Saturday, December 20, 2008

USPA change

The USPA Empowers its members with the right to vote and transfer the leadership to the next generation. This process is critical so the USPA can evolve and continue to grow effectively. This transfer of USPA leadership cannot and will not take place without your vote as a member of our organization!

Most skydivers don't take the time to learn about the structure of the USPA or vote for change. I can understand this since we all have busy lives and besides you just want to skydive! You became a member of the USPA so you can skydive where you want when you want...right? You shouldn't have to spend your free time educating yourself about the structure of our organization or the many changes along the way.

Unfortunately this is the reason why we don't see more (any) change within the USPA. This is how some National directors keep their positions year in and year out without any rivals. You would think more professional skydivers (the ones who make a living doing it) would take the time to vote and make a change but most do not. You would be surprised at how few USPA members actually vote and you would be even more surprised to find out how many elected officials care less about positive change.

Most of the elected board is comprised of older skydivers with an "old school" frame of mind. Most elected officials are older because these are the people who have the most experience (something you can't buy for no amount of money). Side note: The youngest President of the United States was Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt who was 42 years old at the time he took office. You don't have to be older to have a position of authority, power or trust but you need a clear idea for change and keep your self open to it.

This all makes sense right? Certain people are more motivated then others to run for National director at the USPA. If your are a drop zone owner, a gear store owner, run a skydiving school or even demo team then your business is directly effected by the decisions of the USPA. Money motivates people. You have to ask your self what are the reasons a person is running for an elected seat in the USPA? What motivates them, what changes do they want? Are they looking out for the interest of the members or their own self interest?

For the first time in decades we have a group of "younger" individuals running for seats on the BOD. Notice I used the word “younger” and not “young”. Our group of “younger” members are highly experienced skydivers in their mid to late thirties not newcomers to the sport. We should all be glad to have a group of new choices for the BOD and some of the best our sport has to offer. With fewer candidates running we have less options and then we all lose. What change do these new guys have to offer? I will let BOD runner and 38 year old Charles Bryan with 14,000 jumps sum it up for you...

"Many of the USPA rules that we follow were put in place 30 years ago, when the equipment, planes and technology was inferior to what we have available to us today. We need to bring in new board members, with fresh ideas to the USPA, that want to take skydiving to the next level. We need to educate new jumpers past student status, to use new equipment to the best of their ability and stay safe in doing so".

The USPA is a organization that needs to change with the times so it might evolve at the pace needed to take full advantage of our strengths. There were 32,000 members in the USPA in 2008 and this number hasn't changed much in the 15 years I have been a member! 

The USPA needs change and needs it now. Unfortunately we have a lot of catching up to do and every year we get deeper in the hole like the US national deficit. We have to start leveraging are strengths as an organization to make change. Why can't skydiving get on regular scheduled TV? Why is the US Nationals of Skydiving not televised? Why can't skydiving get corporate sponsors like every other national sporting event? Why isn't skydiving in the mainstream and how can we get there?

These questions have haunted me for over a decade and no one seems to have the answers and only their opinions so here is mine. The USPA needs to leverage our annual National championships to attract corporate sponsors and get our sport televised. If we attract corporate sponsors then we can attract TV and vis versa. You need TV airtime to attract corporate sponsors and you need the sponsors to get the TV time! Why is all of this important? Why do we need corporate sponsors? Why do we need to be on TV? To make it into the mainstream of course! 

We need to move from a backyard sport into the mainstream. Through corporate sponsorship we will have growth that will trickle down to all facets within our industry. We have more money for planes, more money for bigger & better facilities, more technology, better gear and so on. Do you really think that is the best parachute rig on your back? Is that AAD you use the most advanced technology available? Can we get a parachute that can swoop 1500ft? Not just yes but hell yes but its all about the money. Once corporate sponsors invest in our National championships at large public venues it will get televised and once that happens other sponsors will rush to fill the spaces in between. Sponsors will want to sponsor all types of competitors in the top 4 way, Freefly and Swoop teams in the sport.

With our new sponsorships deal and network contracts these networks will start feeding us data from the events. They will show us our demographics, tell us which skydiving events they like the most, etc, etc. Before you know it our sport is catapulted into the mainstream and into constant change to hold our position in the market. We are forced to adapt with change in order to grow and maintain our new found glory. We don’t have to guess at these possibilities but only look at the history of other similar sports in the mainstream.

So why aren't we doing this now? What is holding skydiving back? Just look at the current formula and remember that step one of us getting into the mainstream is leveraging our National championships.

To stand any chance of attracting corporate sponsors the USPA must hold its National championships OFF A DROP ZONE. Sponsors pay for impressions which is eyeballs onsite. The event must be at a location which can attract tens of thousands of spectators. Just look at events like the Extreme Games, Gravity Games or NASCAR. These events are put in large public venues to attract as many spectators and vendors as possible. The first thing any sponsor is going to ask you is where the event is going to happen followed by how many spectators will you have and how much TV coverage can you guarantee.

To make our situation even worse some of the biggest drop zones in the country are in the ugliest place for spectators which means sponsors too. Skydive Arizona may be one of the biggest and busiest DZs in the US but Eloy is a speck in the middle of hot dusty desert which no one outside of skydiving cares to visit. Perris Valley is not much better of a location but at least its two hours from Hollywood! So the USPA should be looking for very attractive locations for our National championships with sponsors in mind. Notice that I said find attractive locations “with sponsors in mind”. With an appealing event location it is much easier to attract potential sponsors. The venue can be built up around other attractions or in a variety of other ways to maximize our exposure.

So why hasn’t this happened yet? Why don’t we have the US Nationals on the lake in Chicago, or at a big park, festival, airshow, beach, race track, etc, etc? Well, the USPA says you have to be a group member (drop zone) to bid on and organize the US Nationals of Skydiving and guess where DZOs want to hold the event? Yes, DZOs bid to hold the National championships on their drop zone to maximize profits. It makes sense right? Holding the event on a DZ saves them money and maximizes profits while reducing the logistical nightmare of running the event offsite.

So the DZO is not looking at the best interest of the sport or its members but at its own business....the drop zone. So this rule implemented by the USPA that only group members can bid on the US Nationals is just one example of the change needed within our organization. If this rule was changed it would encourage entrepreneurs, outside investors and corporate sponsors to bid and hold the US Nationals of Skydiving at public venues. This is how to attract the sponsors which would attract TV which would fund growth inside our sport.

We now know that with the death of Skysurfing in the X Games in the 90s, as well as, all the exposure skydiving has got in the past including scenes Hollywood movies and the opening ceremony of the Olympics...Canopy Piloting could be the sport of Skydiving last chance to make it into the mainstream. Now consider this, few drop zones are bidding to hold the US Nationals of Canopy Piloting these days and those who have hosted it already are telling the USPA they will never do it again.

Yes it is true, drop zones like Skydive Chicago and Mile Hi Skydiving have told the USPA that they would never hold it again and they are not the only ones. There needs to be change for Canopy Piloting does not go under. The USPA needs to make Canopy Piloting one of its top priorities. Canopy Piloting is the most spectator friendly and thus sponsor friendly discipline within our sport. If the USPA does not make necessary changes so Canopy Piloting is cheaper to organize and safer to run it could fade away. Oh yes there will always be swooping as long as there is skydiving but not as this flourishing competition sport with big cash purses and the public venue of yesteryear. The USPA can make the necessary changes or watch it die a slow death. Just look at Skysurfing which at one time was this popular skydiving event that was in the X Games. About every drop zone you went to there was people skysurfing. There was a team in Florida sponsored by Yahoo and skysurfer Rob Harris won a grammy! There are few skysurfers hanging around the DZ now and if more people don’t compete at the event at Nationals it could go away for good! No more $50,000 cash purses, no more sponsorship contracts, no more TV time. Just a shell of a sport that was.

In the world of business all organizations must continuously change to keep from going under and dying. Change like failure is a instrument we use to grow and keep us moving in the right direction.

As one last example, when I hear people talking about the internet’s next phase the so called Web 2.0, I'm constantly surprised how few people really "get it." Its not about technology, its about empowering people. Its about giving people access to data, even if they are outside your domain. Its about jump starting innovation with scary new ideas. Its about tools that are easy to use -- perhaps even fun -- so a greater number of people can join in the process.

The USPA needs to transfer the leadership to a new team of leaders. We need problem solvers who can set new goals and break the mold to get the job done. These national directors need to build a strong team beneath them to get the job done. Two heads is better than one but the more the better! Our National directors should set out to build strong teams with experts and pioneers from all areas of our sport.

We need experts in everything from RW, Freeflying, Skysurfing, CRW and Canopy Piloting on collaborating teams with our National directors. It might be hard or even impossible to get these experts to run for a BOD position but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be tapping their knowledge, expertise and opinions. Maybe this is something that the USPA has done in the past but maybe they haven’t been doing it right? Maybe they haven’t been building the right teams? It all starts with leadership at the top and trickles down.

Advisors are a direct reflection of their leaders. What are they trying to accomplish? Who do they turn to for support? At the highest office in our nation President elect Obama has been doing just that recently. He doesn’t claim to know everything and realizes he needs to build the best team possible to improve his chance for success. Recently he was quoted saying, ““I’ve sought leaders who could offer both sound judgment and fresh thinking, both a depth of experience and a wealth of bold new ideas”. By the time you read this President elect Obama will have most likely made Google CEO Eric Schmidt a economic advisor. Smart choice but one that the older generation would not have considered. This is a great example for the USPA and all elected National directors. If you don’t know something and need advice moving in a new direction then go out and build a strong team.

I hope all skydivers take the time to print out a USPA ballot and vote. Its not too late but the deadline of December 31st is fast approaching. I ask you now to do what has never been done in the history of the United States Parachuting Association...wide scale voting! Just go to the USPA website, print out the single ballot sheet, vote for eight (no more or you void your ballot) national directors and mail it to the USPA before Dec 31, 2008. Maybe you don’t know any of these people running for office but that is OK. Just read each candidates views on the USPA website at the link below and cast your vote before its too late. I have attached a copy of my official ballot and posted it online for public record. Now its your turn.

Go and print your ballot!
http://www. uspa. org/NewsEvents/BODElections/tabid/461/Default. aspx

Jim Slaton
Producer & serial entrepreneur 
www. jimslaton. com

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crude awaking

For my first post on my new blog I am not going to post a "flashback" story but instead write about something we should all learn more about. If you read this article through to the end you will find it informative and shocking! After a decade of living in California I have moved back to Houston, Texas where I live now. I have set up shop on the 20th floor of a condo building on main street in Downtown Houston. 

I am right across the street from the old Enron buildings in the business district. If ever there was a city in America about oil then this is it. I have a chance to rub shoulders with entrepreneurs in this industry all the time and our city thrives off the oil industry. When gas prices were up to $4.00 a gallon last summer and everyone was screaming bloody murder, our city was bloody rich. We were building new high rises, malls, highways all all sorts and more new stuff. The price of oil went from nearly $150 a barrel to $33 a barrel today which is our four year low. Yes, cheap gas is everywhere and people are hitting the streets with their Humvees and monstrous custom built SUVs. 

We need to take a second to consider why oil is so friggin cheap right now? This comes at a time when a new president is getting ready to take office and pushing technology for an alternative form of energy. Coincidence? I don't think so. What if I told you that the world has already exceeded its sustainable peak supply of oil? If we are producing less and less oil wouldn't it be getting more expensive and not cheaper? That is how supply and demand works right? Could it be possible they are giving it to us cheaper to keep us hooked to our addition? What else would make our country put alternative energy on the back burner?

This year the price of gasoline got as high as it has ever been and the result? We got used to paying higher prices and there is 3-4 all electric cars getting ready to hit the market in 2009 including Chevy's "Volt". If we are over the world's sustainable peak supply of oil and its becoming scarce then wouldn't cheap gas cause us to go through our remaining oil faster? If this interest you (and it should) then this article is for you... 

Oil is the blood of the earth...

Oil is the bloodstream of the world economy...

“Oil is our god. I don’t care if you say you worship jesus, Buddha, Allah or whoever you actually worship petroleum”...Matt Savinar 

We are moving from an era of cheap abundant energy to an era of scarce hard to get expensive energy. 

The US is dependent on oil and making ourselves dependent on extremely unstable regimes in some very nasty parts of the world.

90% of the people in our country have any inkling of the potential problem we are facing. Increased unemployment, poverty, bankruptcy, starvation...they are all the types of things that happen when a society collapses.  

Oil is not like wheat that we are growing every year, oil is the outcome of many millions of years of geology and chemistry. The great bulk of the world’s oil was formed at just two very brief moments in extreme global warming between 90 and 150 million years ago. Animal and plants had died in the ocean and were compressed by more composites of sand and over the years these deposits compacted even more and later cooked in what experts call the “kitchen” era. When the organic material was at a depth of about 2,000 meters a chemical reaction transformed the material into oil. 

This all happened in one brief moment in all of geological time and we are using the stuff up in only one or two centuries. One barrel of oil of which the refined product makes 42 gallons of gasoline can be bought today (Dec 18, 2008) for only $36! This one barrel of oil will produce as much energy or as much work that you would get from 12 people working all year for you! Take an average man working physical labor for 25,000 hours to produce the same amount of energy in that one barrel of oil. If that one barrel of oil is pulled out of the ground in iraq it cost $1! That’s right I said $1, so for $1 you get 25,000 hours of human labor. That energy source is so dense that it is essentially free energy!

70% of oil is refined into transportation fuels which include motor gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, railroad fuel and more. 98% of all transportation is fueled by oil. The liquids that come out of oil as its processed and refined creates the building block for all of our petrol chemical products and plastics including pharmaceuticals, tires, insecticides, cosmetics, weed killers, and zillions of other things. 

The US was essentially the Saudi Arabia of the world up to late 1950s. More and more oil is going to come from less stable, less secure places. Places that challenge the taking of oil in the first place. Oil fuels war, its a catalyst for war, its something that prolongs war and its not a pretty picture for us. 

So how much oil does the world have left?

“I suppose that the classification of oil reserves depends of the motivations of the people classifying them” says James Blackwell which is a oilfield technology consultant. 

The public data on this is extremely misleading and misunderstood. OPAC countries (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) wildly exaggerates how much oil it has left for all sorts of political reasons. In 1985 Kuwait overnight added 50% to its reserves because at that time the OPAC quota (the amount of oil a OPAC country could produce) was based on the reported reserves. The more you reported the more you could produce which means profit. Two years later Venezuela doubled its reserves over night and that caused many other countries like Saudi Arabia to announce enormous increases overnight simply to protect their production quota. HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART. These numbers have not changed since then and its simply absolutely implausible to image that the numbers should stay the same when they are always producing millions of barrels each day.

OPAC countries don’t care what might happen in 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years from today. These are politicians that want more money wether its rationally or irrationally since they are prisoners to their budgets. The United States had been the largest producer of oil on earth for almost a 100 years and nobody thought we would ever peak. In reality US oil production peaked in December of 1970 (the month I was born) at 10.2 million barrels a day and then oil prices went through the roof. 

Today we see more and more countries that have reached their peak and our declining including Kuwait city, Baku, China, Qatar, Venezuela, Russia, Indonesia with about 58 other countries that are producing much less today then in the past. The last great frontiers of new oil discoveries were the Alaska north slope oil, Siberian oil and the oil discovered in the North Sea. Those great discoveries were in 1967, 68 & 69. The world has now been sufficiently explored for the oil industry to know that all the promising areas have been found. 

Countries like Canada and other places are getting so desperate to find new oil basins they are extracting oil from the tar sands. The fact is they are using more energy from natural gas to produce this oil then they are getting from the tar sands. The fact that these countries are resorting to getting oil from the tar sands says alot because you don’t go to those areas unless you used up all the good stuff. 

Now with over 58 OPAC countries on the deep decline and Saudi Arabi as the world’s #1 producer of oil you have to consider the following. Saudi Arabi has been doing an intense oil exploration effort for the last 35 years and has found only one new oil field between 1967-2005. If Saudi Arabia has now exceeded their sustainable peak supply then the experts will argue with some clarity that the world has now exceeded its sustainable peak supply.

Its now widely excepted by professionals worldwide that the world oil supply peaked between 2000-2005. We are coming to the end of the first half of the age, during this 150 years we have seen the growth of everything from industry, transport, trade and agriculture. We seen an explosion of the number of people and all of this was made possible by the cheap abundance and supply of oil based energy. Demand is on the march and supply is flattening out. You have to supply if you want to meet the demand from the current level of 18 million barrels to 102 million barrels a day in the year 2030 but in order to meet that profile you would have to add new oil in the amount of 200 million barrels of oil a day! 

In this new modern world that was shaped by oil every other country in the planet is trying to build a society that looks like us! The demand for energy is rising faster than even predicted five years ago because people all around the world can see how countries of the world live and how good of life people have in those areas have. People everywhere even in small 3rd world countries want to be like us, they want to drive big cars like us, live in nice houses, they want to have air conditioning, refrigeration and why shouldn’t they? 

Most Chinese think they will own an automobile in the next five years. It’s the fastest growing automobile market on earth. Something like a third of their population already have drivers licenses so the demand for oil and gasoline is really going to take off! Last year China increased their oil import by 25% so now they are the number two importer in the world. China’s economy is growing at 10% a year and a 10% growth rate doubles in seven years, four times bigger in fourteen years and they are requiring more and more energy. Countries like China and India are getting to the party when the glass is half empty so they are going to have to fight with the rest of us to get what is left.

The Hummer is a status symbol in the US where Americans can drive around saying look at me, I am driving the best most expensive vehicle and I can afford it. The Hummer gets somewhere around 10 mpg! America is a role model wether we like it or not, we use 25% of the world’s oil. American’s will go on living our lifestyle driving our big cars as long as we are rich and the energy is cheap. We pay more for a bottle of drinking water than we do for gasoline. Gasoline is just about the cheapest liquid you can buy in the United States and as long as that is true Americans won’t be concerned. 

People in America think they are having their eyes cut out because they are paying $3.20 for a gallon of gasoline but that is only 20 cents a cup. Think about that for a minute, you have an average passenger car you can get 1-6 people in it with gear, drive a mile and half in just a few minutes for only 20 cents! Now if you don’t have gasoline and you try to barter with a guy with a horse or a bicycle to take you and your friends that same mile and a half for 20 cents you would get laughed at. 

I would think we would need to get oil prices up to something like $5.00 cup ($75 gallon) that starts to equate with what we actually spend on things that are not nearly as valuable and non renewable. Not one in 50 or even a one in a 100 people have any inkling of the potential problem that we are facing. If we wait until peak oil to start making the transition then there will be very serious economic consequences. If we anticipate it by 10 years there will be meaningful economic consequences and  have no economic consequences you need to anticipate it by 20 years! I am almost certain we don’t have 20 years, I’m pretty sure we don’t have ten because I think we are there now.

So why isn’t the government telling us more about this? What about congress or the president?

I don’t think the people in positions to tell the public about it from the official standpoint have been totally honest with us. The person who will win an election is the person who can most persuasively lie to the population which is to tell them what they want to hear which is “the future is going to be great” so follow me. In ancient Greece the person who brought bad news was executed and politicians that bring bad news frequently do not get re-elected. Our political system is controlled by major corporations so there is steps that need to be taken to address this is some kind of productive way. 

If your a CEO of a big company are you going to contribute money to the politician who    says I want us to slow down the economy, I want to sell fewer cars because we want people to drive less so these cars won’t use as much fuel. This in return would shrink the automotive manufacture sector and the one is going to vote for that! We are in some ways a victim of our own success. Suburbia is in a lot of trouble because the whole idea is that we commute from our house to work and back to suburbia. This can be 20, 30, 40 or even 50 miles from your house to your place of work. 

This model is only viable as long as we have cheap oil and gas. Its not just because the country is spread out but our cities have evolved for the use of cars. Our cities would have to rebuilt from scratch to make it more efficient with usable public transportation. This is all quite different for cities in Europe which were all basically created before the car was invented. So yes its going to be a BIG blow to America when we no longer have the oil that we love so much. We have waited so long that the three things we need most are all in short supply. 

One of them is money but in our country we don’t worry about money we just borrow it from our kids and grandchildren. The other two things we cannot borrow from our kids and grandchildren is time and energy. In order to make energy available to invest and to buy time we need a very vigorous conservation plan. In the last decade it is the Bush administration that has had the closet relationship with oil companies themselves and the administration that has most greatly married energy security with National security in US foreign policy. 

So the Bush administration believes that the way to secure oil supplies that would in fact get the support of the American people and create a more stable world is to “democratize the Middle East”! They believe that this issue of promoting democracy to the Middle East is a way of securing oil supplies. The basis of our foreign policy in the United States from 1945 until today was essentially an exchange of secure cheap reliable oil to the United States for the protection of the governing rulers of Saudi Arabia . One thing many people fear including me is that eventually we will simply take oil by arms. That day will change everything and make us into an entirely different country altogether. It would change our position in the minds of other countries.

So there are really only two options for us...

#1 Militarize the taking of oil. This means you would have to get your population to understand that if they want to continue to drive SUVs and continue to consume energy they way they are that they will be in war after war. 

#2 Prepare for what we all see coming which is the end of cheap oil and invest in technology that is cleaner, safer with less negative consequences. 

How long will it take to replace oil with an alternative energy?

Even if we made every car on the road hybrid cars we would still be consuming the same amount of oil we are now in 5-7 years. This is because with each passing year the economy grows and we have to consume more and more oil. We have very big challenges to face in this century, this is a planet that has 6 billion people on it now and perhaps 9 billion by the end of the century. The problem is the huge 14 terawatts of energy we need by 2050. We need a new source of energy which is equivalent to 220 million barrels of oil a day!

We have 700 million internal combustion engines running around the roads of the world. We need to consider the scale of what it would really take to replace fossil fuels for transportation. 

HYDROGEN ENERGY-The hydrogen economy in theory is a good idea but it faces many challenges. The problem for industry is sort of a chicken and egg thing. The industry is reluctant to invest heavily into fuel cell technology because there is no hydrogen infrastructure to deliver and produce hydrogen. On the other hand this infrastructure is not in place because there is no demand for hydrogen. The economics right now is that we use the equivalent of 3-6 gallons of gasoline to make enough hydrogen to drive a car the same distance that one gallon of gasoline will drive it. The hydrogen economy at this point makes no sense. It will take us easily 30-50 years to build the the hydrogen infrastructure.

ETHANOL ENERGY-If you look at all the energy inputs into making ethanol you use more fossil fuel producing ethanol than the energy you get out. The quantities that could be made available by ethanol and bio diesel are very small and would replace only a small portion of the fuels we use today. Even if you scaled ethanol production up 10-20 times it would still only be a drop in a bucket compared to the amount of energy we use today. 

NUCLEAR ENERGY-Nuclear will be very expensive and the experience we gathered over the last 30-40 years in terms of safe storage and such would all have to be rethought. People are already afraid of negative side effects and then there is the question of terrorist attacks. If you wanted to build enough nuclear power to replace all the fossil fuel we would have to build 10,000 of the largest nuclear plants possible. If we went this route and could build all 10,000 nuclear plants then our worldwide reserves of uranium would be depleted in 1-2 decades. This would only be a bridge at best. 

WIND ENERGY-Wind energy has become more popular and economically viable but because of its intermittency and low power density it will never contribute more than a small fraction of our required energy. 

SUN ENERGY-The total amount of sunlight that falls on the planet is 20,000 times the amount fossil fuel power we are using now. To generate he same amount of power we use in fossil fuel we would have to cover a land area roughly half the size of the state of california. All the solar power cells built in the world today would only cover about 10 kilometers which is only a small fraction of what is needed. Not impossible and not unthinkable but really a huge technological challenge. 

We have to look at all of these alternative forms of energy and if you add them all together you must be very optimistic about each of these sources to believe that we can produce anything like quantity and quality of energy we are getting from fossil fuels. Our worldwide demand now is somewhere between 25-30 million barrels of oil a year and its increasing at an alarming rate. In the not too distance future things like driving cars and air travel will only be made available to the super super elite, not the rich but the super rich (one tenth of one percent). Air travel will eventually stop and our children or great children may never get to ride in a plane or skydive at of one. 

We are facing an unprecedented unparalleled situation and that explains why it is so difficult for us to really except it because one thinks that in this modern era there must be a solution. Its somehow contrary to our mindset to think about these things and we just don’t like to do it. We have got used to the world around us and the gas station has always been there for us. Its a strange issue of mind set, attitude and experience that somehow leaves us so unprepared for this situation. 

Wanna learn more?

Words from the documentary "Crude awakeing"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My retirement from swooping

Unfortunately, I must announce that 2008 will be my last season as a canopy Piloting organizer within the skydiving industry. Long story short, I own a separate business (non skydiving) and this Production Company demands most of my attention these days. I love the sport I helped create and worked for it 24/7 365 days a years with no other job for over a decade. My involvement within the skydiving industry will be minimal after 2008 but I will continue to develop the World Parabatic Stunt Team as it continues to thrive outside the skydiving industry. The future of the Pro Swooping Tour and the Canopy Piloting Circuit is unknown at this point. I invite everyone to come out to my final grand event this summer called "Swoop Week" which will be held at Mile Hi Skydiving Aug 25-Sept 1, 2008. You can check it out online at 

If you care to read the longer explanation then continue reading...

This was a hard decision that I've been thinking about it for over a year. For years I couldn't convince myself of letting go and moving on but finally I realize it's time. The Pro Swooping Tour, Canopy Piloting Circuit, Team Extreme, the Ground Launch Center and many of my other ideas started out as nothing but a concept and grew to be successful. I've reached the point in my life where running swoop tours doesn't have the highest priority and the motivation is fading due to lake of support within the industry. Frankly put, big swoop competitions with large cash purses are expensive to run with a low return on investment for most DZs and sponsors. Very few people realize the cost associated with running these events or the dynamics it takes to keep it all moving in the right direction. 

It's been a decade since I organized my first swoop competition which seems like a lifetime ago. I came to this final decision in January but I wanted to give myself time to consider all my options. I have only told a few of my trusted friends until now and they all have told me that they can't believe I did it for as long as I did. As you might expect swoop competitions will go on but those that come behind me have a huge task and will learn the brisk reality of the sport. Clearly, some of my ideas were developed just in time and others were far ahead of their time.

I didn't create swooping. I organized it, developed it, formatted it and presented it to the world. 

In the beginning very few people believed in swooping as a sport and they definitely didn't believe in me. The skydiving industry couldn't get their head around the concept of swooping as a safe, productive and popular skydiving sport. Many Drop Zones didn't believe in our sport, parachute companies didn't believe in our sport and most skydivers viewed us as a danger to them and ourselves. You have to understand this is at a time when most dropzones had "no hook turn" signs in their landing area but couldn't even give a definition of the term. Drop Zones like Skydive Elsinore wouldn't invest in large swoop competitions or the concept of a Swoop Team. They questioned swoop competitions, swoop organizations or the concept of a swoop team. They quickly dismissed us as a fad with questions like "How would a swoop team train anyway"? They didn't believe in our ideas and they missed the boat.  Parachute companies like PD dismissed the concept of a swoop team too until 2003 when they formed the PDFT. In comparison, by 2003 Team Extreme had already been together nearly four years, won all the competitions, traveled the world and lived to tell about it. Team Extreme had to tough it out on our own showing the industry how to do it, why to do it and why a swoop team was a good idea. We had to show the industry that swooping was here to stay and that swooping (a.k.a canopy piloting) could be attractive. Again, very few drop zones or companies within the skydiving industry believed in swooping, swoop competitions or the concept of a swoop team. Simply put, most of the skydiving industry turned their back on swooping when we needed them most. They ended up being followers, not leaders.

So who was responsible for getting swooping where it is today? If it wasn't for Perris Valley Skydiving then canopy Piloting would not be where it is today....point blank. There were a few drop zones that had (little) man made swoop ponds before but none would take on the full commitment that Perris Valley made and it couldn't have happen at a better location. For the record, I still believe Perris Valley Skydiving is the best location to have a swoop competition in the none. The weather there is nearly perfect year around with no wind each morning until noon on almost every single day. You want to have a fair swoop competition? Then there needs to be no wind for all competitors, not an 8 knot downwind for Chuck and then 15 knot headwind for little Mikeal Stevens. Perris Valley Skydiving offers good morning winds on a regular basis but that's not all. To run good events you need aircraft support and alot of it. You need the support of the staff with the best manifest and logistical support. Dan Cook better known as manifest Dan is the best manifester in the world. If you think I'm kidding just ask anyone that has ever been to Perris or a boogie Dan manifested. Dan is so good at his job which he has done for well over a decade he can save a drop zone hundreds if not thousands of dollars a week just how he manifests and controls the planes. Dan, if you read this you are the man....point blank. Melanie Conaster, if you are reading this "all other drop zones in the US are pale in comparisons to Perris Valley Skydiving. There is no one else in the world that has organized as many swoop competitions in as many DZs as me and Perris Valley Skydiving is the best. Sure, you have Skydive Arizona or Skydive Deland but do they have a pond? If so how big is it? How many competitions have they had and how do they treat swoopers? Besides, what other place than Perris Valley Skydiving can you surf, ski and skydive in the same day before 3:00pm? 

Perris Valley Skydiving believed in me and swooping competitions from the beginning and when other said no Perris asked "how soon can we start"! My relationship and teamwork with Perris Valley helped bring swooping to the masses and deliver it to the world in 2003. We built a team including myself, Melanie Conaster, BJ Worth, Scott Smith, Lyle Presse and others to present "Canopy Piloting"  to the world at the IPC's 54th annual meeting. Up against all odds we debated with all the delegates of the world and I gave the keynote speech to close the deal. In 2003 Canopy Piloting got accepted by the IPC and Perris Valley Skydiving won the bid to host the 1st World Cup of Canopy Piloting. The following year we would give the same presentation to the USPA and once again Perris Valley Skydiving would host the 1st USPA National Canopy Piloting Championships.....which I won. It was a sad day when I had to move from California to recover after my life changing parachuting accident on Feb 12, 2006. Perris Valley Skydiving is clearly a leader and not a follower

Next people to believe in me and swooping was Simon Mundell and Icarus canopies. Icarus canopies headed up by Simon approved Team Extreme as fast as soon as he heard the pitch. When other people were wishing they could do something cool we were out there making it all happen and Simon was behind us. Simon was my our partner in the development of Team Extreme and together we were the driving force behind all things Team Extreme. When I needed a sponsor for a swoop event.... Simon with Icarus was there. When we needed new team canopies in a new configuration....simon with Icarus was there. When I needed support for my next big project with the team...Simon with Icarus was there. Few questions got a "no" and the whole world was our drop zone. To be part of something great you need dreamers and you need believers. We were the dreamers and Simon with Icarus canopies were the believers. 

I cannot go on without mentioning my teammates of Team Extreme...Clint Clawson, JC Colclasure and Luigi Cani. I could not have asked for better guys and we came together like it was always meant to be. The truth is I didn't even hardly know these guys before we formed the team and I spoke to them only a few times before. Team Extreme did it our way with no guides, no map and no one to follow. During the life of Team Extreme we spoke with action and cataloged it in our film "Out of the Blue". Our film illustrated many of our stunts including our swoops down and onto Europe's highest mountains. The adventures of Team Extreme helped motivate and create a whole new generation of canopy pilots that can be seen today. As the old saying goes "Lead, Follow or Get out of the Way". Team Extreme 1999-2003

I could write a book on my trials and tribulations as a canopy pilot, producer and organizer within the skydiving industry. I have faith in Canopy Piloting and still believe it stands as the last chance for Skydiving to make it into the mainstream. If Canopy Piloting can't bring Skydiving into the mainstream then I'm afraid Skydiving will always be small. It will take much more than occasional articles in newspapers, magazines and brief airtime on TV. It will require all that I have done and more. I have went on an emotional roller coaster with all the ups and downs of developing swooping as a sport. The sport has cost me time, money and relationships and I would do it all over again if given the opportunity. Throughout the years I partnered up with some of swooping's  greatest pioneers including Reggie Estaugh (inventor of the Airblade) and Lyle Presse (creator of Flex Vision) and organizer of the Venezuela Challenge. These are both great men who devoted years to swooping but in the end had to move on with their life. In the beginning, I started organizing by myself with Karine Leblond. Karine was my only believer in the very begining, my only advisor and only loyal supporter. This was before Team Extreme, before Icarus canopies and before the PST. As I was learning to organize swoop events Karine was learning how to judge them. At the time the only swoop course for competition that existed was the speed event which Reggie created for his Pro Blade events. Me and Karine had to create all the additional swoop courses and events that we continue to use to this day. 

We were not only creating new events but Karine had to develop the rules and a way they could be judged. Karine created the judging platform that everyone else in the swooping community continue to use to this day. Karine Leblond, a girl from Quebec Canada with a four year college degree and the whole world ahead of her choose to stick with canopy piloting. Contrary to popular belief there is very little if no money in canopy piloting, specially as a judge. As a matter of fact, Karine made nothing and volunteered her services for the first several years as we lived on ramen noodles and koolaid. For every single day that I have been in service to the swooping community Karine was there. When others would have gave up and took for a better or more profitable life Karine stayed as a service to the swooping community. For this we are all in your debt....specially me.

I'm often asked for my opinion on the future of Canopy Piloting. At this point I refuse to give my honest opinion. The US government defines "leadership is the process of influencing others to accomplish a task/goal by providing purpose, direction and motivation". I have tried to be a leader within the swooping community and the skydiving industry. I have attempted to provide the purpose, direction and motivation for people who want to get into canopy piloting, sponsor a canopy piloting event and promote canopy piloting. So instead of giving you my opinion I will only give some facts.

What I can tell you is there is no long line of drop zones or sponsors lining up to host the next big swoop event. Yes, canopy piloting will go on and there will be other large swoop events but here are some facts that many people don't know. Blade running and pond swooping both started in 1996 which were both successful but large colorful swoop events with large cash purses started with Lyle Presse. Yes, the Pond Swooping Nationals at the Ranch in NY were breaking new ground. They were raising more money each year for the cash purse by auctioning off donated items from industry sponsors. However, it was Lyle Presse that took $5,000 of his own money and put it up for grabs at his own evet in Daytona, FL called the "Daytona Challenge". Lyle made the event colorful and put it on a beach which attracted much attention including the local media. Lyle then partnered up with organizer Ali Hage on Margarita Island in Venezuela to host the largest swoop event of it's kind....the Venezuela Challenge. The event was so successful they organized it a second time which brought attracted even more competitors and showed swooping like never before. Grandstands, colorful props, dancing girls with matching outfits and slick competitor jerseys. The Venezuela Challenge raised tens of thousands of dollars and set the bar even higher for all future competitions. 

Shortly thereafter the Ranch in NY managed to raise the single highest cash purse payout in the US with $20,000! As quickly as the large cash purses and swoop competition got big at the Ranch it was gone. Swooping became an official sport called "Canopy Piloting" and the US started hosting the real Nationals of swooping. Then in 2006 the Pro Swooping Tour with host Mile Hi Skydiving matched the single highest payout in American history with a $20,000 cash purse. Simply put swoopers got spoiled and accustomed to swoop events with large cash purses. Around this time we all had hopes and dreams that swooping would make it to TV so the large investment from our sponsors would be worth the return. However, the following five years would teach us that it is a much longer and complicated road. The swoop community started realizing it would have troubles trying to continue giving away large cash purses. Most people think (or hope) that someone is going to see our events and we are going to hit the big time and make it on TV. Even though this is possible it is highly unlikely. If you look at how other extreme sports made it onto TV you get an idea of how long that road really is. Again, I'm not saying it's not possible but there is much to be done and it will take hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The old saying is true, "You have to have money to make money". In all honesty I believe I have talked with enough networks executives to know how swooping could get on scheduled TV but its all about the money. In fact, if I had $250,000 I could have the five PST events on EXPN or equivalent all next season...guarenteed. I have the contacts, know the executives, the production companies and most of all I know how to get the TV time but it all cost money. To complicate things any investor would have to commit their money for only a 50/50 chance that that the right demographic viewers would like it and continue to watch it . So you see our largest How many people do you know that will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to receive a 50/50 chance they will lose all their money? Still there is much to look forward to but the sport needs more leaders and more athletes. The bigger the sport the better the chances of getting what we want. Unfortunately our sport is small. I have been a member of the USPA for over 15 years and the membership is still the same after all these years? What does that say about the future of our sport?

Well, enough of all of this. I will retain all of my Trademarks and properties including my canopy piloting websites which will stay online for the community.  In addition, both the Ground Launch Center and the Canopy Piloting School will continue as normal. Even though I won't be actively organizing I will still be pushing canopy piloting through my event management and production company. You never know, things might change and bring me out of retirement.

You don't know what you got until it's gone so I hope I have done swooping community well. I leave the swooping the way I entered it....humbled.