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Catching up with Travis Fienhage

Travis Finhege

Travis is a 4 times US National and World Champion in Artistic Freefly (with teammates Andy Malchiodi and Matt Lewis), holds multiple World Record titles and, along with his teammates, organizes the California State Head Down Records. He's a super coach, known for his seemingly unlimited supply of patience and attention.

Occupation

Professional Skydiver

Travis coaches with unlimited patience
Travis coaches with unlimited patience

Equipment

UPT Vector 3 container
Xaos 27 Cell 86 Main
Precision reserve
Cypres
Liquid Sky Suit

Home DZ

Skydive Perris

How long have you been jumping and how many jumps do you have?

11 Years, 10,000+

How did you make your way to becoming a full time professional skydiver?

As soon as I made my first tandem in Maine, I knew I wanted this to be my career so I started working within 2 weeks of my first static line jump as a packer. A month later when I discovered a passion for freeflying, I decided I wanted to focus on that aspect of the sport so I just packed and jumped for the first year before I attended my first tunnel camp. This opened my eyes to the fact that I needed constant access to the wind tunnel environment, so under the advice of Mike Swanson I moved to Perris, California. I lived in a tiny 4x8 trailer in the parking lot for 8 months before moving into a luxurious shed with no bathroom in the back yard of a house for the next 4 years. This allowed me to put all my resources towards training and becoming a coach. I would do work jumps with the school, squeeze in fun jumps and load organising, jumps, organize tunnel evenings and then do rigging in the loft often till midnight everyday. Looking back, I have no idea how I had the energy to maintain that schedule, I just knew that the only thing I had real control of was the effort I would put in.

How long did you compete with your team, SoCal Converge?

I think of it more as how long myself, Andy and Matt have flown together, because we were originally on a VFS team before we decided to create the artistic team, so we’ve been flying and competing together for 7 years.

Socal Converge routine
Socal Converge routine

What has been your most memorable competition?

After getting back from winning the 2010 World Meet and going straight to Nationals in Chicago we had such a calm vibe about us, we’ve never felt so confident as a team. The whole competition was so much fun, we didn’t care, and of course, we flew the best we’d ever flown.

SoCal Converge, Freefly World Champions&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by <a href='https://skydivemag.smallteaser.com/user/niklasdaniel.com' class='captionLink'>Niklas Daniel</a>
SoCal Converge, Freefly World Champions — by Niklas Daniel

It’s known that you, Andy and Matt are very good friends, was it easy being team mates for that long of a period?

Like all teams, we had lots of challenges along the way, it’s hard spending that much time with any person, no matter how much you like them. For us to get the training in, we were spending 40+ hours together, we had plans on how to deal with conflicts. That’s the hardest part about being on on a team, dealing with the conflicts correctly, in a way that still allows you to move forward with your goals. Despite how much I loved those dudes, after the Worlds we were ready for a break from each other, but it didn’t take long before we wanted to get the band back together, and after each meet, we became closer.

You’ve competed in VFS also, how does it compare competing in a discipline where judging can be subjective at times?

Man, now you’ve pulled on that thread ;) I think, at times, there have been some major problems with judging in artistic. Ultimately, it is our job to take the scoring out of the judges' hands, ie, we show them something so awesome, it’s impossible not to win. But it’s been frustrating seeing so many teams developing such technically difficult moves and those moves, just because they don’t look like a ‘pretty, carving sequence’ are not getting the same high scores. I’m disappointed that teams have to dumb down their technicality to ensure better scores, thus stunting the progression of body-flight. Ultimately, we need more judges that are current in the discipline to try and make a shift in the way routines are viewed. So maybe I should get off my ass and get my judges rating ;)

Tell us about SoCal Converge scoring a World Record 24 points in your first speed round at the World Championships 2010

That jump was really special to us, the moves involved having to go to flat belly/back in between every vertical move, which is a real challenge. We trained our speed rounds with the goal of setting a new world record, regardless of how fast the draw appeared, so it was awesome to achieve it with that kind of speed change between moves.

How do you feel about the new 2-way mixed formation discipline that seems to be taking off?

I’m really excited about the 2-way mixed, it’s extremely athletic, more accessible to up and coming freeflyers and encompasses all modes of flying. I think it’s going to take off in a big way.

Any advice for newbies in the freefly world?

Tunnel really is the best place for us to practice our fundamental skills, you absolutely need that kind of time with a great coach to learn the good, basic body positions. Then it’s about taking it into the sky where we learn to ‘play the game’. Safety in the sky with new freeflyers seems to be an all too often overlooked issue - it makes sense to me to work out stability and bailing techniques in the wind tunnel, before adding higher freefall speeds, altitude awareness and other people into the mix.

You're known for your unlimited patience when you coach, is there anything that frustrates you?!

I try and help people realize that if we do a 15 minute session together, in any other sport, that would be an insignificant amount of time to practice. I don’t get frustrated, but sometimes the hardest part is to get students to see that learning this discipline is going to take time, and that’s okay! When they wrap their head around the fact that they’re not going to be outface carving after 30 minutes of flying, their progression normally speeds up when they take the pressure off themselves!

Red Bull demo
Red Bull demo

How many misrouted chest straps and 3-rings have you caught in the plane during your jumping career?

Oh dang, it’s insane. I worry sometimes that I’m some kind of gear malfunction magnet as it’s scary how many I’ve caught over the years! Seriously dudes, check your chest strap, learn about your gear and cut the shit!

You often do demos with the Red Bull team, what’s the most fun jump you’ve done with them?

I got to wingsuit over and swoop into the Redbull MLS stadium in New Jersey. To say this thing was enclosed would be an understatement, it was nice feeling when my feet touched the ground and nothing else on the way down! Every jump that I get to demo with them is such an awesome experience – I love getting to work with such a professional team.

What do you think the next big thing in skydiving will be?

I know of some very cool ideas coming down the pipe that I’m super excited about, but I can’t say anything about it yet! I also love where freefly sequential flying is going.

What are your new goals?

Honestly, I’m feeling out new goals for myself right now, in the mean time I’m trying to push my own physical fitness and keep on working on my own bodyflight skills.

Tell us something people may not know about you?

I really like peanut butter. Also, my wife was a world champion before we met, a lot of freeflyers don’t know this, so it cracks me up when people go up to her and say ‘soooo, what’s it like being married to a World Champ?’

Describe Travis in 5 words or less

Driven, introverted (until tequila is involved), loyal, patient, quirky.

Comments (1)

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Scott Levesque

A great article of a pretty cool guy.

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