Skydive Mag

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Catching up with Airspeed – Niklas Hemlin

Words by Lesley Gale

Airspeed - and then there were 6
Airspeed – Justin, Thomas, Thiago, Niklas, Mikhail & Ari, replacing Thomas in December

The next person to join the Airspeed Dynasty has been announced as Ari Perelman, who will step into the team when Thomas Hughes leaves as planned after the US Nationals. To some, Ari may seem a surprising choice. He was not spawned in the silver and bronze medal teams that are the usual breeding grounds for Airspeed members. In fact, Ari has never scored a 20+ average – although that’s about to change dramatically!

He is however a passionate competitor, who last year competed in 5 out of the 6 FS disciplines. His 4-way pedigree includes Down to Earth, Sebastian Tempest, Deland Smeland, Throw Down, Arizona Prime and being a player/coach on Dallas Khaos Black. He’s competed in 8-way with Dallas Rogue, and won medals with both the Golden Knights and Airspeed for 10- and 16-way at Nationals. But Ari is far more than a belly flyer, he is a well-rounded skydiver with competition experience in many arenas, and proved himself to be a great freeflyer. He’s achieved a Nationals bronze in VFS with Swingline, a silver in MFS with Elsinore Dark Energy, also setting a National Record, and won silver in MFS as a player coach with CAC XP. He competed in Dynamic at the Knights of Prague, with the Southwest Hustle (Ari, Friday Freedman, Jason Peters and Andy Malchiodi). There, Ari showed his strength of character by competing with a shoulder injury sustained the night before the competition, against his doctor’s advice to immobilize it for 2 weeks.

Ari is 34, has been in the sport for 14 years and has about 4,500 jumps. He is personable, driven, energetic and optimistic. He is highly motivated, has a strong analytical side and he seems like the sort of teammate you can rely on in a crisis. He’s also American born, bringing some national flavor back to the team (– the only American on the current line-up is Justin, the videographer, and he’s from Texas so that doesn't really count!). He brings a strong but very likeable personality to the Airspeed table.

Airspeed landing
Airspeed at World Championships 2014, Prostejov — Image by Chuck Akers

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Niklas Hemlin
Niklas Hemlin

Skydive Mag sat down with Airspeed’s Niklas Hemlin and asked about the method of choosing a new team member, and how they arrived at Ari…

Nik and THomas
It's important to be a team!

How did you come to choose Ari?

The process is, we make a list of possible new teammates, then we call and ask if they are interested. Some say yes, some say no. We explain what is required, and do tryouts. There is always the one person who stands out; the one who is the most excited and who the team gets the most signals from. That was Ari. He ended up being the guy. As far as ranking goes, he was in a list of people with a lot more experience. In the end there is a lot more to be considered. Look at Dennis with Hayabusa or Bob [Jeroen Nollet]. Or go even further back and look at Airspeed, with Eliana and Andy Delk, they had very little experience and they became champions with Airspeed. The whole experience thing wasn’t a big deal, it’s about being excited and committed and willing to make sacrifices to be on the team. It’s the energy level. It’s about saying the right things, doing the right things and speaking from the heart. Ari wouldn’t even be on the list if he wasn’t talented. The people on the list all had the skill set but what we don't know is if they have the drive, the passion, the courage to make some tough decisions, to move to Arizona and change your life. It’s not easy. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and there is always one winner and in this case it was Ari. We are very excited to have him on board.

We always are looking first and foremost for a teammate. Ari has done a 20ish average in 4-way, he has done Dynamic in the tunnel and VFS in the sky, he is an all-around talented flyer. All he needs to do is get more experience in 4-way, and that is what Airspeed is all about.

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You were an advocate of Ari from the beginning, why was that?

We all brought people to the table that we thought would be good for the future of Airspeed, and Ari was my pick from the get-go. Ari and I had done a team before, so I knew we had a great chemistry and I think I know him really well – the way you need to know a person to have them on your team. There are a lot of high-fives and bar talk in this sport but with Ari I have a deeper relationship. I knew that he hadn’t done such a high average or been ranked in the top. In the end he totally came through on his own. At the beginning, comparing to other people who had done a 25 average, he was pretty far down on the list. But when it came down to it, it just happened; nobody forced it.

Thiago had broken his pinkie and we asked Ari to fill in for four days of tryouts. Like anyone else jumping in with Airspeed, he will be pretty far behind. But just how knowledgeable Ari was about 4-way, and how he grew from day 1 to day 4 was incredible. When he left I had a very good feeling about Ari and so did the team.

Did you all vote on the new guy?

Everyone on the team is involved in the decision. We all have veto power. We have to be 100% unanimous about the new team member – so the three who are staying on the team – Thiago, myself and Mikhail – all totally agreed. It was a very clear and easy choice for all of us.

Airspeed US 4 way team at the World Air Games 2015
Airspeed at the World Air Games 2015, Dubai — Image by Bruno Brokken

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How long term are you thinking?

That’s the million dollar question. The thing is this, the history of Airspeed is, you have a team that is very successful with a long commitment. Then you have a 2-year commitment right after that and that’s when it can fall apart. If you look back one of the original line-ups, with Mark Kirkby, Jack Jefferies, Craig Girard and Johnny Eagle, they won the world meet and were together for 5 years. Then they fell apart and Airspeed went into a slump, and Majik came to the top. Then there was Craig and Eliana, Andy Delk and Mark Kirkby – they were very successful for 4 years. Then we came up, the 2011-12 team and had a lot of success for 2 years… Then all of sudden we were in a slump again. When we’re in a dip it seems that there are lots of people coming in and out of the team. People who had the wrong motivation or just didn’t quite fit or just something was off. They are just not the right person; that doesn't mean they are not a kick-ass skydiver. To be the best in the world, everything has to gel – you have to be a team on the ground, working together in the tunnel, in the air, all the time. For some reason the last few years it hasn’t quite gelled. When it’s not 100% gelling something is off. The idea now is to bring the project back to a 4-year commitment. We picked a brother and we’re going to move forward. We are super excited about our new teammate!

Tomorrow we bring you an interview with the new guy himself, Ari Perelman.

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