Interview – Steve Shipp

Monday, April 8, 2024

1. Let’s start with an introductory question. What led you to your first skydive and how quickly did you realise this was a sport you wanted to take up?

A friend at training back in early 2017 was talking about skydiving. He was jumping at Chatteris. I had previously done a couple of tandems in 1990/91 at Hinton and New Zealand and had finally decided I’d like to learn how to do it. He suggested that I learn in Spain, due to the sunny weather, and then said they had an age limit of 50 to start. I was 49 and turning 50 in the May 2017. So, I hastily booked myself onto an AFF course!

2. Did you find your AFF course easy? Did you do any wind tunnel time as
part of it like many do?

No, I was a terrible AFF student. I failed a number of levels and was incredibly nervous. I got as far as level 5 in Spain and returned having failed level 6 twice. My friend recommended Yolanda as a UK coach, and I did an evening in the tunnel at Bedford which fixed my lack of arch! I then went to Skydive Hibaldstow and successfully completed my Accelerated Freefall during the summer of 2017. It wasn’t an easy road, but I got there.
The nervousness stayed with me for my first 30-35 jumps where I’d be sat on the ride up to altitude questioning my sanity. But I persevered and after that, I really started to enjoy and learn.

3. Who were your early heroes in skydiving and how did they help to build your skills?

When you are starting out, unless you have previously followed the sport, you don’t really know anybody. I think you gravitate towards people that openly want to see you progress. I must single out Noel Purcell for his stern fatherly chats and Cath Leather for taking me under her wing in flat flying. Both of them really contributed to my love of the sport and importantly got me to a position where I could develop some good skills in freefall and under canopy.

4. You are known as a multi-disciplinary skydiver who hasn’t particularly specialised, but instead progressed across several discipline. Why is that?

Some might rephrase that as “jack of all trades and master of none”. I don’t particularly like the term discipline as I see it as limiting. The rivalry between flat flying or free flying as if one isn’t related to the other seems to fix people in a lane on their journey. Learning to fly one’s body in freefall is just that in any orientation.

Being late to the party, as I was, means I probably don’t have the time to master the sport, but I’m going to give being competent a good go.

5. Are there any disciplines you’d like to have a go at, but haven’t had the chance to learn yet?

I’d like to improve my canopy flying. From a technique perspective, I haven’t really progressed very far.

6. Have you had any canopy malfunctions yet? If so, what happened?

I have not had a cut-away yet. I recently had twists which came close to a cutaway and during a UKSL competition, I had a brake fire. I managed to unstow the other toggle and land without issue. I’m not particularly worried about a malfunction as I believe my training has prepared me for this. But of course, the plan is not to have one and to land under my main every time!

7. Do you like the competition scene, have you trained with any teams? And have you won anything? Would you ever like to represent Team GB at a big competition?

I’ve competed several times in formation skydiving 4-way and once in 8-way. I’ve medalled in both the Rookie and A classes. I’ve usually been in a scratch team which works well for me regarding my available commitments. I realise that to compete seriously will necessitate a proper commitment, so lets see what the future brings.

8. When you are not at a dropzone, how do you finance the sport?

I’m a 50% owner and a founding director of a refrigeration manufacturing and contracting company. The company celebrated its 20 year anniversary this year. I joined the refrigeration industry at 18 years old working as a trainee refrigeration design engineer for Tesco. I did an HNC in refrigeration and air conditioning. They were interesting times as CFCs had literally just been banned which opened a door to exploring new and innovative system designs using the refrigerants that were available. Tesco’s also allowed me to spend large sums of money on these designs. I was 22 at the time. I left Tesco to have a career break travelling for 18 months. I then returned to the industry and held various jobs in wholesaling, contracting and again as the “End User” for Budgens PLC as it was then. (It’s now owned by Tesco ironically!).

I then worked as Technical Director for a Finnish display cabinet manufacturer before setting up the business, Ultra Refrigeration Limited in 2004. We are based in Chesterfield however, we work all around the UK and occasionally further a field. We currently employ about 25 people. Having been in charge of my own destiny for quite a while, I love the fact that I don’t have to complete a holiday request form. A lot of what Ultra does is bespoke. Our clients present us with unique scenarios in terms of cooling or heating and we have to design and build something from scratch. We also need to write bespoke controls to suit. I love watching the finished products in action doing what we promised. I also enjoy nurturing the next generation of engineers. We try to have at least 2 apprentices join every year.

9. Have you ever been interested in becoming an AFF or tandem instructor? Or perhaps a rigger?

With something over 800 jumps now being a tandem instructor is something I’m interested in considering. AFF does also interest me, but right now, I don’t have immediate plans. I haven’t started trying to read the manuals yet.

I’m not new to the world of teaching / instructing as I’ve been teaching martial arts for more than 20 years. I’ve been involved in teaching seminars in the UK, central and Eastern Europe. I’ve held the rating of basic tracking coach in skydiving since 2022. I decided to gain the rating to help people fairly new to the sport progress for the simple reason that various sky divers gave up their time to help me on my journey. In terms of would I like to go-part time, some might argue that I’ve already done that based upon how often I’m at the DZ. In all seriousness, yes, I am aiming towards working less days per week so that I can achieve that highly desirable work / life balance which would involve more skydiving.

10. Aside from skydiving, you participate in martial arts. Tell us more about

Where to start with this one! I first started martial arts in 1975, when I was 8 years old in a karate style called Kyokushinkai…a full contact knockdown style. Between 11 years old and 16 years old I had a break, but I’ve been training and latterly teaching ever since. I have black belts in Shotokan karate, Shidokan karate and Kyushu Jitsu.

I’ve also practised in Brazilian JuJitsu and Thai boxing. I fought in the cage when I was nearly 46. I suppose retaining flexibility and being reasonably fit has helped. Skydiving and martial arts are both physical activities which require you to coordinate
your movements. I suppose, overwhelmingly, the mental determination and samurai spirit of no surrender means that you will keep pushing until you succeed. Skydiving is learned in much smaller bites of time than any other sport I can think of which adds to the challenge. I love the fact that there is so much to learn with lots of interesting like-minded people from a wide range of backgrounds.

11. Do you have any advice for new skydivers?

Always enjoy the journey. Once you have qualified as an A-licence, start work straight away on achieving your FS1+. After that, whilst it’s great to jump out of planes with your mates, you will learn faster and ultimately have better jumps if you get involved with load organisers who will provide you with feedback so that your skill level improves.

12. Lastly, do you any funny stories you are willing to tell us about?

I had bought a 2nd rig with a smaller main canopy. I had become very comfortable with my 1st rig and the predictable landings and frankly I was a little nervous to jump it. I was sat on flight line when Noel questioned me why I wasn’t jumping my new rig and I explained my nervousness. He looked at me and said, “pinch your nose with your fingers and blow”. I obediently complied. He then said, “perhaps now your balls will drop!”.

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