I was a loopy kid growing up in Southern California, wandering around in my own private selfie. Life wasn’t sterling, but getting out of the house and playing each day until dark was the path by which I survived. I would jump from the low parts of our roof with a shaky umbrella or quartered-up bedsheet, neither of which worked. I always crashed with a thud. But the seed was planted, and it wouldn’t be long before I’d try it for real. I was afraid of mediocrity, of living forever in a constant state of castigation or being crippled somehow for my youthful ill-accomplishments. This was my world.
Nothing of any substance entered my life until 1975. At the start of what was going to be a dull, lazy summer, a lifelong buddy asked a rather harrowing question: “If I can set it up, would you like to go learn how to skydive?” Though I gave him a resounding yes, I wasn’t too assured that this adventure would ever take shape. Knowing him, I figured at best it would be a few weeks until he’d call and ask me again.
He phoned me back 10 minutes later and asked, “What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Great,” I thought. “Now I’ve gone and done it.”
We went to a little-known hole-in-the-wall called Skydive Lake Elsinore. And who knew where the hell that was? But suddenly, after becoming a jumper, I received validation in the eyes of my peers and doting fame from the neighbor girls. Questions, misunderstandings of my mental stability and perceptions of a wondrous, beguiling eccentricity surrounded me. I became somebody for a minute, and it felt like I just conquered the world.
Jumping became a new and potent remedy for changing my haphazard existence. Nothing stopped me from motorcycle adventures, mountain climbing or anything else I wanted to do, but the reality of my life was this: At 20, I couldn’t afford the logistics of traveling hours away from home and paying someone to teach me how to hurl myself from planes. I knew I had to get a job.
Easy enough—I joined the Air Force. Things started to fly. I charged headlong into airborne school, joined weekend military parachute clubs and became a licensed, freefall skydiver. I learned parachuting from the ground up. I made demonstration skydives in Korea and competed in accuracy meets thrown together by the old European Parachute League. I eventually returned to jump with my civilian friends in California. To their surprise, the puny kid from high school was now touting accomplishments such as participating in European big-ways and making canopy stacks over castle estates along the Rhine River Valley.
Experts like Pat Moorehead, Stu Watkins and Tommy Stubblefield taught me about show performances and aerial sportsmanship. I learned to fly 4-way CRW [canopy relative work, now called canopy formation] rotations and developed good tandem manners from my friends in Shreveport, Louisiana. The professional cadre at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs taught me AFF skills. There, I excelled in my eventual forte—videoing 4-way formation skydiving—with the Wings of Blue Parachute Team. I participated in seven USPA National Skydiving Championships and flew video for the 4-way FS team Mile High Levitation.
With parachuting, I thrived at something huge in my life. I built lifelong friendships and established a confidence that made me proud of my personal and team accomplishments. From sunset solos to memorial gatherings for friends lost in this sport, the tranquility in my heart will never go away. Skydiving challenged me and forged an unending passion for learning, travel, work and play. Jumping changed my life in a thousand ways, all of them dynamic and all of them undeniably magnificent.
Byron Dormire | D-8933 and author of “Demo Details—Parachute Demonstration Performances”