Have you ever thought what it takes to work in the skydiving industry and how to get there? Well read this interview with professional skydiver Andy Wesley who works at Skydive Hibaldstow near Leeds as a tandem instructor and a cameraman.
What’s your name and how long have you been skydiving?
My name is Wez and did my first charity tandem skydive in 1999.
How did you get into skydiving?
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do from being a kid and a couple of years after my tandem, I did my beginners course, called Accelerated Freefall, in 2001 at Skydive Hibaldstow. I achieved my basic qualification in the minimum 8 levels (plus 10 consolidation jumps) required and I it is where I work now as a tandem instructor and cameraman.
At what point did you decide you wanted to earn your living as a skydiver?
From the moment I started skydiving, it was always my goal to earn a living from it. I had had a bit of idolism from when I did my tandem. I looked at the instructor and thought “I could do that for a living, it looks like an amazing lifestyle and I could get paid for it”. It was like nothing else mattered and I wanted to progress as quickly as I could.
I was however under no illusions that the road ahead was not going to be an easy one. I had quickly learned that you need to have 200 skydives at Hibaldstow to become a cameraman and to be a tandem instructor it is in fact 800 skydives and 8 hours in freefall before you can take the tandem instructors course.
What work did you do before?
I used to be a GRP laminator and mould maker for motor homes. I enjoyed the 20 odd years that I worked in the industry, but it was time to move on to something a little bit more exciting and adventurous.
There are several ways you can earn money in the sport, discuss them please?
There are 3 main ways to earn money in the sport. Firstly, you can be an instructor or cameraman like me; secondly, you can be a sponsored competitor, but the number of people who successfully do that are not many; and thirdly, you can own a dropzone! I was always attracted to the idea of being an instructor and cameraman first.
Did you find it hard financing the high jump numbers needed to get onto your instructors course?
No not really. I built my jump numbers up to around the 200 mark within the first 2 seasons of skydiving. After that I entered the tandem camera pool. Initially I did camerawork just at weekends, but as time passed, I eventually decided to quit my normal job and go full-time in my new abnormal job! Many customers want photos and videos doing of their jumps and that is a quick and ready source of income.
In fact, I still do camera jumps today which forms about half of my total jumps alongside tandems.
It took approximately 6 years of fun jumping and camerawork before I signed up for my British Parachute Association Tandem Basic Instructor (TBI) course in 2007. At this point I was still working as a GRP laminator.
What was your course like and how does it compare to other countries?
As already mentioned, you have to start with your TBI course. There’s no actual live tandem jumps at this point, just a series of seminars, learning about the operations manuals, learning what is expected of you and doing the briefs. A briefing is typically 25 minutes of teaching to the customer which prepares them for their jump. It’s a bit like the theory part of your driving test! You learn what is expected of you both in the aircraft and in freefall. You also learn how the equipment works importantly.
The second part is called the Tandem Instructor (TI) course and this where you get to do the actual jumps. You have to pass a minimum of 9 jumps starting with 4 bag jumps. A bag jump is where you have to jump with a heavy weight strapped to the front of you to simulate the conditions of having a customer there.
After that, you then get to do 4 live jumps with an experienced qualified skydiver on the front of you. I can say I was a bit nervous on the first one, but after that I have been fine ever since! The last jump is called a “hop and pop” and is a jump from a lower altitude where you open your parachute not long after exit.
My experience of different courses around the world (I worked in New Zealand for a while) is that the British system is pretty intensive and thorough. I had a lot of preparation to do beforehand. As a nation, we have a reputation for high standards and I feel proud to have passed that qualification.
What does a typical day of tandem skydiving day involve?
There really is no typical day and that is a part of the attraction for me. Sometimes, I may only be called upon to do a few jumps in a day. On others, I may dash around swapping between video work, briefing new customers, jumping tandems, editing videos and of course packing my parachute.
Do you ever get bored of tandem jumping?
No not at all, if I do, I will hang up my license and I will find something else to do. Every customer who comes along to Skydive Hibaldstow is different. You get a different vibe off each student. Some are scared and nervous, some are excited and some need some encouraging.
Even though I do it every day, I still remember what it was like for me on my first jump, so I know the courage it takes to experience an entirely new “non-human” environment. It really is a great way to see all the human emotions you can think of. I get a buzz off the reactions of the student and a buzz from the skydive itself. I now have around 5600 jumps and I am still loving it.
What does your family think of your parachuting?
My parents and siblings don’t say a whole lot about it. They know I do it and they are proud of me. A few of them have made their own jumps including my sister who did a tandem with me. She then went on to do around 80 skydives for herself. Even my brother-in-law did a tandem with me.
My Mrs is an active skydiver and has well over 300 to date. She has even competed at national level in formation skydiving and won a bronze medal at nationals, so she supports me a lot.
Do you see yourself doing tandems in 5 years time?
Hopefully I will still be doing the same, I wouldn’t want it to be any different. Whilst I still enjoy it, I will continue. I have considered doing my AFF (accelerated free fall) rating, but I decided against it because my passion really lies with tandem jumping and camerawork.
When you are not skydiving, what are you doing?
Aside from the sport, I am house husband, I do school runs, I enjoy a spot of road riding around Brigg, Caistor and Lincoln.
If you had advice to anyone else thinking of getting into the sport, what would it be?
If you are going to commit to it, then really make that commitment as it costs a lot of money and time. It can be a tough sport to work in as you have to take the rough and the smooth. For example, jumping in winter time can be cold to say the least. You also need the backing of your family. If they are not 100% behind you, it becomes a big hurdle to overcome.
It also helps to be relatively fit and strong. It is harder work than what a lot of people think, and equally, probably a lot more rewarding day-to-day as well. You get out of it what you put into it.