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Tell me about your job and how you make a living?
I’ve been a skydiving instructor now for 17 years. Basically, at the moment I’ve been living in Sumner. In 2003, I learnt to skydive and then I spent 12 years travelling around the world chasing the sun.
I came back to New Zealand in 2011, just after the earthquake and set up Skydiving Kiwis and since then, we’ve been doing commercial skydiving with tandem skydiving and also student training and advanced sports skydiving training as well.
Where did the idea of jumping out of a helicopter onto Sumner Beach come from and what will people experience?
What I looked at doing was, rather than just offering the skydiving experience, I looked at what we could deliver with a package that included skydiving, but gave you so much more. So, that being a luxury helicopter flight, a flight over our amazing city and then opening the door into the most breathtaking views in the country and then flying down into the parachute and landing on one of the best beaches within Christchurch.
What does it feel like to skydive?
For a first-time skydiver, it can be one of the most scariest things that you ever do, I guess, and I never try to tell anybody otherwise, but then the feeling once you actually leave the plane and step into the wind, or you drop into the wind, is one of the most freeing, exhilarating feelings that you can ever experience in your life. Once you jump out, you’re flying, man. There’s not a word in the dictionary for that feeling.
How did your passion for skydiving develop?
In 2001, I did my first tandem and then in 2003 I did my first solo and for me, at the time, like, I hadn’t really been an aircraft before, so I was a bit unsure of what all the dials in the aircraft meant and that was the only thing that really kind of confused me a little bit and then as soon as that door opened and that entrance to kind of the world of the bird was before me, then the feeling was inside me that I was actually at home. It was something that I saw on TV when I was about nine-years-old and since that moment I said to my mum that as soon as I get the spare money, mum, what I want to do is go skydiving.
Without being biased, New Zealand has got the best scenery on the planet and then Christchurch and Canterbury, it’s in me just like it is in every Cantabrian. When I was travelling around the world though, I guess, California because it never ever rains, it’s about 40 deg C all the time, so enabling you to be able to go skydiving every single day was something that was pretty awesome there. I’ve skydived on some paradise islands like Mauritius, the Canary Islands, and that is part of the reason why I really like jumping onto the beach and around the ocean because the views are so spectacular.
Have you had any close calls skydiving in the past?
I guess I’ve probably used my reserve parachute in my high performance jumps probably nine or 10 times and it’s something that we’re trained to do since the day that we begin skydiving. I remember one time at the Australian nationals when I was leading the competition, and then I had a malfunction on my competition jump and then, unfortunately, because of the upper winds, my parachute flew seven miles away. Luckily for me, what happened after that was the winds became too over the limit to carry on the competition, so we went flying in the little Cessna [plane] and we actually managed to find my parachute, but it also meant that the competition went on hold and I was able to actually get all my gear back together and, once the winds died down, then I was able to carry on the competition and I remember coming home with a gold medal, which was pretty nice.
Have you had any injuries skydiving?
The only injury that I’ve really had was at the Copenhagen World Freestyle Challenge and that was in 2016. We would fly our parachutes down and there was a 25m by 6m inflatable raft and then what we would do is, for about 100m prior to the raft, we would perform freestyle tricks on the water and then try to land on the raft. So, what I did was actually do a trick that had never been done before, and it was my own personal trick, which involved sliding on the water, letting go of my controls and then just popping up a little, grabbing both my feet behind my back and then [getting] back onto the controls and landing on the raft. It wasn’t really a crash landing, it was just more of an awkward landing with the speed I had onto the raft and I ended up tearing my labrum inside of my shoulder and that meant shoulder surgery at the start of 2017 and a three-year recovery, but I did end up coming fifth in the world for that competition.
Have you taken any famous or memorable people skydiving?
There were a couple of famous people overseas, like, I took one of the most famous Bollywood actresses one time and that was in Mauritius. In New Zealand, I wouldn’t really say famous. Some of the things that stick out though was one time I took a 94-year-old blind lady on Christmas Eve and she came and wore a Santa suit. It was pretty cool. Other than that, I’ve taken the Bachelorette in New Zealand.
That’s a bit of a secret. It’s somebody from the local [Sumner] area that has lived there for nearly 50 years and he actually got hold of us and he himself is actually around the 90-year-old-mark and that’s about all I’m allowed to say.
What are your hobbies outside of skydiving?
I really love surfing and, these days, I spend a lot of time working a lot more with the tourism board and actually pushing a little bit outside of just skydiving and working more with Christchurch as a whole.
What are the best results you have had at the competitions you have competed at?
At the end of last year at the World Cup in South Africa, it was my first competition back after three years from my shoulder recovery and I came back with two records, the Oceanic record and the New Zealand record for distance in canopy piloting. That would be the pinnacle so far. My personal goal is to get the gold medal next year at the Russian world championships for distance for canopy piloting.
What does your family think of your skydiving and what you do for a living?
I’ve got family, mum and dad and a brother and sister here in New Zealand and since day one they’ve just pushed me to be whoever it is that I want to be. So, although the first time I rang my mum and told her about my first ever malfunction, it was a bit scary for her, she just continuously is like, just do what makes you happy, Lee and skydiving, obviously, is the thing that has made you the happiest I’ve ever seen you, so go for it.