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International, independent, e-magazine on skydiving, BASE & tunnel

Catching up with… Alethia Austin

I first got to know Alethia online. I fell in love with her energy, joy, positivity and sheer unbridled love for life, the universe and all things within it. I was almost scared to meet her. Surely no-one could really be that amazing!

Alethia Austin — by Lesley Gale
Alethia Austin — by Lesley Gale

In the flesh, she was every bit as amazing and more. That smile, that connects with her soul, and makes you feel the world is a beautiful place. The overflowing of enthusiasm and real interest for everyone's actions. Her intellect, understanding and power of creative thought. She looks at the world in an unfettered way and wants to make it a better place and help others become better human beings. The combination of 'save-the-planet-hippie-vegan-chick' and 'marketing-director-of-europe's-biggest-DZ-group' may seem incongruous but Alethia's achieved tremendous success in marketing by being real and keeping her values.

by Jasper van der Meer
by Jasper van der Meer

Hey Alethia, what do you do for a living?

Hi Lesley! I’m the marketing director for the Swallow Group dropzones! I have the pleasure and fun of running the marketing departments across the 3 Swallow dropzones: Skydive Spain, Skydive Algarve and Skydive Hibaldstow. My job is awesome. I’ve been here for 3 years and still love it so much. The people I work with are so diverse. The Swallows have been great to work with. And, I truly believe in the three dropzones, they’re all so unique and all such incredible locations for skydiving. I love my job!

I used to work in music in films in Los Angeles, and the tech and startup world in Amsterdam. It’s a blast to be working in one of my biggest passions, with so many other passionate people.

How have you worked to promote the three Swallow dropzones, and what’s been your biggest achievement?

When I came on board, we’d just added Skydive Algarve to the Swallow family of dropzones. I lead the rebranding of all three dropzones simultaneously, creating a familiarity and continuity amongst the three, of which I’m really proud of. I have really changed a lot in the way we communicate and position ourselves, and have been building and implementing a more whole marketing strategy of great, fun content and marketing for the three dropzones. Showing people who our DZs are, why they’re special and what’s happening there is a lot of fun. Of course I'm not doing this alone, I have a great team who work hard to help make this happen. Our designer Ruben is my hero, my colleague Elias is one of the most organised guys I know - both are such a pleasure to work with, and Lucy in Algarve is a proactive assistant for our marketing there. She's got a lot of energy and ideas. Simon in the UK wears a lot of hats, a great skill.

I fly a lot of the camera I use in our advertising, which has made my job easier and puts me in front of our customers, which is a great way of understanding what brought them to our dropzone, and who they are and how they found us. This is invaluable.

It's a competitive market we're in, with schools and DZs popping up everywhere. But one of the things we have on our side is that the Swallows really understand how to run a business and they've been open to changing with the times. Change is where a lot of growth comes in, so that they're open to this has definitely helped us along the way. Plus, they are both passionate about skydiving - you'll never see our dropzones turn into a tandem factory. That's something I find endearing about how they operate.

by Efraim Folgerts
by Efraim Folgerts

What else do you do in the sport?

I run the LSD bigway head down and head up camps with a friend. Every two months we fly multiple planes out of Skdyive Spain, focusing on bigway training and flying. Next camp we hope to get a 2 point bigway skydive - how cool would that be. I’ve gotten more into coaching the last year, with events such as Flanders Boogie, Pinse Boogie (Norway) and at Skydive Spain. This year I’ll be joining the FlajFlaj skills camp in California as a coach, which I’m very much looking forward to. And, I work with Jasper van der Meer of ToraTora on the Paradise Portugal event. That’s also a LOT of fun! I work side by side with Jasper during the event, as well as coordinating the bits and pieces that make it the unique event it is. It’s been a total blast and honor.

Give me skin, bro!
Give me skin, bro!

What made you start organizing the LSD camps? And what’s ‘LSD’ anyway?

LSD stands for Level, Slot, Dock. I thought I should just clear that up right away! I really wanted to be a part of the Women’s Vertical Record, and was chatting with some friends about it at an event last year. A while later, Yuliana reached out to me and said ‘Hey Alethia, do you want to organise a head-down camp?’ I said yes, and in a few days we had the coaches and location set. We’ve had 5 successful camps so far with 4 being head-down and 1 head-up. Coaches have been Ryan Risberg, Marie Sjodin, Ally Milne, Nimmo, Luis Adolfo Mendez, and Kim Tornwall. We have more of the same, but better in store for 2019. And, I’m still waiting for that Women’s record to be organised. I want to be surrounded by 60+ rad ladies in our sport - how cool would that be!

What was the reaction from the first LSD camp?

We kicked it off with friend and legend, Ryan Risberg and the lovable badass Marie, so we were already destined for a great camp. But it was better than we expected. The vibe was focused, the participants were all there to work and learn, and the team was seriously awesome. Skydive Spain is such a great location for the camp. Jumping from the Dorniers at 15,000 ft is ideal for this kind of multiple plane camp. I’d guess about 40 % of our participants have been to at least 3 camps, so the progress has been real legit. And, it’s really cool to see the same faces coming back, it starts to feel like a family event. Of course, new participants bring in a lot of fun energy as well. I really love that people come focused to progress. It’s so rad to be working on something as a team.

What’s your approach as an organizer/coach?

I’m still super new to the game, but my approach with everything skydiving related is to try be as chilled out as Amy Chmelecki, as tough as Domi with the charm of Marie and the sweetness of Pixie. But since all of those are unreachable, I aim to just be sure everyone has a blast in the safest way possible.

Making responsible life choices  — by Naphassa Parinussa
Making responsible life choices  — by Naphassa Parinussa

What’s your involvement in Paradise Portugal and what are the wider messages of the event?

I have been helping out with the production of the event, coming up with ideas for programming, as well as hosting the event and being one of the main POC's for participants. This year we saw almost 200 people in total at the event. The months leading up to the event, Jasper and I talked a lot about this year using it as a platform to engage in meaningful conversations about how to be more conscious skydivers and humans in general. We held meetups and discussions about our carbon footprint of skydiving and veganism. We have received so much feedback and seen a wave of actions lending themselves to being less of a pollutant to our planet. Some things we’ve seen as a direct result include a local restaurant owner who, after working with us, decided to turn one of his restaurants into a plant-based restaurant. A dairy farmer has donated 20 hectacres of his land to planting trees which will be close to 15,000 trees planted. Loads of people are still sending messages about their plant-based choices they’ve been making and quite some have stopped purchasing plastic water bottles. This is only the beginning as we collectively start to wake up to the impact our very own choices make. It’s easy to cut the corners and imagine that the problems of our planet are not by our own doing, but they are. We are a part of the problem, until we’ve become a part of the solution.

Do you have a motto, or favorite quotation?

I’ve kept a tiny, ratty folded up piece of paper that has the following quote in my wallet and in a book for years because it settles well with me.

“Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What’s your pet hate?

Lack of compassion.

What was the biggest breakthrough /decision of your life?

I don’t know where it came from, or how I figured it out, but somewhere along the line I realised that our lives are fully customisable, no matter what tools you were given. I’d say realising this freed me to develop a life that has brought me a lot of unpredictable switches and paths and a lot of breathtaking moments. I’m really grateful for this.

The other breakthrough was at 17 when I made the connection between the animals we eat and the animals I had as pets. I switched to a vegetarian lifestyle and just 3 years ago went fully plant-based thanks to a good friend waking me up to the dairy industries cruelties. I can’t stress enough the importance of questioning your food choices. Do you believe that animals feel pain? Do you think it’s necessary to cause that suffering just for a meal? Once I broke free from a conditioning I’d grown up with through the state of the world we live in, no fault of my mother’s, I started to break free from a lot of other conditioning.

You do great interviews for Skydive Mag, what do you get out of that?

Thanks! It’s been fun to write for your mag! I know that people love seeing themselves featured on your magazine, so when I have the time and I want to give someone a little stoke because they’re doing something neat, or have a neat story, I write about them.

Alethia running yoga at Skydive Spain
Alethia running yoga at Skydive Spain

You teach yoga. What do you get out of that and what benefits do you see in others?

I found a new awareness of what my toes were doing in the sky. Not only that, it keeps you flexible and fit. Two definite perks to seek when you're a skydiver who isn't 20 years old.

For me, yoga is so personal. It's been a real journey for me in connecting with myself and getting to the root and the source of what's going on inside of me, how I'm feeling and the quiet that is there beneath the noise. The healing I've been privileged to see in my classes has been so inspiring. There are usually some tears (not from pain, I swear…I think), but mostly in indoor studio courses I see a lot of emotional healing happening in the meditations and the savasana. It's painful but so incredibly beautiful to see. Who doesn't need some good healing!

Who do you admire in the sport and why?

I can’t believe how many interesting, deep, fascinating and hilarious people we get to meet and fly with in our sport. There’s a long list of people I admire, but to reel it in a little bit, I’m a real big fan of Amy Chmelecki’s cool-as-a-cucumber way of handling herself in the sport. That lady is on point. Jasper van der Meer is a leader in our sport in the wind but also on the ground. What he’s done with events is unparalleled. Domi Kiger is such a powerhouse in skydiving, and as a female I love watching her navigate through a male-dominated arena. Efraim Folgerts’ enthusiasm and passion for skydiving is unlimited. Ally Milne is such a professional. I really love the European skydiving scene, there are so many talented individuals doing creative, beautiful things in our sport.

Big-way with Ally Milne at Skydive Spain — by Adrian Daszkowski
Big-way with Ally Milne at Skydive Spain — by Adrian Daszkowski

Do you have any thoughts on being a woman in skydiving?

It a pretty male-dominated life that we still live in, so I think most women are well adjusted to being in a male-dominated sport by the time they get involved in it. I’ve always had strong, rad females in my life, so I am really drawn to any females in our sport that I can look up to or just be around. In my experience, and from growing up with older brothers, I also feel comfortable being in a man’s world. Once you’ve found your tribe, having guys around you feels supportive, safe and pretty damn fun. I daydream about having some sisters in the sport to fly with, though. It’s rare that I get to fly with women and when I see guys with who have buddies they always fly with, I feel all the envy!

What are the drawbacks and benefits?

Benefits: Free advice all the time!

Drawbacks: Free advice all the time! (Disclaimer: not all advice is good advice.)

"These are moments to treasure"  — by Alethia Austin
"These are moments to treasure"  — by Alethia Austin

What do you want to achieve through all your work in the sport?

That’s a great question. I think I’m selfishly collecting life’s awesome moments, through my work, through my side projects, through my flying. Connecting with people, and sharing these moments, from tandems to beautiful 2-ways at sunset, to spontaneous two-plane tracking jumps - these are moments to cherish.

What’s next, what are you most excited about?

I have another year working with the Swallow Group Dropzones under my current contract. After that, I’m not entirely sure what happens, but I’m certain it’ll be magic. I’m really looking forward to organising with Efraim, Kim Tornwall, Ciru, Regan Tetlow, Marino Kalligas at the Skydive Spain Christmas boogie. Also stoked for the LSD December camp and winter is really great at Skydive Spain, so I’m pumped for what this season brings me.

Anything you would like to add?

I’m on a mission to try to be a better human, to try to make up for my many years of being a selfish human and for the years we’ve overlooked our own actions and their impact, collectively. Anyone who wants to reach out and talk about veganism, how we can start creating positive changes, how to ignite ourselves and others for the planet, animals, oceans, social systems, or anyone who wants to broaden their network of others on the same mission, shout out to me on Facebook. I love a good brainstorm on how we can create positive change.

Last words: Lesley, you’re amazing. Thanks for the interview, keep doing what you do, lady. I’m a huge fan!