A summer spent jumping out of airplanes

James Ross travelled 12,000-km from his native New Zealand to Abbotsford to help others skydive. He is one of 11,000 temporary foreign workers who come to British Columbia each year.

By Joti Grewal | October 19, 2022 |5:00 am

It takes a special type of person to leap from a plane and free fall from 13,000 feet above the ground—and then keep doing it over again.

James Ross first jumped out of a plane nine years ago, when he was 19. Since then he has recorded roughly 5,000 jumps. He has skydived in Australia, Florida, and most often in his home country of New Zealand. But this year, Ross chose to spend his summer jumping out of planes over Abbotsford.

Skydiving is a seasonal sport. Ross often leaves New Zealand in the offseason to help others skydive elsewhere. This year that meant coming to Abbotsford.

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The skydive community is tight-knit, and it’s how Ross landed a job in a North American community nearly 12,000-km away from home. He is one of 11,000 temporary foreign workers who come to British Columbia each year. He arrived in June at Skydive Vancouver in Abbotsford to meet his colleagues from Mexico, Australia, and Spain.

“Typically, you’re six months ahead of where you want to be. Right now I’m about to go back to New Zealand so I will be looking past that and going ‘Okay, where am I gonna go when the season ends in New Zealand?’”

That he isn’t yet sure about, but he could possibly return to Abbotsford next year considering he already has a visa. Ross first came to Abbotsford in 2018 to visit friends. During that trip he learned the owner of the Abbotsford-based dropzone was a good friend of his boss back home in New Zealand.

“You’re always meeting new people, but relatively speaking, skydiving is quite a small community. I know people scattered all around the world who work in the industry and I’ll always bump into someone,” Ross said.

Skydivers are expected to pay for their own travel to overseas work locations. When Ross is pondering a summer job he isn’t just chasing a view. He considers whether he will break even at the end of the season and whether the company fosters camaraderie among its staff.

“That’s sort of what I try and follow as opposed to the big corporate companies,” Ross said.

LANDING ON ABBOTSFORD

Ross is a certified tandem skydiving instructor. Typically, a person needs 200 jumps to be a camera flyer—a sort of aerial photographer—and 500 to begin their own training to jump tandem, where a person strapped to a skydive instructor leaps out of the airplane together. In New Zealand, the requirement to jump tandem is 750 jumps because jumps are often made from 20,000 feet instead of the average 13,000 in Canada. The number of successful jumps required for certification varies depending on a country’s regulations.

“The rush you get when you leave the aircraft is just—there is no way to describe it,” Ross said.

He is often asked whether the feeling is similar to being on a roller coaster.

“They ask you if it’s like that stomach crushing feeling when you go on a roller coaster; well, not really, because it’s just like a combination of things. And then it’s really, really windy,” he said with a laugh.

And the thrill of free-falling from thousands of feet in the air doesn’t get old.

“You’re continuously learning about how to fly as well,” he said. “We are doing stuff in free form now that we weren’t doing 10 years ago, because it’s progressed over the last few years quite rapidly.”

Wherever he lands next summer, Ross will still be leaping out of planes.

“It’s just fun.”


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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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