When and why and how did you make your first skydive?
I had been dreaming about jumping since I first saw footage of people in freefall. It must have been the movie “Gypsy Moths” or TV show “Ripcord” because I was very young, sometime in the late 1960s. I always wanted to fly and skydiving looked like the closest thing to true human flight. It was my Freshman year at Ohio State University and I was finally old enough to jump. Back then we did our first jumps from 2800′ with a round parachute attached to a Cessna 172 with a static line. The DZ I started at was completely like the movie “Fandango”. A shed, a piece of crap Cessna, equipment that smelled even worse than it looked and an Instructor that was terrified even talking about parachuting. Pretty hilarious looking back at it.
How many jumps do you have now?
Your journey to this point has been eventful to say the least. What events in your life would you say have most shaped the person you are today?
Certainly making that first jump set my life in a different direction. Many things have happened since but none of them would have happened if I hadn’t gotten out of bed and headed to the drop zone that day in 1980. In addition, forcing myself to keep going back until I got my “A” license. I think returning to the DZ for the jumps leading up to my “A” license was even scarier than the first jump. After having made the first jump there is a reason not to go. I’d done it already. I accomplished the goal. It took all the courage and commitment I had to keep going back weekend after weekend, fighting the weather and my fear, to finally reach my goal of becoming a real licensed skydiver, one who learned to fly, not just fall. I learned a lot through that time about what courage and commitment truly mean and have used what I learned then to accomplish many goals since.
How long have you been the General Manager of Skydive Perris and what did you do prior to this?
I’ve been the GM at Skydive Perris since 2003.
1980, made my first jump
1981 – 1984, while going to Ohio State I worked at the Greene County Sport Parachute Center in Xenia, Ohio as an Instructor, Jumpmaster, Rigger, Pilot, lawn man, plane washer and
1985 – 1988, took over operations at Greene County
1983 – 1987, Competed in 4-way with “Greene County Fusion”. Silver medal in 4way at the 1986 US Nationals.
1989 – 1991, Competed in 4-way with “The Fource” in 4-way at Skydive AZ. Worked at the DZ coaching, Instructing and flying. Won my first Gold Medal in 4-way in 1991
1992 – 1993, Competed in 4-way with “Perris Airmoves”. Worked at Perris coaching, flying, organizing events and Instructing
1994 – 1999, Competed with AZ Airspeed. Won the 4-way World Championships 1995, 1997. The 4-way World Cup in 1994, 1996. The 4-way World Games in 1996. The 8-way World Cup in 1996. The 8-way World Championships in 1999. The 8-way World Cup in 2000. Silver in 8-way at 2001 World Meet.
2000 – 2002, Worked coaching and organizing events including the 300-Way World Record
What is it about Skydive Perris that makes you want to work and play here?
If you love skydiving and skydivers, and I do, then there is no better place to be. 2016 will be Skydive Perris’ 40th year of operation. Skydive Perris has played a huge role in the history and now the future of our sport. During these 40 years the owners have had an amazing vision for what a drop zone could and should be. They have put everything back into it and have built an operation that is basically unmatched. This past fall we hosted three consecutive world record events that welcomed skydivers from around the world to Perris. During that time we had 11 airplanes flying, trained hundreds of students, coached dozens of novice jumpers and provided a great place for experienced jumpers who weren’t a part of the records to jump and play. It’s an incredible place. Skydivers of every experience level and in all the skydiving disciplines share the planes and the skies together. We all look out for each other and work together to make it a fun, safe place to enjoy.
You’ve been jumping since time began. How has the sport changed since you started?
“Since time began.” Did you have to put it like that? The sport has changed in many ways, and not at all. Skydiving is not for everyone. It takes a special person to decide to jump out of a plane. People that don’t jump think we’re a bunch of adrenalin junkies but that’s not it at all. We are people of all ages, backgrounds, educations, occupations, religions, sexual orientations and nationalities that share one thing, a deep passion for flight. A passion so strong that we’re willing overcome our fears and commit ourselves to our dream of flight. This was true when I started jumping and it is true today. And it’s why I love skydivers and our community as a whole. It is truly a family.
Because of so many advances in equipment and training the sport is open to so many more people now. When I started jumping 95% of skydivers were men between 18 and 30 who were in good shape and could withstand the beating we got from hard landings and carrying around heavy equipment. Now we have some men and women who don’t even start skydiving until they’re in their sixties when they take up a new sport. There are also so many disciplines. Skydivers have discovered and developed Formation Skydiving, Freeflying, Canopy Piloting, Canopy Relative Work, Wing Suit Flying, Tracking and Angle flying, Accuracy and who knows what’s next. Each of these is their own discipline but they are all skydivers. One of the things I love most about Skydive Perris is we’re all skydivers first and skydivers of a particular discipline second.
Who are your skydiving mentors?
Thanks for not assuming I’ve been jumping too long to have mentors. John Woody and Jim Fangmeyer are definitely two of them. They introduced me to 4-way when I was 18 and had me on their team by the time I was 20. Chet Poland had a big impact on me. If you don’t know who he is you missed out. Chet was in his 80s during the 1980s. He was one of the original Barn Stormers from the 1920s. Even in his 80s he still loved skydiving and skydivers. When tandems were invented he was back in the air and wanted to jump anytime I could take him. He was an amazing man with an amazing heart. Several of the great teammates I’ve had the honor to jump with and learn so much from. James Layne for constantly reminding me I can learn a lot from people much younger than me.
What is your favorite skydiving discipline and why?
I truly love all the disciplines, even the ones I stink at. But if you told me I had to choose one way to skydive I’d have to pick 4way. The speed, precision and synchronicity demands such incredible flying. The communication you have with your teammates is amazing. You know how you watch a flock of birds go by and wonder how they stay so perfectly together, like they’re moving as one. That’s 4-way. And it’s so cool.
If you had to pick one (or two) skydives that you enjoyed the most of all you did which one(s) would you choose?
Glad I don’t have to pick because I truly love every jump I’ve made. But of course, jump number one has to be high on the list. It is a life changing experience for everyone that does it whether they continue with the sport or not.
There was also a jump at the 1995 World Championships where we came off the plane and immediately screwed up. It was such a break down that we lost at least 6 of the 35 seconds you have for working time during 4way competition. But then we pulled it together and did the fastest 4way jump we’d ever done, probably the fastest that any team had ever done at that time. After we landed the meet officials told us they had never seen a team move like that and accused us of doing some kind of performance enhancing drug. That was quite a compliment, especially seeing that we had no idea what drug could possibly be a performance enhancing drug for skydiving. The next World Games they started doing random drug tests with competitors. I was the only formation skydiving competitor they “randomly” chose. I passed of course (just in case you were going to ask).
You have multiple world records, which one are you most proud of?
The 300way was fabulous. Working with Jack Jefferies and George Jicha was an incredible experience. And putting a team together that was able to tackle the challenge was truly amazing. The 39 point 4way World Record we did at the 1999 Nationals was pretty special also. We had to wait for three days of weather holds sitting on this jump. It was driving me crazy. Because we had so long to wait I found myself over preparing, almost constantly dirt diving the jump. One night it was keeping me awake so I walked outside from the hotel room to dirt dive by myself and found my teammate Kirk Verner already standing outside doing the same thing. There we were, in the middle of the night, standing outside in our underwear, in the rain, practicing a jump that was obviously haunting us. Finally, the weather cleared and we got to make the jump, and set a new World Record.
What canopies do you jump and why?
PD Stiletto 120 and PD Optimum Reserve.
You are well known as an advocate for safety in our sport. What one piece of advice would you like to pass on to other skydivers?
I have over 26,000 jumps and I’ve never been injured skydiving. It’s not hard to skydive safely. But it’s also easy to take your eye off the ball and put yourself in potentially devastating situations. We are all too complacent. Because everything usually goes as planned we aren’t as prepared as we need to be when it doesn’t. Be prepared. Expect everything that can go wrong to go wrong. Practice your emergency procedures like you expect to have a malfunction on the next jump. Expect canopies to be close to you after opening like you’re doing a 100-way even when it’s a solo. Skydiving is not a safe sport. It’s a dangerous sport that we can do safely. Do it safely.
When you’re not at the drop zone how do you like to spend your spare time?
Enjoying time with my family. Getting outdoors at the beach or mountains.
Tell us something that is little known about yourself?
After laying it all out there in the book I don’t think I have much left to hide. Whatever is left I’m not telling :).
I’m truly amazed after all these years at how much I still just love to jump. My first goal would be to always have that passion for the sport and the people, but that’s pretty easy goal to achieve.
Secondly, promoting safety in every way I feel I can make a contribution.
Third, to continue to be a part of the greatest skydiving center in the world. If I won the lottery tomorrow I wouldn’t quit my job as the Manager at Skydive Perris.
Dan’s book ‘Above All Else’ has received critical acclaim from skydivers and nonskydivers alike and tells the story of Dan’s journey, against all odds, to becoming one of the greatest skydivers in the world. It’s an inspirational, riveting read about Dan’s passion for life, and the pursuit of his dreams. A must-read! Copies are available at https://www.amazon.com/Above-All-Else-Skydivers-Adversity/dp/1616084464. Learn more about Dan and see his TED Talk at www.danbrodsky-chenfeld.com