Written by Laura Jane Happick
If you think past Hall of Fame inductees rest on their laurels, having “served their time,” and now wait idly, keeping themselves locked away, pristine in high ivory towers—you’d be wrong. Rather, many, like Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, are still right in the thick of it all: managing a dropzone, teaching, coaching, and competing.
Humble, well-spoken, inspiring—these are just a few words that come to mind after even the slightest chat with world-renowned skydiver and long-time safety advocate Dan BC.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014, Dan speaks fondly, though humbly about his induction, and, in what seems like typical fashion, when asked about his own place in the Hall of Fame, turns the attention to those that came before him:
“It’s funny when you’re inducted, people speak to you like you’re a pioneer in the sport, and though I’ve been doing it a long time now, 39 years. When I started in 1980, all the hard work was done before I got
here. You learn a new appreciation for it all. I was inducted along with Jerry Bourquin, who was Golden Knight number one. He started the Golden Knights and has been a very active part of this sport. To be able to share [the Hall of Fame induction] with people who really made the biggest impact and allowed the rest of us to be able to continue and enjoy the sport as we do is a big part of what is so special about it, and you learn a new appreciation for it. Too often we do what we do, and we don’t stop to think about how it all started.”
In mid-October, Skydive Perris will be hosting the 2019 10th Anniversary of the International Skydiving Museum Hall of Fame Celebration, where 10 new inductees to the Hall of Fame will be honored. Dan holds great esteem for the pioneers of skydiving and is particularly excited for his dropzone to host the event. One aspect of the celebration he is particularly excited for is the opportunity for jumpers of all ages and experiences to sit down with the members of the skydiving community who truly paved the way:
“One of the main highlights is the people who have really pushed the limits in the sport are going to be telling all about how they did it and why they did it…we have such a small community and a tight community. We have these people who are such significant characters in the sport, who are going to be there doing the forums and speaking to everybody, and the younger jumpers and more experienced jumpers will have access to be able to learn from them and learn all about the accomplishments they have.”
Joining the ranks of the Hall of Fame is Dan’s friend and fellow Skydive Perris sport jumper, Kate Cooper Jensen. With evident respect and admiration, when questioned regarding Kate’s induction Dan replied:
“I’m thrilled that Kate is being inducted. She and I have been friends for almost as long as I’ve been skydiving. Watching her progression in the sport, she has always been passionate, has always had this drive, and has always been someone who is constantly contributing. It wasn’t enough just to do it for herself, she was always bringing more to the sport and to other jumpers, as well as excelling herself and pushing her own athletic limits…I can think of hundreds of people who, if asked, would say how motivated and how inspired she made them feel, and how she helped them to become a better person through the events they did and through pushing themselves and learning a whole new love for the sport. That’s the kind of person I think, one who contributes that much, that should be inducted.”
Who’s next? Who else does Dan feel should be inducted into the Skydiving Hall of Fame?
“There’s a long list. Off the top of my head. Scott Rhodes, who led the Golden Knights through their series of World Championships from 87-97, for 6 consecutive World Championships…Kirk Verner, for the amazing amount of ways he’s contributed to the sport as a DZO, competitor, coach, and as a member of the board of USPA Competition Committee.”
Dan BC has had an illustrious career that has even included an extraordinary book, Above All Else: A World Champion Skydiver's Story of Survival and What It Taught Him About Fear, Adversity, and Success, but the achievement he is most proud of may surprise you.
“Like many people, I’m proud I went out and made that first jump that first day. There are a lot of people who have a dream, it may not be skydiving, but it’s something that fascinates them, and they’re engaged by it and that they’re scared of it, but they don’t do it. Skydivers, in general, are people who have a strong dream and passion and are brave enough to go out and do it. There are a lot of things I am proud of, and I have had an amazing privilege to be a part of, but of all of them, it would be going to the drop zone that first day.”
While the others that sat around the Ohio State dorm that spring in 1980 never made it out to the dropzone, Dan BC did, and since that first jump, he has been a consistent figure in the sport. Nearly 40 years, and 36 Nationals later, how has Dan BC kept the fire for skydiving burning?
“I just love it. I’m shocked I still love it as much as I do, but it’s such a cool thing. I love being at the dropzone and with all the jumps I do, I have a great time. It doesn’t matter if I’m doing a student jump or coach jump, an organizer jump on the weekend, or a big way, and the team stuff? I love it even more.”
Though even with the passion for skydiving still burning bright, and a desire to be involved with competitive skydiving for as long as he can, Dan isn’t quite so keen on reaching, once again, for the gold at a World Meet:
“I had a couple people at Nationals ask me while watching the situation with Rhythm and Airspeed going at it, “Do you miss going for the Gold?” and I do. They said, “Would you do it again right now?” and I said absolutely not. I know the dedication and drive that it takes to push yourself that far, and I don’t have the desire to push myself to that limit. Maybe I could if I wanted to. But I don’t have that desire anymore. But to be able to go and join the guys for 16 way, and to think how I stopped being a full-time competitive skydiver before these guys even started and that they still let me come play with them, what a privilege. How great to look across at the guys that are on the US team, and I still get to jump with them”
While in Dan’s time the team to beat was the French, it is now Hayabusa. What will it take for a US team to topple these mighty Belgians?
“When we held the Nationals at Skydive Perris, Hayabusa won, and during the awards ceremony I was doing the presentation for them and said, you know I would have loved to have had the chance to go up against these guys with the original Airspeed, I think we could have taken them…except they weren’t actually born yet! I think for any top team, like when I was on Airspeed, the French had pushed it to a new limit before we started, and then, Hayabusa has pushed it to a limit now. But, it’s always harder for the team on top to get further ahead than it is for the next team in line to catch up. When you look at the team that’s better than you, you at least can see what they are doing and have a clear path: here is what we need to work on, here is what we need to match. But when you’re the best team in the world, there’s no one else to look for. You have to come up with ways to go faster and do better. It’s going to take an amazing team of athletes with amazing determination and commitment, like Rhythm has shown over the years, to take the time and to put the work in to make it happen. It’s just a matter of time. It’s going to be difficult, and I applaud Rhythm and Airspeed for continuing to take it on”
Our sport is ever-growing, and Dan looks to the new generation of competitive skydivers to progress the sport:
“Obviously all of the top teams have caught our attention because you’re paying attention to them. But one thing I’ve always done is bring on new team members. I was always the most experienced guy picking up three brand new people. I was looking for the people that wanted it badly and were willing to work and had the potential. Right now, the obvious ones are the top teams, but I want to spend more time looking at the advanced teams and the intermediate teams because that is where you’ll see the people who don’t even know yet what they want to do it. If you look through those teams, you’ll find those special individuals who are going to become the next Rhythm and the next Airspeed”
As a well-known advocate of safety Dan BC is consistently looking to maintain the longevity and health of skydiving as a sport. The most pressing safety concern he sees at this time is complacency:
“I think more than anything a big difference in the sport than when I started is that people become very skilled very quickly. When I started, basically, you stunk for the first hundred jumps. As far as skill was concerned, you progressed very slowly because it was all static line progression—you never even jumped with another person until after 25 jumps. There was no wind tunnel, no AFF. It was round parachutes, and it took a long time to progress. It was a less efficient sport at that time. It could take a year to accrue 100 jumps. You would hang out at the dropzone every weekend for the whole year, and during this time, you were able to collect a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience. You would see a lot of things, and you would talk with the more experienced people. You had an entirely different respect and appreciation for the sport and the risks that are involved. At the same time, you never felt that confident because your skills weren’t very good. Now, your skill increases far more quickly than your experience. You can be in the tunnel, and you can even get your license in a week, like at Skydive Perris an
d several other dropzones. With enough tunnel time, you can really feel like “I got this.” With all the back-up safety equipment, you start to get this false feeling of security and complacency. That is what ultimately gets people in trouble. There are a lot of things people do that they may have the skill to do, but they don’t have the aerial awareness and the experience to make those split-second decisions. I think this breeds a certain air of complacency, and complacency is the problem that needs to be addressed.”
The way to address this pressing safety trend is none too difficult; it requires no major overhaul. According to Dan BC, the way to fix this is this:
“I think you have to build safety into the culture of each drop zone. You can’t just write rules. It has to be something where everyone is looking out for each other all the time and everyone continues to say things again and again. Thankfully, I think that’s something that’s really in the culture of Skydive Perris”
With influential figures, like Dan BC, still serving as prominent members in our community, there is no doubt the sport of skydiving has a bright future to look forward too.