Sonya Higley started skydiving in 2003 and immediately fell in love with the sport and community. She went on to become a static-line and tandem instructor who, while working in Hawaii and all over Washington state, has taken thousands of students on their first jumps. Higley is also a Safety and Training Advisor who operates a drop zone in Washington—Skydive Chelan—that she owns with her husband, Todd. She is very supportive and encouraging of her fellow skydivers.
Birthplace: Seattle, Washington
Marital Status: Married
Children: An amazing son who will have just turned 3 years old by the time this goes to print
Pets: A golden retriever/German shepherd mix who is going on 13 years with us now
Occupation: DZO, skydiving instructor
Education: Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, University of Washington in Seattle
Transportation: Dodge RAM truck
Pet Peeves: Loud chewing
Life Philosophy: Trust God
Hard Opening or Line Twists? Depends on the size of the canopy
Neat Packer or Trash Packer? Super neat
Jump Philosophy: Know as much as you can; always learn more!
Container: Velocity Sports Equipment
Main Canopy: Precision Xaos
Reserve Canopy: Precision MicroRaven 120
Home Drop Zone: Skydive Chelan
First Jump: A tandem, then static-line progression at Skydive Snohomish in Washington in 2003
Licenses, Ratings and Appointments: A-49060, C-36140, D-29840; Coach and Static-Line and Tandem Instructor; Safety and Training Advisor
Total Number of Jumps: Between 5,000 and 6,000 Freefly: Most of my sport jumps Tandems: Thousands FS: Handful Wingsuit: Handful BASE: Handful
Total Number of Cutaways: One, on a sport rig
What was your canopy progression?
Enormous student canopy to reasonable! As a licensed jumper, I put a lot of jumps on a 150 and 135 before going smaller, and then I went really big again with doing tandems!
How long do you plan on skydiving?
I don’t see an end.
What do you like most about the sport?
Friendships and freefalling.
What do you like least about the sport?
Seeing egos get in the way of making someone new to the sport feel welcome.
Who has been your skydiving mentor?
There are a lot of people. I learned so much from my husband, Todd Higley, who has a solid answer to anything related to the sport! I deeply admire the highly experienced jumpers who take time to acknowledge new, excited jumpers and genuinely encourage them, like Ash White (rest in peace), Kelly Craig, Jordan McElderry and Vladimir Ursachii.
What are your future skydiving goals?
As a drop zone owner, it is to increase our lift capacity at Skydive Chelan and continue hosting special Skydive Retreats, where we bring our team along with a Jet Ranger helicopter to some beautiful locations for skydiving.
What safety item do you think is most important or most often neglected?
I’m not sure if I would pick an item over the mind. I think each person needs to reflect on their emergency procedures and think about every possible scenario so they have a plan. Check your gear to prevent malfunctions, have a dive plan and a canopy plan and know who is in the air with you.
How did you become interested in skydiving?
I watched my brother start jumping. Luckily, a tandem instructor took me at cost because I was a broke college student. One jump, and I was hooked.
I skydive because …
I love it.
Do you have any suggestions for students?
Calm your mind with breathing and visualize the entire dive flow. Learn about your gear and how it functions. You’ll be there before you know it.
What is the most bad-ass thing you can do in the air?
What kind of skydiving student were you, the typical flailer or a complete natural from jump one?
I was able to afford only one jump a month, so it took forever and was not the best way to learn something, yet I passed each jump, fairly stable, with a really flat arch!
Were you a hard child to raise?
What do you consider your most significant life achievement?
Being a mom.
While on a skydive, what has been your strangest thought?
Is that my snot or my tandem student’s?
What drives your competitive spirit?
What skills do you possess that helped you take thousands of people, most of whom were larger than you, on tandem skydives?
The ability to relax and communicate with students. The more comfortable they are, the easier everything is.
Now that you’re a mom, do you take any different safety precautions while skydiving?
No, I’ve always been as safe as possible (which means knowing as much as possible ... winds, gear, etc.). I literally do everything in my power to create a safe skydive, then stay ready to anticipate a major change so I have room to adjust.
What challenges have you had in this male-dominated sport, and what advice would you give to other women looking to make a career out of instructing tandems?
Honestly, out of my 4,000 tandems, I have had only one person refuse to go with me because they felt more comfortable with a male instructor, and I was not offended. Actually, I have had hundreds of requests because I am a female. As with anything in life, we will all have challenges and support. Remember that challenges are in fact supporting you if you do the right thing with those challenges.
Any closing comments?
Whether you have been in this sport for a couple hours (for a tandem) or 17 years (yikes I’m old!), you’ve experienced something phenomenal together. That bond is deep and pretty dang special … as you all know!