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

Catching up with Thomas Hughes

Lesley Gale interviewing Thomas Hughes & Niklas Hemlin for the Live Stream — by Monica Quintana
Lesley Gale interviewing Thomas Hughes & Niklas Hemlin for the Live Stream — by Monica Quintana
by Willy Boeykens
by Willy Boeykens

Thomas Hughes joined Airspeed 8-way in 2006, and rejoined in 2011 being a powerful force since. He is personable, sincere, super talented and full of energy. A natural athlete, he used to compete in waterskiing, and also enjoys running, free diving, flying planes and kiteboarding. An original Orlando tunnel rat, he was invited to join the UK National team when he had barely enough jumps to land his canopy! He has too many medals to list, including 4-way, 8-way, VFS, freestyle and canopy piloting. We interviewed him just before the Wind Games at Windoor…

Competition history

2000 Deland Tunnel Rage
2002-2003 Sebastian XL
2004 Arizona Blade
2005-2006 Deland Fire
2006 Arizona Airspeed 8 way
2007-2008 Knight Trax
2007 Fastrax
2009 Spaceland Force
2009 Paraclete XP 8 way
2010 Arizona Airspeed

Full medals list here

Why does Airspeed choose the Wind Games competition?

Well for us our main competition is Hayabusa. We know they compete at the Wind Games and also at the World Challenge at Bedford. For us, we like the small competition environment, it’s easy to get training time at Windoor before the meet. Also, for me, I’m originally from England, I know what it’s like and for me personally the least amount of time I spend in England the better!

We love coming to Empuria, it’s a beautiful town… the meet is so short that we can walk around the town after the meet or before it starts, it’s just real easy and relaxed for us.

How is it going to be for this first battle of 2015 with Hayabusa?

Honestly for us, we are not even really trying to compete with Hayabusa at the moment, we are just trying to sort our own things out. We’re a new team, we have new goals. We’re trying to find a system that works for us, working out how what works for us, what doesn’t… How to set our goals, how to achieve what we want in meets, and so on.

Although Hayabusa are here and it’s nice to have a base point as to what they are doing as compared with our scores, we’re not necessarily trying to compete with them at this point, we are going to save that for a year and a half away.

Airspeed has always had great systems so why are you changing them?

It’s definitely true that one of the great strengths and fundamental things of Airspeed has been the systems but things change. People evolve on and off the team and, like anything else, the systems evolve. We have new people on the team, we’re necessarily going to do the same thing that the team did 20 years ago. Something different might work out better with a new line-up.

Are you team captain now?

Technically yes but that’s actually one of our systems we’re trying to change. We’re trying to become more of a team without any one defined leader. So I’ve been on the team the longest but we are trying to keep the responsibility amongst the whole team and not a dictatorship within that group.

by Nik Daniel
by Nik Daniel

Does Airspeed still use a rotating captain system?

We sure do. We normally do it per camp, so we have four-day training camp, and we have a different captain for each camp. We rotate captains through the camps. That way everyone can get their ideas in, get to see what they want to see.

But within that we’ve also learned that the captain has to be flexible. Even in that environment he can’t be a dictator. If there is something someone wants to see then we try to accommodate it always, not just when it’s their captainship.

You’ve flown with Nick before haven’t you?

Yes, I’ve actually done two teams with Nick. Fastrax in 2007, where he was in the Point slot, which is where he is now. I also did Airspeed with him in 2011 and 2012, when he was Inside Center. It’s great to have Nick back on the team. He’s my piece partner, he’s Point. It’s just great flying with Nicholas, it’s just a blast. Him and I have always had really good energy. He’s picked up that slot super easily and our skydiving is really good - well I should say our tunnel flying is really good, we haven’t actually got in the air yet. But in the tunnel it feels great flying with him, very natural, which is nice. He’s a Viking, that says it all!

Airspeed&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by <a href='' class='captionLink'>Chuck Akers</a>
Airspeed — by Chuck Akers

What are the strengths of the current line-up

One of the biggest things we have right now is a really good team bond. We’ve definitely changed some of the ways we do business amongst the team. We all bring a really good vibe to the team, a lot of good energy, loads of enthusiasm. We have a lot of good engineering and diversity among the group, which is helpful.

How’s Justin working out on camera?

Justin has now been with us for 2 years. He is great, he’s re-committed to the team for another 2 years, which is awesome, he’s such a pleasure to be around. It’s nice having Justin around, he’s really not afraid to give us input. As much as we try to bring a cameraman on the inside of the team, which of course they are, he still sees things from the outside perspective. He’s really good about interjecting his opinion from the outside of what that core four looks like and is talking about. We get a lot of good input and feedback from him, which is really nice. He is very engaged. It’s super cool to have that outside perspective, because a lot of times we don’t always see what’s going on

Thomas Hughes at the Wind Games 2015

How did you get that scratch on your face and the hand injury?

Yesterday as I was bicycling here to the Windoor tunnel in Empra, then just outside that warehouse here, a giant Bengal tiger leapt out of the bushes and threw me over the handlebars of this bike that I was borrowing from Pete, which is a bit defective. We got into a big tussle on the ground.. the Bengal tiger is now a rug in front of the fireplace and I have a couple of war wounds on my face and hand.

Will Chris need the tiger skin for a jumpsuit, are his bags still missing?

Fortunately Chris [Farina] just got his bags back from American Airlines, after spending 3 days here without them, he’s been flying in Thiago’s spare suit since we got here. Unfortunately his jumpsuit was not in his bags, it’s really strange, where could it have gone? He thinks we’re playing pranks on him … but nobody on this team would ever play a prank on Chris, not ever, never in a million years. ;-)

What does the competition calendar look like this year for Airspeed?

The Wind Games is our first meet, so we are very excited about this one just to see where we’re at and get our systems in place. Then we go to the Paraclete indoor competition, then directly to the Paraclete XP outdoor meet in Deland. Hayabusa are also doing both those competitions.

Unfortunately we are not doing the Bodyflight World Challenge this year. Then there’s US Nationals in October, in Arizona. Next year it will probably be a repeat, of the exact same competitions again.

Thomas Hughes in Organizier mode, at the Arizona challenge&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by Willy Boeykens
Thomas Hughes in Organizier mode, at the Arizona challenge — by Willy Boeykens

How do you feel about the break from March to October, with no competitions?

We have that every year. In the past we’ve tried to do some training meets by connecting with other teams. Last year we tried to do that with the Canadians. We will probably do the same thing also with Hayabusa; they don’t have any meets in that time either. Just to kind of keep us in the game. All the teams want to be competing, that’s what we’re doing here. So we want to pitch ourselves against each other, to keep the energy and the fire going.

Any predictions for the competition here?

It’s going to be interesting. Both teams have a change in line-up, obviously they have Bob as their new team member and we have Niklas as our new guy - or not so new guy. We also switched around our line-up as well. We moved Thiago from the Point back to the Tail and switched Niklas from Inside Center to Point, so some switches in there… and I have a broken hand.

You have a broken hand?

I went to the hospital in Figueres yesterday to get it checked out, as it’s pretty swollen and I was in quite a bit of pain [after the fight with the Bengal tiger]. They took an X-ray, it was broken, the doctor wanted to do surgery and put it in a cast. I said, let’s just hold off on that for a few days. We’ll see how the meet goes. We did an hour’s training in the tunnel with my hand broken. It’s pretty painful but there is not much I can do. I’ll compete through the meet and get it checked out when I get home

You don’t think competing might make it worse?

Well it’s already broken! ;-)

Do you have good painkillers?

Vitamin I and Ibuprofen. I don’t think I can compete if I take anything stronger than that. So we’ll just have to suffer through the pain and hope certain formations don’t come up .. mainly the ones where I have to hold on to anybody.

Will you switch yourself out to Point for a round if it looks like a bad draw for the hand?

That’s definitely an option. Nick and I have been doing a lot of A-slot, B-slot stuff, we feel equally comfortable in both slot, so we may consider that. Also with the entrances to the tunnel, it feels very familiar in either slot. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

Airspeed at the Wind Games 2015&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by Monica Quintana
Airspeed at the Wind Games 2015 — by Monica Quintana

Thomas, is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d like to say hi to my Mum! … and of course give a big shout out to our amazing sponsors… Skydive Arizona, Skyventure Arizona, Cookie, Larsen & Brusgaard, Tony Suits, Paragear, Performance Designs.. and everyone else who knows us!

Post event additions

How did the broken hand work out?

It was no problem! Of course it was a bit painful but, really, I mostly felt great. I was just happy I could still compete.

How was the meet for you?

Well we learned a big lesson here. We made the mistake of trying to beat Hayabusa, despite what I said earlier. We were way over the line, that’s why we bust so much. We should have just kept to our team pace and not tried to alter what we do in competition. That’s how I coach teams but sometimes it’s hard to practice what you preach! … We’re now looking forward to getting into freefall with our new line-up and excited to compete soon at Paraclete.

FFI see Airspeed