TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH
SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE IN GOD, I BELIEVE IN MY RESERVE PARACHUTE: MEET THE DAREDEVILS WHO BAILED ON THEIR DESK JOBS FOR A CAREER LESS ORDINARY
Adrenaline— it’s a hormone reaction humans have been chasing since the beginning of existence. But what happens when a once-in-a-lifetime rush is all part of the job? We speak to a skydiving instructor, joy ride pilot and stunt double to find out if the excitement ever fades.
There was no such thing as tandem skydives when Archie Jamieson first threw himself out of an aeroplane.
“I started jumping in April, 1986. I remember the first one was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he says.
“It was the scary old days around parachutes and tandem hadn’t been invented. It was a different game back then.”
Evidently, it wasn’t terrifying enough to put him off. He started jumping “military style” and began competing in world parachuting championships — when he could get away from his day job.
“I used to be a manager for Coles,” he says. “I went overseas for 12 months, just travelling around, jumping and coaching.
“It was something I wanted to do (become an instructor).
“I really just thought if you find something you love doing, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’d done a bunch of jumps, it was easy to slot into that.”
In 2004 Archie started working at Gold Coast Skydive. Four years later he bought the business and is now the chief instructor and a pilot.
He downplays his role as a lot of administration work and “not much jumping on a day-to-day basis”.
“I would do 500 jumps a year now,” Archie says. “That’s just a mixture of all sorts of stuff.
“I do stunt work, like I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Sea Fire, TV commercials.
“Currently I’m up in the Northern Territory teaching skydiving.
“At my peak I was doing 1200 (jumps) in a year. That was at a very busy drop zone when the industry was peaking.
“My boys do about 900 a year.
“If you’re doing 800 jumps a year, you’re making a living.”
Skydiving roughly 10 times a week, or as many times as you drive to and from work ... that’s got to feel like just another day in the office, right?
“If it’s becoming day to day, then you need a wake-up call. That fear keeps you alive, you can’t get complacent,” Archie says.
“It’s a dangerous sport, but it can be done safely. A malfunction’s not really a big deal.
“Some people believe in God, I believe in my reserve parachute.
“When I jump with pyrotechnicians into stadiums, absolutely we’re peaking.
“We’ve got good equipment, good aircraft. Those butterflies are a good thing.”
AEROBATIC JOY RIDE PILOT
When he was four years old, Glenn Graham’s world was turned upside down and he was never the same.
“Sitting in the back of a plane with my father, I just remember looking at the world and seeing the horizon rotate around,” Glenn says.
“I thought it was the greatest feeling and I have been hooked ever since.
“I grew up with a flying family. I was never interested in flying in the air force or commercial jets. I was only interested in going upside down.”
The Hunter Valley pilot is the operations manager for Aerohunter Adventure Flights, a company that takes customers on whiteknuckle aerobatic rides through the sky.
On an average working day, Glenn will flip upside down a dozen times, barrel roll through the sky at 4000ft and feel up to four G-forces.
Similar to Archie, Glenn was working in retail as a young adult simply to fund his obsession with aerial stunts.
“I spent my life working in retail, which wasn’t the greatest money but all my money was spent on putting myself upside down,” he says.
Glenn started working with champion aerobatics pilot Paul Bennet who eventually offered him a job as a pilot at his Aerohunter business. He went on to become an Australian aerobatics champion, too (even beating his boss once when they competed against each other), and continues to compete in world tournaments.
Glenn says his day job helps to keep his skills up in between competitions, but it’s more like comparing a regular commute to a circuit as a race-car driver.
“We start them (customers) off gently, we do a turn under two Gs, which means two times the force of gravity, so that effort to lift the arms is twice as heavy,” he says.
“Then we do what we call a wingover which is pitch up, turn around, and pitch down again, then we do a barrel roll which is where we go upside down, then we work our way up into a loop. In the loop we get to three and a half or four Gs. If they’re good with that, we start doing a combination of lifts and rolls.
“When I fly air shows I get up to eight Gs, so going four Gs is comfortable for me. Gforce is very tolerance based and the more you do it, the more you get used to it. It’s just like a little Sunday drive for me.
“I get my adrenaline rush from flying close to the ground and flying complex manoeuvres.
“When I’m flying with the passengers we’re about 2000ft. When I fly air shows, I’ll come down to about 50ft off the ground.”
Although he finds his work straightforward, Glenn is reminded daily of how exciting his job is.
“A lot of them (customers) say you have the best job in the world, and I definitely don’t disagree with them because the office window’s forever changing,” he says.
“They all come down with great smiles and wanting to go again.”
But what are the health consequences of experiencing such G-forces every day? Motion sickness? Nausea? Even hypoxia?
No — it’s pretty much the same damage you’d get slouching in an office chair.
“For a pilot, when you do eight, nine Gs, we get a lot of compression on our spine and we get sore backs after a little while.”
It’s the middle of the night and you’re swimming in a creek known for its population of bull sharks.
While some would say you couldn’t pay them enough to do it, stunt woman Ilana Collins dives in. She recalls the perilous moonlight dip as one of her most memorable moments since beginning work as a stunt double two years ago.
“I was swimming in Jacobs Well marina at night time, in among the bullsharks,” she says. “They do put a shark shield in the water, but there’s still a risk. Being in the water at night time is always a bit scary.”
It was aquatics of a more leisurely pursuit that sparked Ilana’s interest in work as a stunt woman.
A fan of Tomb Raider, Ilana wanted to advertise her bikini label with a video including fight scenes and zip lines.
“The videographer was like, ‘How are you going to test the zip line?’ And I was like, ‘I’ll jump on, give it a go’,” Ilana says.
“He said, ‘I wouldn’t even know stunt people that would do that’.
“That’s when it put it in my mind — I thought what a cool job.”
Ilana soon quit her job and flew to Hollywood to train in stunt work, learning how to fall from heights, spar in fights, crash tackle and writhe around in water.
When she came home to Australia, her first job was as Elsa Pataky’s double in Netflix series Tidelands.
“I met a stunt co-ordinator at training and he considered me for doubling for Chris Hemsworth’s wife and that was my first gig stunt doubling,” she says. “It was really good how it happened so quickly. I was quite lucky to get that first one so quickly.”
Since then Ilana has had a number of stunt jobs in Australia and specialises in fight scenes — her passion for martial arts and boxing growing up didn’t go astray.
Ilana is hesitant to call herself a thrillseeker, but she knows it takes a little bit of a wild streak to do what she does.
“High falls are still fairly dangerous. I’ve trained for falls from 40ft, which is about 13 metres,” she says.
“Being in fight scenes can be dangerous, if someone gets really rough with you and throws you down on the ground, you could hurt your back, or if you’re doing motorbikes you could land wrong.
“What I think is, I would rather do this job and have a story to tell from it, rather than being inside four walls.
“I know I could possibly die, but at least I’ve lived life. That’s what goes through my mind.”
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BODY WHEN ADRENALINE KICKS IN
Your heart rate increases. Blood is redirected towards your muscles, causing a surge in energy or tremors. Your airways relax to give muscles more oxygen, which may result in shallow breathing. Your pupils dilate. The body’s ability to feel pain decreases and mental focus sharpens.