“The choices you make now, the people you surround yourself with, they all have the potential to affect your life, even who you are, forever.”
― Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever
The average person has probably heard of Felix Baumgartner’s—the Red Bull Stratos—space skydive, or seen the Sprint htc commercial featuring world champion skydiver Roberta Mancino performing stunning freefall aerobatics. Millions of people have seen the United States Golden Knights parachute into sporting event, and who can forget the Reebok skysurfing commercial, featuring the late Patrick de Gayardon (inventor of skysurfing), blowing our minds with incredible skydiving moves? In fact, it’s a safe bet that you (the reader) have watched a YouTube video of wing suit skydivers flying through exotic mountain ranges. In today’s world we are inundated with images of intrepid skydivers doing amazing stunts. With all the exposure skydiving has received, one-question remains. Who is the face of modern skydiving?
All the major sports have a face that represents it: the NFL has Tom Brady, MLB has Albert Pujols, and the NBA has LeBron James. Sure, fans and experts can debate whether or not these players are the face of their sport. The point is that the most casual sports fan will recognize these athletes; furthermore, these players forge a connection between their sport and the general public.
On the other hand, skydiving doesn’t have this type of connection. There is no exposure except for the anonymous parachute team that flies into stadiums for a pregame exhibition, or the parachutist who garners media attention for a few cycles. Another connection obstacle skydiving has is its perception, skydiving is seen as a hobby for “Adrenaline junkies” or a “sport for the elites”. When a Felix Baumgartner, Roberta Mancino, or the Golden Knights make headlines it plays into that stereotype because the public’s view is that, “ an adrenaline junky makes good” or “an elite military team flies into the Super Bowl”. Sadly, this kind of exposure doesn’t have a lasting impression with general public.
For skydiving, the people who push the envelope and get national and international headlines unquestionably do the industry a great service. Skydiving centers see a slight increase in business and participants enjoy seeing their sport’s profile raised, but do the incredible accomplishments performed by world-class athletes put a face on the sport? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The headlines will fade and the general public will forget the name and face of the skydiver.
The good news is that the sport is filled with thousands of ambassadors. It is not a governing body, such as, the Untied States Parachute Association (USPA), nor is it the extreme athlete who gathers headlines then slips into obscurity. And to the consternation of the USPA and industry insiders, it is not those who work full-time in the trade as dropzone owners, camera flyers, or jumpmasters. The emissaries of skydiving are the factory workers, the students, and the business professionals. These are the people that interact with the community; they are accessible and leave an indelible mark on those around them. The simple hobbyist is the person who puts a face on the sport of skydiving.