In 2005 Steve Jobs’ University of Stanford Commencement Speech made a real mark on my mind. Back then I was working in my first permanent job as an Agricultural Engineer with the KZN Department of Agriculture (DoA). Today, in my quest to understand the paths that lead one to air sports (attribution as it’s known in the marketing world) I decided to look at my path, and as Jobs said: “connect the dots looking backwards”.
As a child, I always thought that the idea of flying a plane would be awesome. A seed that was most likely planted from watching the TV series “Sending Vietnam” (aka “Tour of Duty” to the rest of the world) as a 5 or 6-year-old in the late ’80s. Watching the helicopters flying with the Rolling Stone’s “Painted Black” theme song is still clear in my mind.
When given the usual “future career” topic in primary school several years later, I made a list of questions and phoned our national airline SAA to find out how I could become a pilot. As the years went on my aptitude for maths and problem solving came to the fore. After high school, I decided on a degree in engineering. In terms of job security, an engineering degree was a safe bet.
The gift that started it all
My mum gave me R1000 for my 21st birthday. I wanted to use the money on something that I would remember, experience instead of a product. I was quite scared of heights so much so that I would get a weak feeling in my legs just by looking up at tall buildings in the Durban city centre. Where this fear came from, I have no idea. I’d often seen ads in the local newspaper for rap jumping, which entailed abseiling facing forward off a building. Being a logical person I knew that this was safe, yet something I could do given that it was a tourist experience. Given my fear of heights, this would be something I wouldn’t forget. When looking for the ad to book the rap jumping experience I noticed an ad for tandem skydiving at La Mercy airfield (present-day King Shaka Airport). This airfield was a couple of hills down from my hometown of Verulam. Having never been in a plane before I couldn’t resist this two-for-the-price-of-one experience – a plane ride plus a skydive. This was my first taste of air sports.
That same year I moved to Pietermaritzburg (PMB) for the final year of my engineering degree at the University of KwaZulu Natal. I can’t imagine how small the odds were that I would end up staying in the same block on the Denison Residence with Winston and Tongai. They had both done the First Jump Course with local skydiving club the Pietermaritzburg Parachute Club. Skydiving was far from a popular activity on res which is likely how I got the nickname “Skydiver” even though I’d only done a tandem jump, well that and the fact that Winston loved talking about skydiving. Tongai’s nickname was “Jump Master” or “Jumpers” for a short. After completing my degree I moved permanently to PMB when I started working for the DoA. You could say I was new to the town as this was no longer student life. Seeking new activities and friends to stave off the boredom of living in “Sleepy Hollow”, I decided to live up to my nickname and try out the First Jump Course myself. Skydiving pretty much consumed my weekends and social life for the next 10 years.
In 2008 I signed up for a paragliding course with a local school in Cape Town. But, due to logistics, it took me a long time to finally get my first flights which happened on a trip to the Garden Route. I recall my last flight on that trip, it was a soaring flight above Sedgefield. It was quite easy to stay up. I shouted “woohoo’s” to fellow pilots. They didn’t “whoop” back. It made me wonder if they were even having fun? At the time I would have had around 300 skydives and flying a wingsuit seemed like a better use of my weekends. I made the decision whilst in the air over Sedgefield, that paragliding was not for me.
That was up until the end of 2013 when I stumbled upon the paragliding tracklogs of Long Pete, a fellow skydiver who’d gotten into paragliding. One of these tracklogs showed a flight that started
in Silvermine and ended in Sea Point! This wasn’t the boring flying up and down a hill that I’d experienced in Sedgefield. It was real aviation. It was happening right in the middle of the City of Cape Town! Shortly thereafter I started training and attained my paragliding pilot license.
Connecting the dots
That’s my story on how I ended up in air sports and now paragliding. When I look back, connecting the dots, I see a combination of random events that led me to this path. At no stage of childhood, teenage or early adult life did I think this would happen. I had no clue that such activities were even remotely accessible. Had I not randomly seen that ad in the paper that day, I probably would never have found skydiving. Had I not met Winston and Tongai, I would probably not have heard of a First Jump Course. Had I not lived close to a skydiving club at that time of my life (having been new to the town, so desperately seeking activities and friends) I would probably have never taken up skydiving as a sport. Hence it was a combination of random luck which led to some awareness and perhaps unconscious persuasion via a nickname, the easy access to a learning environment, and my situation of seeking activities to stave off the boredom of living in PMB, that got me hooked to air sports.
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. ” Thanks Steve, I’m looking forward to seeing how these dots connect going forward in my goals of growing the sport of paragliding. More importantly, I’m also strategising on how I can I help shorten the “dot-connecting” to get more people into the sport of paragliding or as I like to call it: aviation for the middle-class and jobs for Africa.