Rob Harris         continued     JENNINGS PRODUCTIONS

October 1994, Rob Harris and I were relatively unknown. Neither of us imagined how quickly that would change. Suddenly our picture was published full page in Parachutist, ESPN was broadcasting the Arizona World Meet, skydiving magazines around the world were publishing photos and articles. It was really a whirlwind, and the process was just beginning.

Thinking back, how lucky I was to fly with Rob. I was damn good and I liked to take credit for half of our team’s performance. After all, my contribution counted for part of the score and I’d come down with images that would blow the judges away. I tried to tune out the nagging thought that just about any camera flyer who could keep Rob in frame would have taken gold. That the resulting scores of a camera flyer’s efforts are mostly determined by the skysurfer he or she captures. I was the co-pilot, the supporting act. It’s a fond memory today, and I like flying camera for an intermediate performer as much as an advanced performer. At the time, though, I hated the thought.

Sponsorship, we’d naively chased it after winning our first intermediate competition, and suddenly we had choices, offers, phone calls, letters. We chose PD canopies and four Javelin containers. Four rigs! Two rigs each so we could jump one while the other was being packed. Of course! And we got the fanciest, smallest, coolest gear. Till then, I was jumping a second hand Vector with a PD 210 main that was nice and easy to flat pack. I hated the new equipment. What’s the use of smaller gear if you can’t pack? Learning to pro pack new Stilettos was like changing my kid’s diaper when he’s fighting back, arms and legs squishing out in every direction. Rob had to pack for me at first.

Our lead was solid at the World Meet, but we considered first place a fragile environment. Rob felt he needed forty plus jumps a week practice to stay ahead of the pack. I’m sure that ten or fifteen jumps a week would have been plenty, but Rob saw, more than me, the qualities of the other skysurfer’s performances and their potential to kick our asses. Skydive AZ was our destination.

Neither of us wanted to tell Bill Jones. Air Adventures West was our home DZ, we had friends there. And we’d lost count of all the times Bill had fired up his Cessna to give us free altitude before the ’93 and ’94 World Meets. One fine evening, we decided to bite the bullet. After a few beers and bowl, we sat down with Bill to slur out our intentions. I broke the ice. "Bill, Rob and I want to talk with you about some decisions we’ve made." At that moment, Rob quietly excused himself to use the bathroom, and there I was, with half of my brain functioning, sitting face to face with a curious Bill Jones.

So I told him. And it wasn’t so bad! Bill understood our ambitions and didn’t seem to blame us for wanting to move on. I felt the tension in my body ease, and noticed out of the corner of my eye, Rob and Fritz, staring into the room through a crack in the door. Perhaps Rob expected to see me with a fat black eye, but there we were, and things were cool, so he stepped in to rejoin the discussion. By then, Bill and I were onto skydiving stories. Bill told us about how the pilots of international flights over Africa must know certain codes and passwords to pass without intervention. He said something about them having to sing the right tune, and Rob, in his blurred attempt at polite feedback replied in song. "You mean like, Ungula Bunka mo ho, open the doe cause this plane’s got to go?" For a brief moment, Bill and Rob sat in silence. I took a swig of beer. Suddenly, foam blasted from my nose. They were serious! Bill baffled, Rob sincere, me laughing hysterically.

Skydive AZ is the Mecca of training facilities. Weather is almost always perfect, teams come from around the world to practice all of skydiving’s disciplines, the runway is big, paved, the hangars are huge, the airplanes come in all sizes. On a Monday, we’d jump 12 times before 3pm. World champions in RW, Freestyle, CRW, Freeflying, style and accuracy, all were there training. The vibe was good, the place was hopping with activity, all these teams dedicated to living in a small desert town, to train.

Things continued to gel in the media. Just after winning the ’94 meet, Patrick De Gayardon approached us about traveling to Florida to work with him and Norm Kent on an MTV Sports project. I was kind of stunned by his sportsmanship. Here we’d taken his title in a sport he’d personally developed and was strongly favored to win. And we were standing in the laundry room with him just after being awarded, and he was demanding that we be included in this MTV segment with him because he liked our stuff, and he wanted to fly with Rob. It was such a thrill, such an honor.

About a week after returning from Florida, we landed a job on Baywatch. Rob and Troy Hartman played the top two lifeguards on the show. Troy played David Hasselhauf making his first ever skydive over the shoreline on a skysurf board. Rob played his skysurfing buddy. In the story, DH surfs out the door, a bit unstable at first, but soon gets the hang of it and makes a few cool moves under the watchful eye of his buddy. They dice it up until pull time when DH pulls and nothing comes out, so he pulls his reserve, and nothing comes out. He tumbles out of control with his concerned buddy in chase. He cuts away his board to regain some control and his buddy swoops in to help. They grab on to each other and tumble a bit, then DH grabs a hold on Buddy as he deploys his parachute, but they loose grip and DH tumbles away. To save himself, DH takes a feet down position for a splash into the ocean. Then his very fine friends work to resuscitate him. Turns out it was a dream he’d imagined just before making his real skysurf jump.

We shot the entire sequence in seven jumps, one day. Rob and Troy nailed the action on every jump and I was locked on to every move. We jumped over the Ventura Pier, a location that has become one of my favorites. Later we’d return to the same place to shoot a Mountain Dew commercial featuring Mel Torme, and again for routine footage we just wanted.

The ESPN Extreme Games were to be held in June. ESPN did features on Rob and me; Pete McKeeman presented us as "hero types". I still don’t know how he came up with that description. A few knuckleheads congratulated us for "kicking some French ass", and so on. Rob was approached a hundred times at the clubs he’d DJ with the same conversation. "Congratulations, how fast do you fall? can you breath up there?, how high do you jump?, did your first parachute ever fail?, what’s it like?". Rob said he’d love to answer just once, "Its like ----in’ yo grandma!" Course he didn’t, cause he was a hero type and all. It was all kind of fun, the publicity. Everyone had a take on us and that was fine. And now it was expected, that we’d win the Extreme Games.

So we trained our asses off at Skydive AZ. It was a great experience meeting dedicated jumpers training in all different aspects of the sport. Rob moved to Arizona and I’d fly out every other week from LA to Phoenix for five days of training. And the training days were intense. Ten or eleven jumps a day wasn’t at all unusual. I wouldn’t trade the experience. I was never crazy about leaving home, but Arizona, for me, was like another world. It was hot, desert, rocky, dusty. Sunsets in Arizona are unreal, and the moon and stars at night, breathtaking.

Rob would pick me up in his white Nissan truck he called "Rolling Thunder" every other Sunday night for a week of training. I wanted a name for my truck – old Datsun with 200 thousand miles; Rob called it "The Bucket". Some nights, we’d jump by the light of the moon. We’d make a "hop and pop" deploying our parachutes the moment we’d exit the airplane at 13,000 feet and spend the next fifteen or twenty minutes floating through the blackness. From 13,000' you can see Tucson and Phoenix glowing in the distance. And then I’d notice the cold wet beers I’d stuffed into my shorts. There’s nothing like sipping a few brews under canopy in the middle of the night.

Things I remember: I knew he was a dee jay on weekends, but he didn’t talk about it much. I pictured him announcing the bride and groom’s first dance. I was blown away to find out he was one of the more in demand DJs in Los Angeles’ hottest nightclubs. He told me stories about his LA friends, about things they did, about growing up in LA. One night they were on an elevator in a hotel holding a gay convention of some sort. Two gay guys were riding as well. All of the sudden, one of Rob’s crew drops a bar of soap on the floor and bends straight over at the hips to grab it. Why? Or when rob rolled into a supermarket wearing dark shades pretending to be a blind man being led by a completely untrained Labrador that was scarfing things off the shelves. How he and Brad would "throw down with the freaks"… meaning basically, that they’d dated a hell of a lot. The details were good, but I can’t go there. How Brad and some of his friends were hired as characters on tabloid talk shows. Brad played "Johnny Bravo", the great womanizer. Rob showed me tapes, Johnny Bravo was brilliant, a total freak, proud to play the ultimate sleazy king of women. Rob’s friends played violent couples and things like that. The more he told me stories, the more I saw depth and diversity in his life. How he and Darren, a night club promoter took on this knucklehead at a club one night and threw him out. How he ran marathons as a kid, twelve years old and he was training for and completing marathons!                  More to come.....    BACK TO JENNINGS PRODUCTIONS