Ernesto Gainza Me­d­ina will at­tempt a world record with a death-de­fy­ing sky­dive on the small­est para­chute ever at­tempted. His aim? To mo­ti­vate oth­ers to fol­low their dreams, he tells Shiva Ku­mar Thekkepat

Friday - - Real Life -

It’s easy to miss Ernesto Gainza Me­d­ina in a crowd. He’s 1.35m tall, weighs only 52kg and, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts while sport­ing a broad grin, he looks like a friendly neigh­bour­hood sub­ur­ban­ite on a hol­i­day.

It’s only when big burly types all togged up in heavy sky­div­ing gear start high-fiv­ing him as they en­ter the re­cep­tion area of Sky­dive Dubai that you re­alise Ernesto is in­deed the sky­diver who’s pitch­ing for a new record in sky­div­ing to­mor­row, April 5.

Ernesto, 35, is part of the XCF team of Sky­dive Dubai who are at­tempt­ing to set the world record. “XCF stands for ex­treme canopy [para­chute] flight,” he ex­plains.

“This is a dream I’ve had for many years af­ter see­ing the cur­rent record­holder, Luigi Canni, who is recog­nised as hav­ing dived with the world’s small­est para­chute [Icarus JVX-37] in 2008. I am at­tempt­ing to dive with [a two-square foot smaller] para­chute from a height of around 13,000 feet with the help of Sky­dive Dubai.”

He’s been in train­ing for a year now for this mis­sion. “The para­chute has a sur­face area of 35 square feet, a lit­tle smaller than a stan­dard sin­gle bed,” he ex­plains. “A stan­dard size para­chute is 120 square feet, which is roughly the size of two dou­ble beds. Stu­dents use ones of be­tween 200 and 230 square feet while ex­pe­ri­enced pi­lots use around 66 square feet.”

Ernesto has done over 2,500 jumps us­ing reg­u­lar para­chutes, but this is the first time he is at­tempt­ing a world-record jump.

What makes it so dan­ger­ous is the g-force (the force of ac­cel­er­a­tion, rather than grav­i­ta­tional force) that comes into play at high al­ti­tudes. “When the para­chute is so small so many things come into play, es­pe­cially the g-force, which can ac­tu­ally make you pass out,” he says. “If the

para­chute mal­func­tions or goes into a spin, the blood will go away from my brain and cause me to black out. If I don’t use the cor­rect tech­nique, on time, I will pass out. If I lean my body to one side it will re­sult in a par­tial turn, which can send me out of con­trol. If I use the brakes in an un­even way when I per­form any ma­noeu­vres, the para­chute will not func­tion prop­erly.”

The last test jump Ernest did was a 65kph ver­ti­cal drop. “I had a de­scent rate of 5,500 feet per minute,” he ex­plains. “In a nor­mal para­chute you can stay in the air for five to six min­utes from say 2,500 feet. I exit a plane at 11,000 feet and I have 2.5 min­utes of air time, af­ter which I open the para­chute.”

There are just two safety de­vices Ernesto can rely on if things go wrong. “We have an au­to­matic ac­ti­va­tion de­vice – two small com­put­ers with two dif­fer­ent func­tions,” he says. “One is a g-force unit; if I ex­pe­ri­ence 7g con­stantly for more than five sec­onds and black out, that unit will de­tach the para­chute and pull me back in free-fall. What it does, is givesme a chance to de­ploymy main para­chute, if I wake up on time. If I don’t wake up on time then I have an­other de­vice that will open the re­serve para­chute au­to­mat­i­cally at 750 feet. These are me­chan­i­cal de­vices and not 100 per cent re­li­able, but they’ve been tested many times and have been on the mar­ket for around 20 years. I don’t rely on de­vices, but it’s bet­ter than not hav­ing any­thing at all.’’

Ernesto knows about the dan­gers of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing g-force first hand. “We went for train­ing to the G-Force Cen­tre in Hol­land to han­dle the g-forces. In the past, one pi­lot, Chris Markin­son, passed away in 2005 dur­ing one of the tests. He got be­tween 13gs in the head and 30gs on his feet. That gives you an idea about the forces that I will ex­pe­ri­ence if some­thing goes wrong. I did 7.5gs for 45 sec­onds.”

Ernesto will at­tempt the dive strapped to three para­chutes: “The small one I will use for the record,

a main nor­mal para­chute with a 65-square-foot canopy, and a re­serve para­chute of 106 square feet. If any­thing goes wrong with the small para­chute and I am con­scious, I will de­tach it and open the main para­chute. If some­thing goes wrong with that one, I will de­tach that too and open the re­serve para­chute, which can help me land safely.”

He sounds so de­tached that you’d think Ernesto feels no fear. “I am a very emo­tional per­son, but in the sky, the only feel­ing I have is fear which I try to em­brace, and to be as pos­i­tive as pos­si­ble. Last time I was up there I checked my heart rate; it was 135 beats per minute – the nor­mal is be­tween 60 and 100 – that’s how scared I was!” he says. “I do get scared; feel fear. I am hu­man. But once I leave the air­craft there’s no room for fear. I have to con­cen­trate on my moves. You should be men­tally pre­pared.”

The rea­son Ernesto feels he can do it is also his phys­i­cal size. The smaller the diver, the greater the chances of suc­cess with a small para­chute. “Skill wise, I think there are only a cou­ple of people who can pull this off in a safe way,” he says. “I am one of them due to my size. But above all, it’s my pas­sion. Any­body can try this, but if they don’t have the pas­sion for it, I don’t think they’ll suc­ceed. I love fly­ing with para­chutes and I’ve been do­ing it for around seven years now. I’ve been a com­peti­tor and a test pi­lot for para­chute man­u­fac­tur­ers.”

How does it feel to ex­pe­ri­ence all that g-force? “Imag­ine you are on a roller-coaster. When you go down you feel the empti­ness, but when you go up you feel like you are heavy,” Ernesto ex­plains. “What I feel is 7.5 times my weight… So for me to move my hands even a few inches to re­lease the han­dle of my para­chute, I have to be re­ally care­ful be­cause if I re­lax too much and miss the han­dle, I can’t bring my hand up again in time. I have to do ev­ery­thing very me­thod­i­cally and me­chan­i­cally.”

Ernesto’s love for the skies be­gan in 2003 in his home­town, Va­len­cia in Venezuela. “I was at univer­sity, then study­ing law and busi­ness man­age­ment in the UK.” He went on a sky­dive and en­joyed it tremen­dously. “I just gave up law and busi­ness when I started sky­div­ing – I knew I had found what I wanted to do with my life.

“I saw the faces of the people who came to sky­dive – af­ter their jump

Any­body can try this, but if they don’t have the pas­sion for it, I don’t think they’ll suc­ceed

they would come in with a wide smile on their faces, it would stay with them as they went back home and per­haps for the whole day. To be able to give that to people who come here all stressed is beau­ti­ful. I hate be­ing tied down to my of­fice – I’d rather be up there in the sky!”

Sky­div­ing be­came his pro­fes­sion in 2004 af­ter start­ing as a para­chute packer in a small drop zone in north­ern France then grad­u­at­ing to videog­ra­pher, sky­div­ing in­struc­tor and a test pi­lot for pro­to­type para­chutes.

In 2007, he joined the Euro­pean canopy pilot­ing com­pe­ti­tion cir­cuit par­tic­i­pat­ing in more than 12 in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions rep­re­sent­ing Venezuela.

Ernesto passed his freefall in­struc­tor ex­ams in 2011 be­fore ar­riv­ing at Sky­dive Dubai the same year to be­come the as­sis­tant man­ager of op­er­a­tions at Sky­dive Dubai. Would he give it all up to go back to the path of prac­tis­ing law? “I have lived a very beau­ti­ful, in­tense life, so I would not think of re­tir­ing and tak­ing up law,” he grins. “I plan to keep do­ing this un­til I am 55, if I am fit enough.”

His wife, Darja, also works at the Sky­dive Dubai of­fice. “She suf­fers, of course, not be­ing a sky­diver her­self,” he says. “But she’s very pos­i­tive and hasa rec­on­ciled to my job now. I keep mak­ing prom­ises I won’t do any crazy projects but keep break­ing them!”

Ernesto is very clear why he’s do­ing this record-break­ing jump. “XCF is my way to in­spire oth­ers to try to fight for their dreams no mat­ter what they are,” he says. “For me it’s land­ing the world’s small­est para­chute, for you it might be to ride a camel. This is my way of in­spir­ing people to fol­low their dreams, no mat­ter what their dreams are. You have to fight for them.

“We are in this world for a very short pe­riod to do ex­tra­or­di­nary things and I don’t have to be an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son to do it,” he says. “Any­body can do it. Doesn’t mat­ter what it is. Even at a desk job you can do ex­tra­or­di­nary things. You just have to think be­yond that bar­rier that people have put around you. That’s what I am try­ing to prove.” Ernesto Gainza will be at­tempt­ing to sky­dive with the world’s small­est para­chute at Sky­dive Dubai to­mor­row (April 5). The gala event, open to fam­i­lies, will be­gin at 3pm. Ad­mis­sion is free. The jump will be at 5pm is sub­ject to weather con­di­tions.

Ernesto does around five jumps a day and has done more than 2,500 of them

Ernesto knew in­stantly this was the ca­reer he wanted the very first time he tried sky­div­ing

With views like that, it’s no won­der Ernesto couldn’t bear to be stuck in an of­fice all day

Ernesto (seen be­low in his gear) will be us­ing the white para­chute for the jump


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