preparation and teaching practices to even feel nearly ready to take the exam course. On this course there was none of the coaching from examiners, although again, it was still rewarding to see new instructors and the methods / techniques they used.
Upon returning to the DZ with a shiny new rating, I was put to work with teaching static-line ground school courses, B-licence progression days and PLENTY of static line refresher training. Initially, under the continued supervision of the chief instructor and other senior instructors, I also learned that dispatching static line students was surprisingly physically demanding (but also unbelievably good fun as well). When I landed with the aircraft after dispatching my first two full Finist SMG loads of students, I was shaking. I got more of a buzz from dispatching those two loads than I ever have from a skydive. I walked around the packing hangar and high-fived every one of those ecstatic students before sitting down with them all, beer in hand, for a hugely enjoyable debriefing session at the end of the day. Turns out this instructor business is alright.
I made 775 skydives during 2015. This has been largely tandem camera and was a big enough bump to my jump numbers to have me ready for a Tandem Instructor (TI) course in time for June. Since getting the tandem rating (another very enjoyable BPA instructor course), I’ve made around two hundred tandem descents and am thoroughly enjoying the new challenge and sharing the experience of a first skydive with so many people.
November saw my final BPA course of 2015. After even more classroom work, several tunnel trips and a beat-up trip to Skydive Algarve, I attended an AFF Instructor course. This course was not like the previous courses I’d been on. It was very high pressure throughout, to say the least. Despite going through one of the most nerve-wracking weeks of my life, I ultimately came away with the rating and couldn’t have been happier.
This was also the first course that I attended alongside Rich Cotton. A colleague and friend from Skydive Hibaldstow, Rich also achieved all his ratings over the course of 2015, and it was a great end to the year to be able to tick off rating number 3 at the same time (with the same score- but who was counting anyway!).
In February I managed to take a weekend off to get to Skydive the Expo! It came as a real surprise to be awarded Instructor of the Year at the BPA AGM. It was a really nice bit of recognition of the work that had been put into 2015 not just by myself but by the people that had put time and effort into helping me to progress.
Having achieved all three instructor ratings within the calendar year, I will now have a break to get current and more experienced on all ratings before going for the first part of the Advanced Instructor rating, the earliest opportunity for which would be February 2018 – three years on from being awarded CSI.
In the meantime, I’ve been assigned to Second in Command to the Chief Instructor at Hibaldstow. This role is a welcome challenge and will help me to develop my DZ control experience even further, and hopefully see me well prepared for the Advanced Instructor course in a couple of years time. As an instructor I always had some level of understanding and appreciation for the procedural side of running a DZ and a busy tandem/AFF program, but in getting some real hands on experience with this work has ‘developed my understanding’ to say the least. It’s a big responsibility and very challenging but I’m definitely enjoying it so far!