Sun Path Factory Rep, Jessie Thompson, catches up with Keith George, Owner of Skydive Midwest, about partnering with SP for the Sun Path Sequentials event slated next year, his philosophies on teaching skydiving, and his loyalty to jumping Javelin Odyssey rigs.
Keith George, known to be a fierce and honorable veteran of the United States Marine Corps, started skydiving as a civilian and it changed the course of his whole life. Now a successful twenty-year veteran in the sport, Keith is a family man with an amazing wife and sons who all share a love of the sport. Having worked across the planet for the military, Skydive Midwest became his home almost fifteen years ago and led to his becoming a Dropzone Owner. Owning a dropzone gave him the opportunity to bestow his drive and determination upon others by helping push new jumpers to set goals for themselves and reach those goals through hard work. The exposure to new and challenging experiences, which he so passionately offers to his community, is truly an admirable thing to see in a DZO. He was kind enough to make time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me.
How long have you been jumping Javelins?
I ordered my first Javelin in 1997 after borrowing one from another jumper. The ink was still wet on my A-License back then. [laughter] My Dad still has that rig. He jumped it up until last year, when he had back and hip surgery. [a look of nostalgia overcomes him]
Considering the competition in the industry, why have you decided to fly with Sun Path for so long?
I’m not sponsored by Sun Path. I don’t get any special rates on my personal gear or student rigs. I choose to equip myself, my family, and my students with Javelins because I know they’re quality.
As a DZO and gear store owner, I’ve been offered some really cost-effective options from other manufacturers; including free personal containers if I changed to their brand of student gear. But, I’ve remained loyal to Sun Path for a few reasons— durability, customer service, and true confidence in the product.
Javelins are built like tanks. They are without a doubt the best built, most durable rig on the market. And the customer service [Sun Path Products] provides has always gone above and beyond. You guys really want to make the customer happy. It’s evident how much you really care about your product and the skydivers who wear them.
It’s been twenty years since I bought my first one and now I have over 15,000 jumps. A lot of those jumps were tandems, but about half of them are on Javelins. If you guys made a tandem system, you can bet we would be jumping them at SDMW.
As someone who works, fun jumps, and now competes in the sport, what do you love about your Javelins?
A broken in Javelin fits like your favorite pair of boots. [laughter] I fly in a lot of orientations. I might be back flying a tandem video one load, going back up to belly fly with a student on the next and then ripping angles on the load after that— or I might be doing VFS all day with my team. No matter how many jumps I’m doing, it’s amazing how comfortable the rig is! I feel a lot of security knowing I have the best-built rig on my back. With all the types of flying I do, I’ve never had a riser cover or pin cover open in freefall. There are enough things to think about when skydiving— Not having to worry about my gear gives me more time to focus on the jump and just have fun.
Before becoming the owner of Skydive Midwest, you were a US Marine, did you jump for the military? If so, what influenced your decision to become a sport jumper and a dropzone owner?
No, when I did my first jump, I had been out of the Marines for 3 years and was a Police Officer. My best friend from the Marine Corps was living with me at the time and one night he came home from work and asked me if I wanted to go skydiving that weekend. Of course, I said yes. [laughter] We sat through an AFF Ground School and then both did our first jumps. When I landed, I was hooked, and I knew I was going to be a skydiver.
I became a tandem instructor in 1999 to help pay for my jumping habit. Then in 2004, a friend of mine, Andre Pieterse, opened Skydive Midwest and I started doing tandems for him part-time. A year later, I went to Iraq and was working overseas until 2008. That’s when Andre sent me an email asking if I wanted to buy a Drop Zone. At the time, I knew I couldn’t stay in Baghdad forever and I knew I didn’t want to go back to law enforcement, so becoming a DZO seemed like a good idea.
The jumpers coming out of your dropzone seem to be extremely confident and well-rounded, what is your teaching philosophy?
Thanks, the attitude of the educators and staff are a big part of this. We really want to develop our students into diverse, skilled skydivers so we have more folks to jump with, and we have some amazing AFF Instructors and Coaches that contribute to that. Our resident body flight school, Evolve, offers coaching for almost every discipline. They’re here to help jumpers develop their skillsets after they get their A-License—
We really want to keep people engaged and constantly developing, so we’ve partnered with some of the best educators in the industry to offer our jumpers the coaching they need to achieve their goals. We’ve got staff members from Xcel Skydiving and Alter Ego. The Xcel Instructor Evaluator runs all our Ratings Courses and our Alter Ego Canopy Coach teaches the Alter Ego B-License curriculum.
“A broken in Javelin fits like your favorite pair of boots…. No matter how many jumps I’m doing, it’s amazing how comfortable the rig is!”
Our Teams are another part of our students’ success. We have been lucky to have SDMW NEXT training here for the last 4 years. The competitive spirit they’ve brought to the DZ has shown folks what’s possible when you have a team that pushes hard— When they’re actually part of the fun jumper community, it inspires everybody to get better.
3 years ago, we decided to move away from the boogie type party events and focus more on hosting Skills Camps. We want to keep jumpers coming back for more than just a good party. When people have a goal in mind, or they can see some kind of progress, they tend to jump more— NEXT hosts 4-way, 8-way, and other FS Skills Camps throughout the season— Chemtrails is starting to host VFS and MFS Scrambles and Camps, and the Evolve coaches fill that in by being available to help jumpers on the day to day with coaching and load organizing.
We try to keep the atmosphere focused on being supportive of jumpers and their goals. We don’t like ‘Sky Gods’ at our DZ. We like badass fliers and teachers who are humble, helpful and want to give back. Anything we can do to provide folks with an opportunity to accomplish their goals— we try to facilitate. We don’t believe in belittling people or telling someone the things they want to do, can’t be done. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and we want to help people find their way.
Congratulations on your team, Chemtrails, making the podium in VFS Advanced at this year’s USPA Nationals! We hear you owe beer for this competition. What made you decide to compete for the first time after being in the sport nearly 20 years?
I was actually going to compete in MFS last year with my oldest son, Austin, but my season ended early due to a pretty severe shoulder injury— The inspiration to compete came from my wife and her team. I’ve been going to Nationals to support them for the last four years. Witnessing the competitive environment, watching them work hard, push and progress— It made me want to be a part of the competition. I think it’s something every skydiver should do at least once.
Both of your sons also skydive; did it take any convincing to get them into the sport?
No, not really at all. In fact, we’ve made a very big effort to not try to influence their decision. We made sure they knew that if they wanted to jump, they would have to ask. Skydiving has to be something people want to do for themselves, not something they do to make someone else happy.
My kids have been around DZs since they were born. They know there’s risk in what we do. They’ve seen bad injuries and unfortunately, they know people who’ve died skydiving. They know there is a risk we take every time we exit an airplane, and that it’s up to them to mitigate the risk, and they accept that because they want to skydive.
How has skydiving effected your family dynamic?
It’s awesome! [he lights up with a big smile] To able to share the sky with your wife and kids is amazing. We, as skydivers, get to play in an element that most of the world will never get to experience, and I get to do it with my family. We have a lot of fun together, and we support each other’s progress. Having the same passion in common is very connecting.
Sun Path is excited to be working with you on a Sequential event at Skydive Midwest next year. Besides having a whole lot of fun, what are your goals for this event?
This is exactly the type of event we want to be hosting. We love events that are challenging and focused on skill-building. We also want to introduce some of our local talent to new events and new people. It’s good to get outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself.
I want our jumpers to be able to build a relationship with Sun Path. By spending time with Sun Path staff members or athletes, it’s a good opportunity for them to see why I’ve stayed loyal to the company rig after rig, for me and my family.
We also hope this event attracts some fun jumpers who’ve been waiting for an excuse to check out Skydive Midwest. We love the skydiving community and if we get a few new people to find a home here, all the better.
[Author’s Notes: Details about the Sun Path Sequentials event will be released on Facebook in early 2018.]
Anything else you would like to put out to the world and our skydiving community?
Yeah, never stop seeking knowledge. Never stop asking questions. And never stop learning. Don’t let your ego get in the way of learning— Our sport is ever evolving. If you stop evolving with it you’ll be left behind and become a danger to yourself and your fellow jumpers. No matter what your jump numbers or time in the sport are, there will always be people you can learn from. They might even have less jumps or fewer years in the sport than you do, so keep your mind open and ready to learn.
Author: Jessie Thompson
Jessie Thompson is the newest member of the Sun Path Marketing Team. She will be hitting the roads in 2018 as their US Demo Tour Rep. Jessie has been in the sport for 7 years and accumulated over 3700 jumps, most of which are in the Freefly discipline. Originally from Portland, Oregon, she is multi-rated as a current Tan-I, AFF-I, PRO, Load Organizer, Videographer, FAA Senior Rigger, and Coach. Jessie loves the intense team dynamic of Bigway and Sequential Freeflying and is proud to have docked with her friends on several World, National, and State Record Formations. When she is not on a skydiving mission she enjoys running, yoga, family-time, and adventuring.