"FATE"

 By Jim Hooper SCR #242, SCS #90 & NSRC #26

 

 

"Fate,"as Lorelei in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes observed philosophically, "keeps on happening." Okay, okay, I know what you're thinking - Lorelei was a bimbo, but man, she definitely got that right. I know, 'cause fate happened to me back in…uh, er…oh hell, why be coy: it was 1965. That's when another aspiring linguist at the Presidio of Monterey in California told me life was meaningless without skydiving. "Yeah, right," I muttered, head buried in a foreign grammar book.

But like a charismatic preacher determined to save my immortal soul, he wouldn't let go. "I used to be a surfer," he admitted, as though having once given into low temptation, "but then"-and his face lit up-"I discovered skydiving." I sighed and turned a page. "Ya gotta try it!" he said. Go away. He showed me his parachute. Get outta here. He said I could try it on. I'm studying. He said chicks thought skydivers were cool. I closed the grammar book. This put a whole new slant on it. "Lemme see that thing," I said. When main and reserve were cinched tight, I caught a reflection in the window. My 20-year-old jaw took a more mature and manly set. "So what was that about chicks?" I asked, cool as can be.

Next day, I'm hammering on the door of the Fort Ord Sport Parachute Club in a barely suppressed hormonal frenzy. After two hours of exits, PLFs and packing a California break-cord static-line rig ("Don't forget to take out the temporary packing pins," said instructor Dick Mills, D-753), I headed to Sears for some mechanic's coveralls and hand-stitched the club patch on a shoulder. Whoo-eee! I thought, checking the mirror, look out, girls! Then two lieutenants took the club's U-6 Beaver for a night time joyride and crashed it in a river. So no airplane. As for girls, I was unbelievably shy. God, the opportunities missed. Anyway, weeks passed with…"I can't get no-oh…sat-is-fac-shu-un…"

Jim Hooper after 1st jump April 25, 1965 - Hollister California"Mind paying $2.50 for your first jump?" Mills finally asked, and whisked me and another fool to Hollister, where we were carried aloft to certain death. I think it was the first time since puberty that unwholesome thoughts completely disappeared, replaced by: Did I take out those packing pins? Oh please, oh please. When that 28-footer whip-slammed me off my back, I gazed up in wonder and then way dowwnnn in that amazing silence. Oh-my-God. On Monday, I swaggered into the Parachute Club of America office in Monterey and handed Jim Hooper after 1st jump, April 25, 1965-Hollister, CA 

Norm Heaton ten bucks to join. Four jumps later, despite seeing greenbluegreenbluegreenblue each time ("ARCH!" Mills kept writing in my logbook), I was cleared for freefall. "But I haven't pulled my dummy ripcord even once," I said, going pale.

"No sweat, you'll get the real one next time," Mills said with what seemed unwarranted optimism. "Don't want to stay on static line forever, do you?"

"No," I lied.

The place of execution changed when my Presidio classmate threw me and two six-packs into his Pontiac, and we roared south to a dusty airstrip called Arvin. Next morning, my friend introduced me to his buddies.

"Hoop's been jumping at Ft Ord."

"I hear they do a lot of falling there," someone smirked.

Falling? I thought. What else do you do when you jump out of an airplane?

Then it was a rush to get me in the air before the winds came up, and thirty minutes later I'm dangling outside Walt Mercer's airplane and wondering if I can hang on till it runs out of gas and we have to land. "Go!" jumpmaster Brian Williams shouted over the roar. You're going to die, I thought. The next thing, I'm under a canopy and staring at the shiny ripcord in my hand.

"Yeeowwww!"

While waiting for my next jump, I stared open-mouthed at what was happening above and realized there was far more to jumping out of an airplane than just falling. At the bottom of the page in my logbook, I wrote, "Saw…two five-man stars. Wow!" Fate hadn't just happened, dear reader; she had me in the hottest clinch of my young life and was whispering wonderfully naughty things in my ear.

 

ARRIVING AT Z'HILLS

Fast forward three years and I'm heading home from Germany to civilian life. With just 166 jumps (due to only one free weekend in six to make the ten-hour DZ journey), my 12 hookups had made me the Berlin club's hottest relative worker. It hadn't been easy, though, as Europeans saw RW as breathtakingly irresponsible and dangerous. But those two 5-man stars at Arvin had altered the meaning of life. Fate was still happening, too, what with the family home lying barely 40 miles from a sleepy town called Zephyrhills.

The date was 5 October, 1968, when I parked my Triumph TR-3 in front of the Rangers Parachute Club at Z'hills and met Wally. It didn't take long to tell him how good I was in the air. He was very impressed. Another jumper arrived and a three-man was mooted. "Sure," I said, not mentioning I'd never been in anything that big. "But you'll have to go last," Wally said in deference to my vast experience. Last?!

As the 450hp Cessna 195 rockets to 12,5 and jump run I'm trying to remember if I've ever read anything in Parachutist about going third. "CUT!" and Wally's gone. Shuffle. Next one's gone. Uhhh, and I'm out, by which time Wally is a speck. Gosh, that's a long way to go. Let's see, arms back, spread those French boots and…OOOPS!

By the time they get together I'm amazed I'm not only catching up, but heading straight for 'em. Whoosh. Getting closer. This is easier than I thought. Whoooshhh. Wow, never gone this fast. WHOOOOSH! Still straight at 'em and smokin'. Man, I'm good. Closer. Closer. Closer. Closer-closer-closerclosercloserrrr…suddenly they're getting really big really fast…and…and…omigod…I don't know how to stop! Wally looks up, eyes expanding to saucer-size. KA-WHAM! and I ricochet into space, seeing stars that are entirely unrelated to a circle of skydivers in freefall.

Stable again, I excitedly look around for another target. I mean, how cool was that? I got there! Then, wayyy above me, I spot the poor guy who took the full force of my hotshot relative work. Come on down, I motion. He sees me, shakes his head in horror, and pulls. Wimp. I'm first on the ground. Next, grimacing and favoring his back, is the coward who wouldn't play anymore.

Finally, not looking in tip-top shape, here comes Wally. He's sporting a gash across one cheek from shattered goggles, a bleeding nose, split lips, the front of his jumpsuit a gory Jackson Pollack. Ooops. I pull off my T-shirt, run to a faucet and run back. He's sitting dazed, breathing like a stalled locomotive - "UHHHHGH-shhhgh, UHHHHGH-shhhgh" - as I make an effort to mop up the gore. He tries to speak, falters, and tries once more, but what comes out makes about as much sense as Eskimo. His eyes slowly uncross and there's a reflexive spasm when the face above him matches a frozen snapshot of me hurtling towards him. Eyes widen for second, then slam closed again. I'm still wiping as one re-opens cautiously. Knowing what a hotshot skydiver I am, he hesitates before asking somewhat plaintively, "Goin' a little - uhhhhgh - a little fast, were'ncha?"

"Naa," I chuckle with rare bonhomie, "that's how we do it where I come from." After a long and painful silence, he nods. Relative work is pretty new in Florida and he might not be familiar with all the latest techniques. By now one eye is swollen shut. Some technique.

"I got a cou'le first ju'ppers t' 'ut out," he mumbles between lips thickening to rival Mick Jagger's, "'ut I don't think I can. 'Ould you do it?"

"Sure, but you owe me."

Boy, did he ever. Like kicking my sorry ass from one end of the drop zone to the other.

 

FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES

Skip ahead another few years and, as captain of the Ten High Bunch, I'm now among the Jedi Knights of RW and edging towards diamond wings. Adidas have replaced frenchies, piggybacks are more common than gutter gear, squares share equal billing with rounds. (Spectacular ram-air malfunctions, the result of imaginative packing and reefing systems, are greeted with immensely irritating shouts of "ROUND IS SOUND!" from us diehards.) The last load has landed and one of my former students is babbling.

"Skydiving sure has come a long way the last coupla years," he said, watching as I swung and whopped down my light-weight round. I looked up. "Anyone owe a case of beer?" I asked thirstily. Man, it had been a hot day.

"Don'cha think it's come a long way the past coupla years?" he persisted. I turned to stuffing my Starlight into its bag. But not before smiling good-naturedly and, "Any first freefalls today?" I was gasping for a cold Bud.

"Well, I'd say they've changed," he said like the smartass know-it-all he was.

Pulling up a line stow, I looked around for frosty relief. "What about a first standup?" Someone had to owe a case for something.

He changed tack. "Ya know, when I started jumping there weren't even Wonder Hogs? I mean, not even Strato Stars! Can you dig it?"

He was getting a little worked up so I tried steering him in a more productive direction. "How 'bout a first hookup?" Big mistake.

"Ardubbya! Man, like ardubbya has really come a long way. Would you believe it took me over 200 jumps before I got my first 20-man?"

I sighed sympathetically. It came out like a Gila monster though - "H-s-s-s-s-k-k-k" - my mouth was so dry. "That's tough," I croaked. "How 'bout a firs…"

"TOUGH?! I guess it was tough! I couldn't get on a big load till I had 70-80 jumps. All you skygods," he said with ill-concealed truculence, "wouldn't let on 'em me 'cause ya knew I'd burn ya." I bristled ever so slightly. "Maybe a first pee-cee jump?" I asked civilly. I could have been talking to the windsock.

"Yeah, like that was back in the days when you hotshots could hardly do a 20-second ten-man. Talk about bad." I glowered at my last line stow. "Five second exits outta DC-3! Hah!" I pondered my shortsightedness in ever clearing this dork for freefall. Probably didn't even buy a case of beer for it. He pointed at a teenager meticulously flaking a cheapo. "The Kid over there got his ess-cee-ess today, on his sixty-fourth jump."

As a seasoned skydiver, I was immediately struck by the deeper meaning of this. "He owes a case of beer," I said hoarsely, already tasting that cold Bud.

"Hey, Kid," he bellowed, "congratulations on gettin' your ess-cee-ess. It's really som'pen what's happened in ardubbya the last coupla years."

The Kid ducked his head respectfully. "How long you been jumping?"

"Almost three years," he said with the air of a grizzled veteran. "Hell, when I started, there weren't even Wonder Hogs or even …"

I picked up my rig and escaped around the corner of the building, where Phil Smith, a Ten High Bunch team mate and pal, was squeezing the last drops from an upended can of brew. I sighed in relief. Saved by a buddy. "Where ya been, Hoop?" he belched delicately, tossing the empty over his shoulder. "The beer's all gone."

 

IN THE BEGINNING

Ya gotta understand that - we're doing a flashback now - for those who were there when ParaCommanders were hot, the advances in technique and technology have been mind-boggling. Of course, them wuz the days when we listened to most anyone with over 100 jumps, and stood in awe of D-license holders, the "serious jumpers," who dedicated their weekends to style and accuracy.

Not that we cared much for downwind landings or stepping out alone at six-six. Right turn, left turn, back loop? What kind of fun was that? For us, it was all about climbing as high as we had money for and trying to grab a buddy in freefall. Sure, there were grumbles heard when one of our "fun" loads squeaked in ahead of a "serious" load, but, being young, loud, and totally obnoxious, we pretty much ignored 'em. Serious jumping? Gimme a break. We reveled in the camaraderie, our abilities as skydivers (or mindless missiles, take your pick), and wowing the whuffos with bone-crushing stand-ups. Man, is she hot. Look cool. Do not limp.

But the sport was on the cusp of a seismic shift, and all because of a raggedy bunch of skydivers at Arvin, that dusty California drop zone where I'd seen those two five-man stars. When it came to shaking things up, 'ol Adam and Eve didn't have nuthin' on these guys and gals. In fact, when you get right down to it, they were sorta like that Serpent in the Garden of Eden. Try thisss, it'sss good. It was an apple too tempting to resist. We'd been reading about them for a while in Parachutist and Lyle Cameron's Skydiver Magazine on account of photographer Bob Buquor, who thought that a bunch of people in a circle made for neat pictures. So we were seeing photos of six and seven and even eight man 'stars'. That's what they were calling these things, see. Stars. Relative work and stars. It was crazy.

With a little foresight, PCA could have stepped in right there and put an end to all that foolishness. But no, they just made it worse by publishing a photo of a nine-man star with Paul Gorman doing relative work stuff to make the world's first ten-man star. Like right on the magazine's cover! Can you believe it? It was a pretty neat picture, I gotta admit, being the first relative working ten-man star and all, but ol' PCA still didn't know what the hell they were letting themselves in for. Then some skydivers at Elsinore in California went and made a ten-man star, too. The next thing we heard was that there was going to be a ten-man star meet! I mean, like it was okay…like there wasn't anything wrong with it. Hell, it wasn't like style or accuracy or anything. In fact, it was pretty cool when you stopped to think about it.

And so it came to pass that these two tribes of starmakers became envious of the other:

2. And each thought unto themselves that honor and glory should abide by them in their own tents;

3. And so did each tribe covet such honor and glory that they gathered themselves together within the Temple called Rûm'bul-seat-bar, there to write Holy Words that were also called Rules;

4. And so did they agree always to abide by these Rules;

5. Then did they go to a place called Taft to be carried into the firmament and do battle according to the Rules agreed in the Temple called Rûm'bul-seat-bar;

6. And the tribe chosen by the Elders, who were also called Judges, was the Tribe of Âr-vîn;

7. And so did the Tribe of Âr-vîn lead a great uprising against the old gods of Stil and Ak'u-râ-sai;

8. And the New God was good and was called Ser'i-ias rél'î-tav-wêrk.

Meanwhile, back in Florida… "An ardubbya meet! They're making ten-man stars in competition!" Suddenly, there was a purpose to our fun: Big Stars, and we became dedicated disciples of the New Order, aligning ourselves with the California bad boys and girls. Our hair grew long. We adopted Dow's company slogan of "Better Living Through Chemistry." We boogied with abandon, greeting the dawns with thumping hangovers and bloodshot eyes, grabbing an hour or two of snooze before the early morning load. Our obsession with ardubbya overrode everything. Don't get me wrong - we still laughed at our mistakes and didn't expect to get a four-man every time, only now we started asking why we'd slid past the baseman; why did we go below?

Sandwiched between almost fifty pounds of surplus belly wart and B12 backpack, we struggled to turn falling into flight, discovering how to arrive on wrists without orbiting our goal too many times; how to break in without flipping through the middle; how to fly with the star once we were there; and how to break off (even on purpose sometimes) without getting tangled up in the jumper next to us. With two Cessnas in formation, our stars grew to five and six and sometimes even seven as we tried to copy those awesome California jumpers. Before long, we were striving to earn an 'E' patch and number, devised by Californian Bill Newell and worn only by those who'd been in an Eight-man star. When it became known as Star Crest Recipient - an 'ess-cee-ar' - rumor was the letters actually stood for Southern California Regular. We despaired ever getting an ess-cee-ar.

 Bill Newell poses with The Family 10-way team at Zephyrhills, Florida, November, 1969.
Standing - left to right: Jeff Searles, Tom Anderson, Jim Hooper, Russ Petty, Jim Bohr (eating a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken), Jerry Tyson and Paul Schlee.
Kneeling - left to right: Tom Larson, Helen Tyson, John Sherman, Bill Newell, and Texan, Bruce Cunningham. Jeff Searles and Jim Hooper were the first ones to invite 10-way teams from around the nation to congreate and participate.

Bill Newell poses with The Family 10-way team at Zephyrhills, Florida, November, 1969.
Standing - left to right: Jeff Searles, Tom Anderson, Jim Hooper, Russ Petty, Jim Bohr (eating a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken), Jerry Tyson and Paul Schlee.
Kneeling - left to right: Tom Larson, Helen Tyson, John Sherman, Bill Newell, and Texan, Bruce Cunningham. Jeff Searles and Jim Hooper were the first ones to invite 10-way teams from around the nation to congreate and participate.

 

In 1969, Serious Relative Work reached across the continent with the First Annual Big Z Meet, and three 10-man teams were on hand for it: a somewhat amorphous group of Z'hills jumpers I'd been pestering for months; The Family from Hinckley, Illinois (makers of the first eight-man outside California); and one from Taft, come to show us yokels how it was done. All the Hinckley and Taft jumpers had Big Stars in their logbooks, but none of us Florida skydivers did. We didn't stand a chance. Doomed.

And then - would you believe it? - Fate happened again. The Family had arrived a few members short. When team captain John Sherman offered me a slot, I glanced back at my Z'hills buds and agonized about deserting them - for about one nanosecond. "YEAH!"

The first day of the meet dawned with horizontal rain as everyone gazed longingly at a wet DC-3 rocking in the gusts. It cleared. Heart in my throat, I squeezed into the Family's lineup. GO! Late on Sunday the scores for four completed rounds were posted. Jaws dropped. The Family and Taft were even at 28 points. Judges Skratch Garrison, Tag Taggart and Bill Newell explained that, with a tie, the largest star decided. And who had a tie-breaking nine-man? Oh, Lordy, The Family! I had finally become a true Serious Relative Worker, verified as much by the first-place trophy as the striking SCR patch handed to me by Bill Newell himself. Ten minutes later, it was sewn on my jumpsuit.

My accomplishment shone ever brighter when the latest girlfriend, a coed of considerable personal attractions, insisted I spend the next weekend at her Gainesville DZ. I started to protest, but her raised eyebrow above that private smile…well, o-kay. ("Boy, is she leading you around by the nose," someone said, though I don't think "nose" was the word he actually used.) Anyway, the next Saturday, she and I are suiting up for a load, when one of the Gainesville jumpers does a celluloid double take. I'm thinking he's scoping out my new squeeze but, as he sidles closer, I realize it's not her tits he's looking at. It's my SCR patch. He stops, clears his throat, and says:

"You from California?"

It was a heady moment.

 

GETTING SERIOUS

The following year, we decided to get serious, starting with Being On Time. We all agreed on it: me, Moriarity, Robbie Redneck, Rumpson, Yossarian, Foul, Step, Ferndock, Goose and The Briss. On Time. And we were, mostly. So now instead of going up with just anyone in the bright and early of a weekend morning we grumbled about who was late. Instead of laughing at each other's mistakes, we grizzled in a whole new skydiving lexicon…sliding, turning, floating, sinking, under it, over it, funneled, and "That star was flying like a goddamn Lays potato chip!"

Hooper closing to complete first competition ten-man star outside California, 1970 Z'hills Turkey Meet.

 

 

 

 

Hooper closing to complete first competition ten-man star outside California, 1970 Z'hills Turkey Meet.

 

 

 

 

The irony of our single-mindedness escaped us, of course. While we'd never considered hanging ourselves in a style harness for a workout, now we sweated at cramming as many of us as possible into the smallest possible space. And after shaking our heads at the thumps and bumps of downwind accuracy landings, we raked our shins and bloodied our faces on tight exits. But we weren't like those style and accuracy freaks. Nooo, not us.

There was, of course, a price to be paid, 'cause by now the girlfriend - "Do we have to spend every weekend at the drop zone?" - decided she deserved more enough attention, and went

off to be a stewardess. I was heart-broken. Really. At least until my next class of first jumpers - "That doesn't look too comfortable, Sugar. Let me adjust these straps a little. Is that better? Now let me see you arch. Oh my Lord, those are…I mean, that's just perfect." (Listen, just because I was a bad boy doesn't make me a bad person.)

Standing - left to right: Col Jim Haerer, pilot, Jeff Searles, Robbie Taylor, Billy Revis, Ron Brissey, Mike Patterson, Larry Gossler, Laban 'Step' Lively.
Kneeling - left to right: Phil Smith, Bob Burr, Jim Hooper, John Sherman.

 

 

 

Standing - left to right: Col Jim Haerer, pilot, Jeff Searles, Robbie Taylor, Billy Revis, Ron Brissey, Mike Patterson, Larry Gossler, Laban 'Step' Lively.

Kneeling - left to right: Phil Smith, Bob Burr, Jim Hooper, John Sherman

.

 

 

In 1970, the newly minted Ten High Bunch (remember that amorphous group I'd deserted the year before?) kicked off the re-named Z'hills Turkey Meet with the first competition 10-man outside California, finishing in first place. The next year, we were edged out by a bunch of wild, hard-partying Texans from Valley Mills, and had to settle for silver. In January '72, the PCA Board of Directors met in Tampa, where they were hounded unmercifully by me and John Sherman about recognizing our new discipline. Soon thereafter, the Board issued a ground-breaking decision: there would be a 10-man event at that year's National Championships, but with only first- and second-place medals. Those qualified to attend were the top three teams from the '71 Rumbleseat and Z'hills meets. Oh shit. Time to get seriously serious.

Standing - left to right: Col Jim Haerer, pilot, Jeff Searles, Robbie Taylor, Billy Revis, Ron Brissey, Mike Patterson, Larry Gossler, Laban 'Step' Lively.
Kneeling - left to right: Phil Smith, Bob Burr, Jim Hooper, John Sherman

 

 

Standing - left to right: Col Jim Haerer, pilot, Jeff Searles, Robbie Taylor, Billy Revis, Ron Brissey, Mike Patterson, Larry Gossler, Laban 'Step' Lively.

Kneeling - left to right: Phil Smith, Bob Burr, Jim Hooper, John Sherman

 

 

 

 

Arriving in Tahlequah a week early with the Z'hills DC-3 - which would be the official jump ship for the event - we dived straight into practice jumps. And, to our dismay, watched the California teams cutting at least two seconds off their exits by swinging people outside. Our cockiness evaporated. What a bunch of cheaters. Show us where the rules don't allow it, they said smugly. The day before competition started, our base dragged me to one side. "We can take a three-man out the door," they whispered, looking around for spies.

"What?"

"Shhhh. Yeah. Fog will swing outside, Rumpson will back out, with Maznio holding him, and they'll exit with Fog hanging on..."

"What?"

"...and then open into a three-man."

Mike Patterson, Terry Maznio and Don 'Fog' Fournier working on taking a three-man piece out of the DC-3. No one had the slightest worry about Don 'Fog' Fournier's belly reserve squeezed against the fuselage.

 

 
 
 
 
Mike Patterson, Terry Maznio and Don 'Fog' Fournier working on taking a three-man piece out of the DC-3. No one had the slightest worry about Don 'Fog' Fournier's belly reserve squeezed against the fuselage.

 

 

 

 

 

My look was scornful but mutiny was in the air. "Okay, we'll try it next jump. But how the hell will Fog hold on out there?" The moment they carried the first-piece-ever out of a DC-3, there were dark mutterings about cheating from a couple of the other teams. Hey, I said with irritating smugness, show me in the rules where it's not allowed. But if we'd regained the initiative, an unnamed West Coast team was plotting a pre-emptive chemical attack. At a party that night someone handed me an open beer. California Rules specifically stated that all was fair when it came to the first 10-man Nationals.

"Thanks," I said innocently.

"Dynamite exit, Hoop."

"Thanks." These California guys weren't so bad, after all.

"We got you guys at 23 seconds on that last jump. That's hot."

Wow, I thought about an hour later, look at all the cool colors in here. And they're moving. Wow.

"You feelin' okay, Hoop? Ready for another beer?"

Late that night a van pulled up at our tent city on the airport. I stumbled out, took a long, curving course that led me through the campfire and into the side of the DC-3 - thud! - where I was heard talking to it about the mysteries of the universe - women, mostly - until dawn touched the horizon. But youth has amazing powers of recuperation, especially in the crisp early morning air at 12.5, and we put together a first-round, precision-built star in 25.7 seconds. Then disaster on the next round, with a sloppy exit seeing us scored at 30.6. No! Team huddle. Because of clouds, we'd been at 12.5 for more than twenty minutes. Never mind that we'd had the option of landing with the plane; we were obviously too hypoxic to make a rational decision. Snivel time, and I handed our protest to far-too-nice Chief Judge Skratch. "Altitude?" he asked, before even reading it. "Yep," I blushed. The next day, we had his agonized decision: rejumn that one, we turned a sizzling 21.5, putting us second to Jerry Bird's All Stars. However great it was to have that silver hanging from my neck, it would be forever just a little tarnished.

Tight exit cartoon

And then it was time to board the Ten High Starship for home. The FAA was not amused when, ten minutes after departing Tahlequah, our DC-3 reappeared, props picking up dust as it headed for the competitors' tent. "A hundred bucks if you knock it down," Billy Revis said to Pablo in the left seat, "a thousand if you go under it." My eyes widened as the tent filled the windscreen. Then, at the last second, back on the yoke and climbing to get over it, leaving canvas flapping and writhing in our wake. Those who were inside the tent were talking about it years later.

Course set for Z'hills, Pablo gave us a little zero-G that left everyone whooping in mid-air. More! More! Nose down, building up the airspeed, back on the yoke, up, up, and then over again as we came off the floor and pushed away from the sides. Our first RW attempt was blocked by floating cases of Coors, but on the next try - the first-ever zero-gravity ten-man! Ya-HOO!

Oh, and the team that sent me to La-La Land? No medals for them, ho-ho-ho.

 

LEGACY

And so it came to pass that ten people who had turned away from style and accuracy because of the effort required, found themselves among the best relative workers in the world. But the skills they'd mastered hadn't come through some airy-fairy, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull "Perfect speed is being there" crap; rather it was through sheer grit and determination, leavened with lots of trial and error, failures and successes. We were among the architects, adding another course to the foundations of a new skydiving discipline, borrowing tools from two or three other teams around the country, sharing ours with them. And like them, we delighted in turning new jumpers onto the magic of what we did, helping more and more to get their SCRs. Our lives were indistinguishable from our passion. Sometimes, for fun, we'd reverse the exit order, and long before Bill Newell came up with the SCS in 1971, we had all entered a round star eighth or later. Why, we wondered, didn't the start with Brian Williams, the guy who jumpmastered me that day at Arvin?* He was the one who entered last to make the first eight man star six years earlier.

But however magical the era, as time went on, something unexpected began to happen. Tempers and friendships grew short; desire and dedication among a few began to waver. Some chose to leave our ranks; others faded quietly into memory. And often they left with a certain bitterness, as though they had somehow been deceived by their sport. In the beginning it had been a simple, unpressured enjoyment that nurtured us; later, it was the pride of accomplishment that fed our hunger. And the two do not provide the same emotional nourishment for all.

Ten High Bunch heading for 1st 10-Man Nationals at Tahlequah, OK 1972. 
Standing - left to rught: Billy Revis,  Phil Smith, Tony Patterson, Jeff Searles, Ron Brissey, Don Fournier, Mary Donnan. Hooper on wing of Lockheed L10E. 
Kneeling - left to right: Terry Maznio, Mike Patterson, Dennis Glaves.
Ten High Bunch heading for 1st 10-Man Nationals at Tahlequah, OK 1972.
Standing - left to rught: Billy Revis, Phil Smith, Tony Patterson, Jeff Searles, Ron Brissey, Don Fournier, Mary Donnan. Hooper on wing of Lockheed L10E.
Kneeling - left to right: Terry Maznio, Mike Patterson, Dennis Glaves.

One is bright and transitory, a moveable feast enjoyed when- and wherever we choose, the other more premeditated, requiring a commitment not all are willing or able to make. One asks a minimum of involvement; the other demands a measure of sacrifice. One kept many of us from style and accuracy; the other lured us into a new and, at the time, peculiarly American event, which has since been copied around the world. But the legacy they all left - from Arvin to Z'hills, and Hinckley, Valley mills and Casa Grande in between - can be found on every drop zone today.

Well, I guess my ex-student was pretty much right, you know. When you stop to think about it, things really have come pretty far. Though hardly in just the last couple of years, I can tell ya that right now. Shoot, I can even remember who talked me into this crazy stuff, if you wanna hear about it.

No? Tough.

Well, I was like studying my Russian one night at the Presidio of Monterey when this terrific pounding started coming from the cubicle next to mine. Unfortunately, I can't concentrate too well with a lot of pounding going on, so I went around to see what was causing it. And there's this guy nailing up an 8X10 glossy of himself and some other guys standing in front of some airplane called a Twin Beech, all of 'em wearing coveralls and rucksacks or something. I didn't know, being a whuffo an' all. Anyway, before I can say anything, he sticks his hand out and says, "Hi, my name's Jerry Bird, I'm a skydiver," and right away starts telling me about all these weird skydiving things before I could even ask if you could breathe while you were skydiving around through the air.

Which led to me standing on a dusty drop zone called Arvin a few weeks later, staring up in wonder, and then writing in my near-virginal logbook: "Saw Bob Buquor, Brian Williams, Jerry Bird, Rod Pack and Bill Newell in two five-man stars. Wow!"

So there ya go. When you get right down to it, that Lorelei chick definitely knew what she was talking about. I mean, Fate really does keep on happening.

THE END

 

 After selling Z'hills Parachute Center in 1984, Hooper set off as a freelance journalist to cover Third World conflict as a war correspondent. His fifth book, A Hundred Feet Over Hell, was published by Zenith Press in April 2009.

 

Copyright 2009

Reprinted with permission from Parachutist Magazine

www.jimhooper.co.uk

www.comebackalive.com/df/authors.htm


*Editor's note: Due to popular demand and in recognition of his accomplishment, Brian is now listed as SCS#0.