AXIS provides bespoke education for Smart Skydivers: Now with (Gorgeous) Merits!
Ask anyone who’s been in the sport for more than a couple of seasons: the times, they are a changin’. For the first 15 to 20 years of sport skydiving’s popular heyday, there wasn’t any doubt that the party lay at the heart of the matter. In the not-too-long-ago bad old days, your standard sport skydiver would go about chasing boogies all season long — and chase the sun to find even more skydiving parties when her/his own season ran out. Beer, tent cities and magic-carpet exits ruled the day
In recent years — as you may have noticed — the sport is sobering up. Today’s skydiver has a different goal to chase: skill development. Suddenly, it’s not enough to simply jump out of an airplane with your buddies; now, you’d better be using that jump to get — well — better. This is the age of the skills camp; of the training trip; of one-on-one coaching. People just want more. And can you blame ‘em?
Enter AXIS — one of skydiving education’s indisputably premium brands. Brianne Thompson and Niklas Daniel, AXIS’s owners and instructors, are a pair of highly decorated skydivers who founded AXIS as a boutique instruction operation. The intentionally-small operation has been based at Skydive Arizona since 2010. In that time, Nik and Brianne have managed to actually revolutionize how skydiving is coached.
How’d they do that? In essence, by… Continue reading on SkydiveMag.com
Being competitors at heart, Niklas and Brianne do their best to improve on a daily basis. This applies not only to competitions, but also their business and life’s work – AXIS Flight School. AXIS has gone through an incredible online transformation, which could be called a “Cyber Grand Re-opening”. These changes have been taking place behind the scenes for over two years.
The AXIS website has always been packed with lots of useful tools and information. In order to make the site more user friendly and to keep up with the times more than a facelift was needed. In fact, we started over. Major improvements include a color coded menu system which is easy to navigate, condensed information on every page, and not to be overlooked – The AXIS Skydiving Repository. Here we developed a digital sorting system that categorizes all or our articles and reference materials for faster recall. Now users can search for categories such as solo skills, canopy, camera, and much more to find what you are looking for.
In addition, AXIS Flight School now uses sig.ma, a platform on which you can keep track of accomplishments, IDs, licenses, merits, etc. in a digital form. This allows us to send merits to students who have demonstrated their proficiency to our AXIS Coaches™ and acknowledge their achievements. Available Merits are displayed at the top of each web page, and their colors correspond to the new menu system.
When you meet Nik Daniel and Brianne Thompson, the first thing you notice is their energy, passion, and boundless enthusiasm for the sport of skydiving. These two founding members of AXIS Flight School seem like they are perpetually running between coaching, competing, tunnel flying, training, and fun jumping at their home dropzone Skydive Arizona.
But no matter how busy they are, Nik and Brianne can always be found with big smiles and high fives all around. They love what they do and they’re good at it – just two of the many reasons we featured AXIS Flight School in this month’s Dream of Flight ad.
Nik and Brianne both started skydiving early in life, a time when they had – like many of us when we first started jumping – big dreams and small bank accounts. Brianne spent her high school graduation money on AFF, while Nik took months to get through AFF due to financial constraints. But each was persistent, putting every spare minute and dollar into jumping and tunnel flying.
Brianne started developing her 4-way FS skills early on in her jumping career, joining her first team in 2001 at just 75 jumps. Nik, on the other hand, caught his break when he discovered tunnel flying in 2005. “Right after I graduated AFF, I won a five minute gift certificate for the wind tunnel,” he said. “After that, I would go there every day, sit in front of the glass, and stare at people fly. It came to the point where I realized ‘This place makes me happy.’” Just a couple of weeks later, he applied for an instructor position and started his career in skydiving.
Brianne met Nik while she was coaching a student in the Perris tunnel. “[Nik] was supposed to be driving and paying attention to the student, but he was staring at me the whole time.” They immediately became friends and soon after that Nik was invited to shoot video for Brianne’s FS team Spaceland Blue, a team that went on to medal in both the 2008 and 2010 World Championships.
Though they loved competition, Nik and Brianne felt that something was missing from the skydiving community. They would often chat about the rift in the sport between jumpers in different disciplines. “We didn’t like that people didn’t like tunnel instructors, belly flyers didn’t like freeflyers, and freeflyers didn’t like belly flyers,” said Brianne. “But really, it’s all the same! It’s just pushing air around!” They wanted to see a fundamental shift in the community where skydivers could come together instead of drawing lines in the sand between disciplines and skill level. And with that, the idea of AXIS Flight School was born.
“AXIS Flight School is meant to be an appreciation of all body flight,” says Nik. “We want our students to be well-rounded skydivers with all axes of flight – whether it’s body flight or canopy flight. Above all, we want jumpers to have respect for other disciplines in the sport.”
Since its founding, AXIS Flight School has continued to grow. What started out of the trunk of a car in 2010 is now the official coaching entity at Skydive Arizona, one of the largest dropzones in the world. And their success hasn’t stopped there. Even if you have never met them, you might recognize Nik and Brianne from the Foundations of Flight section of Parachutist or from their various features in skydiving magazines all over the world. But no matter where their dedication and talent take them, they are never “too good” to talk to the new jumper at their dropzone – in fact, that actively fight against what some might call the “elitist” culture in skydiving.
“I’ve seen jumpers and coaches that won’t waste their time on you unless you already have a certain skill set,” says Nik. “But you can’t get to that skill set unless someone teaches you! Just because you have 60 jumps doesn’t mean you’re garbage.”
While AXIS Flight School mostly focus on the “after A-license, what’s next?” demographic, their inclusive attitude towards coaching has led them to work with an amazingly diverse group of jumpers. From coaching a student that took over 40 jumps to get through AFF, to working with Todd Love and Operation Enduring Warrior, Nik and Brianne are always finding ways to adapt their coaching to individual students’ needs. “We refuse to give anyone the bowling speech,” Brianne says. “There is a big difference between inexperience and inability. The next person walking through our door could be a future world champion, and that’s really cool! We learned a long time ago that we are not capable of judging someone else’s potential.”
We learned a long time ago that we are not capable of judging someone else’s potential.
While coaching remains their focus, Nik and Brianne are always pushing themselves to learn and grow within the sport. In 2013-2014 Nik competed as an inside flyer for Arizona Arsenal, placing first at two US Nationals, and placing 2nd at the world championships in Prosteyov, Czech Republic. Nowadays, they both compete on the VFS team Arizona X-Force as well as the 2-way MFS team Machete Squad. They also regularly compete as player coaches at USPA Nationals as part of AXIS X-pansion Project. “We are still trying to expand on our own knowledge and skills,” says Nik. “We still get coaching ourselves. We’re trying to get people excited about the learning process as we are trying to learn as well.”
In the last year AXIS Flight School has also expanded to offer USPA rating courses as part of its X-Ratings program. Ben Lowe was brought on to to be the head I/E who works with jumpers wanting to become instructors in the sport. It seems like this is just the beginning of a very successful journey for AXIS Flight School.
We are very excited for everyone to see Nik and Brianne’s Dream of Flight (hint: this ad is on fire!). In the meantime, if you want to learn more about AXIS Flight School, be sure to check out their website, which has tons of great resources including access to the Foundations of Flight articles and a great Draw Generator for a range of disciplines.
Brianne Thompson and Niklas Daniel of AXIS Flight School, with Steve Curtis of Arizona Arsenal, recorded some video footage for Go Pro on October 22nd, 2014. Parts of the video were featured on the 60 Minutes segment “GoPro Moment” on February 4th, 2015. The final edit is scheduled to be released on Go Pro’s You Tube Channel very soon. Special thanks to: Samantha, Trunk, Wade and Robin for helping us get the shots!
60 Minutes SportsGoPro Moment Intro Curtis and Brianne flying head down Brianne approaching the slip and slide Brianne on the slip and slideCurtis demonstrates precision on landing60 Minutes end credits, Curtis, Brianne and Nik build a “3-stack” over Skydive Arizona with their high performance canopies.
Training for intentional and unintentional water landings is an important part of a skydiver’s learning progression and is required to receive the USPA B license. Unfortunately, most jumpers rarely give it much thought after their instructors sign them off for this skill, and few take the time to carefully consider the dangers involved. Unless you’ve landed in water, you probably can’t truly appreciate how difficult it is. However, whether you are landing in water intentionally or unintentionally or are just training in a controlled environment, the methods of dealing with your equipment will be very similar. So, it’s a good idea to review your water training occasionally—regardless of your experience level—just in case you need to use it. Skydiver’s Information Manual Sections 5-1 and 6-5contain lots of valuable information about water landings and how water training should be conducted. Here are some additional hints, reminders and suggestions gleaned from both practical experience and experimentation in a swimming pool:
COMMON PRECURSORS TO UNINTENTIONAL WATER LANDINGS
Jumping in a new location.
Exiting over solid cloud cover.
Cutaway (since you’ll be open at a lower altitude than intended).
Emergency exit from aircraft.
ELEMENTS OF WATER LANDINGS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO FATAL INJURIES
Impaired depth perception.
Hard impact due to cutting away before water entry.
Improper flare height.
Drowning due to fatigue.
Heavy or cumbersome gear (e.g., weight belt, wingsuit, cameras).
Lack of a flotation device.
VARIABLES WHEN IN WATER
Distance to safety (can include land, boats, buoys, etc.).
PREPARATION FOR ENTRY
Perform canopy controllability check.
Disengage reserve static line and undo chest strap below your decision altitude but before touching down.
Fly predictably and avoid erratic turns.
Remain in your harness until landing.
Engage flotation device before touchdown.
Open visor if you are jumping a full-face helmet.
Land in half brakes (protect your throat and torso by keeping your forearms close).
Land into the wind if possible.
Perform a parachute landing fall with feet and knees together.
Fill your lungs with air before entering water.
CLEARING EQUIPMENT IN THE WATER
Let go of your toggles and bring your hands to your ribcage.
Shrug off your rig using a breast-stroke motion.
Swim down, then away to help you free yourself from the leg straps and clear the suspension lines.
Keep movement to a minimum to avoid entanglement with the gear.
If stuck under your canopy, punch up to create an air pocket (like a tent), then follow a seam to the edge of the canopy.
Get out of the water ASAP.
STRATEGIES FOR DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENTS
Lakes: Hazards (boats, docks, pylons, etc.) are most likely to be situated directly next to the bank. Land several meters away from the bank.
Rivers: Aim for the deepest part (usually the center) and against the current, if possible. This facilitates escaping your equipment.
Ocean: Avoid the area where the waves break. Land in deeper and less turbulent water.
Land together if you are in a group.
Stay near your equipment, especially if your canopy is brightly colored, to make it easier for a rescue crew to find you.
If you’re jumping at a location such as a beach or lake, where the possibility of landing in the water is stronger than usual, jump with your cellphone secured in a zippered plastic bag.
If you are jumping near the water, wear a flotation device (required for those jumping round mains or reserves and for students within one mile of water, but it’s a good idea for anyone).
Cut away your canopy only once you have entered the water and as a last resort. (Keep in mind that you cannot cut away your reserve.)
When retrieving a canopy from the water, grab the warning label and pull the canopy out of the water tail-first so the water will drain out of the nose of the canopy.
Water training can be a fun and educational experience, so don’t just think of it as something you need to get out of the way to get your B license; enjoy the learning process. And don’t forget to review your procedures occasionally: You’ll be a completely different jumper at different stages in your career, and you may also be using additional equipment like a wingsuit or camera helmet that you’ll need to contend with.
About the Author Brianne Thompson, D-30035, and Niklas Daniel, D-28906, own and run AXIS Flight School, which offers coaching in a variety of disciplines to licensed skydivers of any skill level. AXIS is headquartered at Skydive Arizona in Eloy and can be reached via email at email@example.com.