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Catching up with Airspeed – Ari Perelman

Ari Perelman

Yesterday we published an interview with Niklas Hemlin about how and why Airspeed chose Ari Perelman as their new member. Today we talk to Ari about his background, his feelings and how he is going to shorten the gap…

Has this been a dream of yours for a long time?

Definitely my dream for a very long time. When I first started skydiving, Jack Jefferies was one of my coaches and people I looked up to. As one of the key members of Airspeed this shaped my path and gave me the desire to get into competitive 4way, to really learn a lot and to have a structure to my skydiving as opposed to just being a fun jumper.

Then I moved to Deland to pursue that. Thomas Hughes was one of my main belly coaches and freefly coaches – he very much influenced me wanting to do multiple disciplines. I had enjoyed them both a lot before but he showed me you could do them both to a very high level. I moved down with a 4-way team for Nationals that he coached, back in the days when I had a very very big skydiving ego. We hadn’t done very many jumps together but in my mind that didn't matter because I knew how good we were. It’s not that I thought we were going to win, I absolutely knew we were going to win; there was no question in my mind. I think we got 24th place with about a 5 average! It was the best thing that could have happened to me as it totally put my ego in check and made me realize where I really was and where my skill level was and gave me much more of a desire to really get good and learn, rather than to think I was good. I think my ego is smaller now than it was then.

Tell me how your 4-way career evolved

I constantly looked for teams to do – ended up doing a lot of training with a lot of the coaches down there – Solly, Doug Park, Chromy, all those guys knew I loved to do 4-way and would ask me to fill in any time they had a slot available. At one point I filled in for a team called Down to Earth, that I enjoyed flying with, loved being with, and ended up joining. This was my first trained team. I was Point. We went to Nationals, did a 12.2 average.

Then I ended up doing too much skydiving – the typical, I gave up my life and dived headfirst into it, defining myself as a skydiver, with nothing else. I gave up everything – then got very burned out on skydiving because I didn't have anything to balance it. I took a couple of years off, then got back into skydiving doing just as much, in fact competing even more than before but it was okay because I had a much better balance in my life. That’s what has enabled me to do more and pursue competition more, by realizing there is more to life than skydiving

I was coaching a lot – freefly, 4-way, lots of 1-on 1 in the Orlando tunnel– I ended up doing Sebastian Tempest in 2008, which was a team with Thiago – also Chris Ash and Kristina Petersen, and Pat Walker on video. That was a lot of fun, we did a 17.1 average, a personal best for all of us.

VFS had started taking off and I got into both disciplines. At the 2008 Nats I did a pick up team in VFS as well as belly, we got a medal, which until recently was my highest 4-way achievement, bronze at Nationals. I then joined Dallas Rogue 8-way team, where I met a lot of new people. After the team finished team members would still do pick-up teams for Nationals. That started my involvement with the Knights, joining them for Nationals for 16-way and after that, a few years later, joining with Airspeed for 10-way and 16-way. That’s where I met Nik [Hemlin], and began to get to know the guys on Airspeed better.

Afterwards I did Deland Shmeland – with Rodney Cruce, Sally Hathaway and Jim Klinge, making a 17.1 average. Then I did a team called Throw Down, with Ian Bobo, Katie Woods and Kyle Collins. They all had done a significantly higher average than me, so it was great, to push myself, and fly with people of that caliber. We did a 19 average. Then I did Arizona Prime in 2013, with Shannon Pilcher as player/coach, plus Nick Grillet, and Don Burnett – that was the last trained 4-way team I did, and we did my highest [outside] average of 19.3. Don and Mikhail had previously been on a team together; all of the 4-way scene is connected.

Ari enjoying some FF fun over Skydive City — by Jay Mccahan
Ari enjoying some FF fun over Skydive City — by Jay Mccahan

When did you start competing in freefly?

I still wanted to train 4-way but it was hard to put together a team at that level. 2way MFS [Mixed Formation Skydiving] was just starting. Andy Malchiodi, Rusty Lewis and I put the program together – Andy did most of the work, I helped with the rules and made a 2-way tunnel pool. I did 2way MFS at the 2014 Nationals with Andy (Elsinore Dark Energy), and did a 4-way belly player/coach team, Dallas Khaos. Elsinore Dark Energy led to my first trained open class medal, silver in 2-way MFS.

Last year I did a player/coach MFS team [CAC XP, with Seth Clayton and Jay McCahan] and competed in open – we won a silver medal, which was huge for me to get an Open medal with me as the coach. I also helped out with one of Rhythm’s 4-way belly project teams, and jumped with them at Nationals.

How did the invitation on Airspeed come about?

Nik called in about January and asked me if I would be interested in joining Airspeed. I was really surprised, as I didn’t think I was on their radar. As it happened, the MFS team was planned to continue this year but it wasn’t able to. I had already planned to spend lots of time and money doing 400 jumps so I had time and energy free.

Niklas said to think about it. I wasn’t sure it would work, I have a full time job, also I’m getting married in 2 months. Doing Airspeed would mean moving to Arizona – how could I support myself? My job would have to be ok with that, or I would have to find something else. With a wife-to-be as well I didn't think it would work out. Although I really wanted to do it, I thought when I looked into it I would find all these reasons why it wouldn't work. Talked to Nik, to my job and Hannah, my fiancée – well everything just lined up. All of a sudden it looked like it would work out great. Hannah had just stopped her business in Colorado, so she was free to leave. My work was ok with trying it – I already have some coaching work but can still do some computer work on the side, Hannah is good with the move. I want to really thank her for supporting me – I don’t think anyone should underestimate the value of someone who supports you in your life. Eventually she said, “Look you need to do this, I am going there with you and just accept that.”

I called Nik and said, “Yes I want to do this”. Then it was a long process of phone calls, coming out and meeting the team, trying out – there were other people they were looking at too.

What happened at your tryout?

Originally I was going to come for a couple of days but then I got a call from Nik saying Thiago had broken his pinkie, so could I do a full training camp with them. The guys commented that it worked out in my favor to do the longer time, especially as I was coming from a lower level than the others. The first day there were a lot of things to remember, as I hadn’t been active in high level 4-way. I did tunnel to prepare, and lots of visualization – but when it comes down to it, there’s nothing like jumping with Airspeed! For them to see the way that I learn, and handle both good and bad things was a big plus.

I remember later I was at dinner with my fiancée and her family – and got a call offering me the slot! I called back the next day and said, Yes, I'm in. That was about 3 weeks ago.

Ari as a Load Organizer at Pepe's Island Boogie, Panama — by Raymond Adams
Ari as a Load Organizer at Pepe's Island Boogie, Panama — by Raymond Adams

Why does 4-way excite you?

What I really like about 4-way belly also draws me to MFS and VFS – the FS disciplines are all about staying small and making super efficient movements, 4-way Dynamic is about being big and beautiful as well as going fast. 4-way belly is more technical, more fleshed out than VFS or MFS, just because it’s been happening so long. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to world champion VFS flyers and they can get very technical – but I think there are more fine details in 4-way FS. I love learning all these tiny things that make no difference when you start but make a massive difference when you are at a high level.

What’s the plan now?

I start training with the team on December 1. In-between I will be doing a ton of homework – I have lots of Airspeed videos to study. I will work on personal skills in the Denver tunnel and I will come out here and fly with the team. I want to do as much as I can before training starts. I intentionally left some space, as conversations were happening, I am very happy to take time to prepare mentally and physically, train and visualize. I am under no illusion that I have a lot of catching up to do. I am excited about that because I don't want to hold the team back. I want them to say, “Wow, he’s not a 19 average any more, he’s as good as we’d want someone to be, so now let’s go and start winning again”.

What slot will you go into?

That’s still to be decided. No matter what I am doing to need to learn. I've done a 19 average in Outside Center and an 18 average on Tail.

How long are you in for?

A big part of the discussions was the team wants to build a team for longevity – team commitments to each other. We want to stay together, train and win – to beat Hayabusa is no easy thing and no short task. A lot of time has to be put in.

How did you find the Arizona Challenge?

The team fully involved with the planning – they are treating me as a full member of the team, which I really appreciate, it’s been amazing. The event itself is a ton of fun, I have never been to a Challenge before – I have done some big ways but not since the nineties, so to get back into doing some of it at this level has been a lot of fun.

Arizona Challenge participants 2016, with Airspeed in the foreground — by Craig O'Brien
Arizona Challenge participants 2016, with Airspeed in the foreground — by Craig O'Brien

Will you still freefly?

It was made very clear that there wouldn’t be time to do a freefly team – but that’s not a problem, this is absolutely my dream, that’s what I wanted all those years anyway. So that’s the catch, no FF team? No problem!!

I will still freefly with the team – in the evenings as a way to relax. The new Airspeed is looking at all ways of flying – they can all fly headdown in the tunnel, they want to be all-round skydivers. We freeflew together already, and I have a higher level so was able to help them. It’s something where I can contribute to the team. All of skydiving is all about using the air – the better you understand how the air affects your body the better you are at everything. FF improves belly and vice-versa. Freeflying is a completely different approach, and it helps to appreciate skydiving more, having fun together and bonding as a team.

Do you have a motto or philosophy?

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” I have a lot of things I am interested in and want to do the best I can. If I can’t do it the way I want, I’d rather not do it. One of my pet peeves is to go to a store and find people doing a job they don't like and it shows. We might not all be able to do our dream job but surely you can find something you like and want to do well.

In the Airspeed team room, working together on the AZ Challenge
In the Airspeed team room, working together on the AZ Challenge

How do you feel about joining Airspeed?

Airspeed are such an amazing, consistently-winning team since 1994, it is an incredible honor to be part of this legacy. It’s very humbling, I feel a lot of weight on my shoulders – to be able to live up to everything that has come before. The guys have all proved themselves and to be able to join and hopefully push each other to new levels of 4-way is an amazing opportunity.

It has always been my dream to compete at the highest level. 4-way has been my favorite discipline and Airspeed the top team in skydiving. I love to compete at a very high level, whether dynamic, VFS, MFS, 4-way, 8-way, whatever. Even if I couldn't find the team I wanted I would still compete, to push myself. Now is the culmination of all the work I have put into skydiving – staying active and motivated even when things weren’t going the way I wanted – I have now achieved my main dream. I am really excited to train and compete with Airspeed.

If you look at recent history I have the lowest average of anyone coming on Airspeed. They have pulled in Fury and Rhythm members who have all done 22+ averages. When I was talking to Nik one of the reasons that he said they chose me was because I never gave up on trying, staying active in skydiving and competition, and continuously looking to improve my skills. The fact that they are willing to take me with my average gives me more determination and drive to show that they made the right choice.

Read the interview with Niklas Hemlin here

Check Ari's achievements on his website