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In Focus: Gustavo Cabana

Words by Roy Wimmer-Jaglom

Gustavo Cabana approves of this photo

Gustavo Cabana was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, February 8th, 1966 He started studies in Photography in May 1982, made his first jump on December 11th, 1988, and his first camera jump on March 24th, 1991. Gustavo now has more than 19,000 camera jumps, shooting all types of skydives – competitions, nationals and world records, boogies, expeditions, commercials, etc – in different countries all over the world. He has filmed more than 20 world and national records in belly, freefly and canopy formations. Gustavo has a clutch of gold medals of his own, and has been a videographer at countless World Championships. His beautiful stills have been featured in magazines all around the world.

Age: 50

Freefall/tunnel time: over 20000 jumps, around 16 hours of tunnel

Home: Empuriabrava, Spain

Cameras: Nikons and Sonys and GoPros

Team: Fly Warriors

Hi Gustavo, thanks for joining me for the interview today, I understand you’re celebrating 25 years of flying cameras this month?

March 24th 1991, I did my first one with chest mounted VHS video recorder and a camera in a Protec helmet.

Gustavo, then and now - from a 0.17 megapixel vhs video camera, to an 8.3 megapixels ultraHD camcorder, only 25 years apart.
25 yrs ago & now – 0.17 megapixel vhs video camera to 8.3 megapixels ultraHD camcorder — Image by Gustavo Cabana

Wow that must have weighed a hell of a lot, how many jumps did you have when you first started?

65 jumps, the camera wasn’t so heavy, and the recorder weighed less than the chest mount reserve I used until a year before that, so it was alright! More importantly it was available at my club for free at the time which was awesome!

So part of this interview is the release of your new video “736 Skydivers” in celebration of your 25 years in the sport. What is it about?

It is a compilation video I always wanted to do, with images from the 4 latest World records I shot in Formation Skydiving, Canopy Formation, Head Down and Head Up. It is a celebration of the achievements, honouring the organizers and skydivers who make them possible.

736 skydivers build 4 world skydiving records in all disciplines: 400 Way Belly Formation, 164 Way Head Down, 72 Way Head Up, and 100 way Canopy Formation.

Fly By the 100 Way Canopy Formation World Record in Florida, USA, 2007
Fly-by the 100 Way Canopy Formation World Record in Florida, USA, 2007 — Image by Gustavo Cabana

You’ve really seen the equipment we use to film skydives go through some dramatic changes during your career.

Yeah, definitely! Now its way easier, but I love that I had the experience of going through all the stages and development of the technology in the sport.

How do you see the impact of the action cams on camera flying, especially professional camera flying, do you see it as a positive or a negative thing, or mixed?

It’s the way it is, you can’t go against the advance of technology. I embrace all new technology with wide open arms. But definitely it has a big impact on outside video flying, for example tandems at small dzs. It also means there too many images around all the time, which can lower the quality and value of them. That’s why we professional photographers need to work harder to keep raising the standards.

Do you think there is less of a demand for outside camera work these days than there used to be? Because everyone on the jump has a camera?

Definitely. It used to be one LO / one cameraman ratio in the belly world, now there are events where they hire over a dozen organizers and not a single photographer, thinking a go-pro capture will do fine for Facebook posts.

So how many of your 20000 skydives would you estimate are camera jumps?

Over 19000 for sure! I used to do fun jumps once in a while, but when I started training freefly 4 years ago, I stopped flying camera until I was able to do it safely. Those jumps are most of the 1000 that aren’t camera.

So what's the story behind you entering into the world of freefly photography?

I was living in Perris Valley in the mid ‘90s when the freefly revolution (or evolution how some called then) started. I loved it, but it was impossible for me to invest the time and money to learn it at that time. I filmed skysurf and freestyle before, but it wasn’t until 4 years ago with the availability of tunnels and some savings that I decided it was the moment. It was the right time for me, I did a bunch of one-on-ones with David Nimmo, tunnel everywhere and since then I've done my first Fly4Life camps as a participant and later as a photographer. I've never missed one, loved them and I think camps are the best thing to do in skydiving right now.

Fly4Life flycamp, at Skydive Deland, 2015
Fly4Life flycamp, at Skydive Deland, 2015 — Image by Gustavo Cabana

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Was the goal always the records?

No, shooting them came naturally. FS and CF records was the only big thing when I started. Ever since I shot my first one, the 282 way in Thailand in ‘99, I have loved being involved with them. It's the only time when people from different paths get together with a common goal, where everybody wins. It’s not for the money or for the fame, it’s just the energy of what happen during the events and pure love of the sport and at the same time it helps advance it.

It must have been an awesome feeling to do the world head down and head up records after training hard to enter a new and very competitive discipline.

I must say head down big ways are the most exhilarating thing I have ever experienced in freefall. The speed and reactions needed are just incredible! When I got the email from Rook inviting me, it brought me back to when I got the invitation for BJ Worth's records almost 20 years ago. It just confirms that anything is possible to achieve in this life, it’s just a matter of total commitment and passion for what you want.

So you’ve filmed the belly record, canopy formation record and both freefly records. What’s next for you? Are you going to be taking on wingsuit next or are you sticking around with freefly for a while?

Actually I used to be a wingsuit flyer, around 2006/8. I even organized the EmpuriaFlocks big ways events here in order to shoot them. But when suits started to go bigger, I felt like it was too much fabric for me! For years I needed to use wings all the time for belly and tandem filming and I'm just tired of wings. Every time I put a freefly suit on I feel free!

The Phoenix rise and fly with the World Team- the most picturesque dive ever... at Skydive Deland, 2011
The Phoenix rises with the World Team - the most picturesque dive ever, Deland, 2011 — Image by Gustavo Cabana

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The fact that you come from such a strong belly background, do you think that effects the way you approach filming freefly? Your shot selection etc, or do you just have to reset and re-learn camera for it?

When I started shooting freefly, I felt like it was the cherry on the cake, the summit of camera flying. You’re not limited by rules or quadrants, every new event brings you new and different jumps to do and new possibilities to approach how to shoot them. I'm usually there for the briefing but I also love it when I don’t know how the jump will be and just follow the action in a fresh way every time.

Also, I think the experience of so many years gives me a more stable approach to shoot, for example I don’t keep moving like crazy all the time. Also, I can shoot still images and moving images at the same time, without affecting each other.

Tell me about your camera setup, your helmet seems like a one-off

Is a CCM, or Craneal Camera Mount, a concept invented by Wes Rich in Deland in the early ‘90s. It's made from a mold of your head, and it’s the best camera helmet you can ask for because it’s a perfect fit. Every head is different and its impossible for one helmet to fit all, that’s why I always recommend my students to not buy a helmet by its looks and instead try all the helmets they can until they find one which fit best. Or build a custom one! By the way, this is my 12th helmet, I’m a gear freak. I think all camera flyers are, you kinda have to be.

sunset during the women euro head down record camp
Sunset during the women's euro head down record camp — Image by Gustavo cabana

So you teach cameraflying too? 

I did my first camera seminar back in 1998. I have been doing them once in a while and also gave lectures at the Parachute Industry Association symposiums several times. I always remember all the people who helped me over the years to learn about this art. In the beginning I even sent letters to the big guys asking questions. That's why I think I need to give back to everyone who wants to learn and save them some headaches and expenses. Last year I started the Flying Camera School with this goal. It's based in Empuria, but as long as there are a few people interested in doing it I can come anywhere. I love to travel and meet other skydivers with the same passion as me.

You tend to upload about 100 shots from each big event, how many do you start off with and what's the process? 

Over a thousand normally. Doing the selection is a pain, but more is always better isn’t it? Or maybe not!… 

I shoot in raw, select them with Photo Mechanic and edit them individually with the Nikon raw software. It’s like going back to the darkroom, working in each frame and make it look the best it can look. I think the best thing about the digital revolution is that now you’re in control of all the process of image making, from shooting, to process and to publish it or printing. I still remember going back to the lab in the film era and see how badly they printed posters I asked for… Now we have the control and I love it.

It seems like you have pretty much done everything, what goals do you have now? 

My goal is to be a better freeflyer! To be able to do better images of all the awesomeness that’s happening in the skies these days! 

What advice do you have for newer camera flyers?

I think the best advice is make sure you know how to fly in the kind of jumps you want to shoot. Before shooting big way belly records, I was flying inside 50 ways and so on. You need to know what the skydivers in the jump are doing and you need to be better than them. That means train hard, learn and then slowly start with video. Later add stills, don’t do both at the same time. Also, make sure your canopy opens slow, adopt the right body position at pull time and train your body and neck or you’ll feel the pain over the years!

Lastly do you have any sponsors or someone you’d like to thank?

First I should thank my mother and grandmother, who were always very supportive. My mother was an amateur photographer and I grew up watching her slideshows and with cameras around me. Also, my partners over the years helped me and supported all my crazy schedules and goals, I feel very grateful for that.

Then in the industry: UPT Vector and Performance designs. I have been using them since my first rig in 1990 and they have been my sponsor since ‘99. Cypres, Larsen & Brusgaard, Tonfly and Cookie… I believe in using only the best gear available and I think they are.

400 skydivers in the stadium at a World Team big way record attempt, in Thailand 2006
400 skydivers in the stadium at a World Team big way record attempt, Thailand 2006 — Image by Gustavo Cabana

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All the magazine editors, especially Mike Truffer, who was the most supportive and generous guy I ever meet and a pleasure to work with alongside Sue Clifton.

Skydive Empuriabrava for being an awesome dz and place to live and for allowing me to grow so much over the last 15 years.

And last but not least: the event organizers! Without them, I would not have great jumps to shoot, so thanks a lot!

Awesome, well thank you for the interview, 25 years is a long time but it's great to see how excited and hungry you still are. I'm sure the best stuff we’ll get to see from you is still ahead.

Thanks! I also think the best is always ahead!

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