Maja Kuczynska – Bigger than the Sky
Stunning routine by Maja Kuczyńska
I couldn’t decide which was more intimidating – the wingsuit jump I was about to do on a new suit, or being on the same load as THE Wendy Smith – the woman who inspired me to take up wingsuit flying.
Wendy Smith’s CV is intimidating but she would laugh at you for getting hung up on that. Skydiving is her life, and even after 25 years, her passion for the sport and the people in it, is as strong as it is infectious.
Wendy has been across every discipline of the sport, from flat to free, from wingsuit to aerial cinematography, from pilot, to packer and drop zone owner. She’s been on nine international records and has nine world records. She’s won Emmy awards, made iconic skydiving films and written skydiving books, but she’ll still take time out to help a newbie, or flash an inclusive smile at a nervous tandem passenger.
When I asked her where her openness, her drive and fearless attitude come from she nominated her parents, and New Zealand. The ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ afforded Wendy and her two siblings the opportunity to run far and wide, to develop a love of adventure and to hone and trust their instincts.
Growing up on a farm, riding her horse to school, the mentorship of a favourite teacher who taught her to think “not just of the task at hand but to aspire to goals outside the norm” and her father’s willingness to swap school books for flying with visiting ‘Ag Pilots’ gave her a strong grounding for a life in flight, pushing boundaries and dreaming big.
Wendy was training to be a nurse when a chance encounter with a skydiving instructor made her change course. She was hooked from her first jump at Waipukurau, in Central Hawkes Bay. The load could only take off after the skydivers herded the sheep off the runway (there are more sheep in New Zealand than people, so that’s not as strange as it sounds).
“I wanted to jump again as soon as possible”, she said. “I had to forge my mum’s signature for the training consent. The view on that first jump was amazing, it captured me. No fear – just amazing. It was a fascination that would shape my life”.
Fear is just a word. A better word is focus. You can channel anxiety into performance
Given women’s genetic heritage dictates a more sensitive fear response compared with men, Wendy’s genes obviously missed the memo. She says, “Fear is just a word. A better word is focus. You can channel anxiety into performance.”
Wendy knows a lot about performance. She and her family founded three successful skydiving businesses in New Zealand. They worked tirelessly to bring a new level of flight into sport skydiving there. They bought, modified and operated the first turbine aircraft for commercial skydiving operations and they attracted some of the world’s leading skydivers for competitions and boogies.
“I was devoted to progression and every summer I came home to share my experiences from working with the best of the best in Europe. ‘Great Lake Skydive’ was put on the international skydiving map.”
A huge part of Wendy’s skydiving career has been as a cinematographer. For ten years she partnered with Patrick Passe to produce iconic skydiving films such as Crosswind, Travelling and Antigravity. “We created, produced and filmed amazing images of the sport’s best athletes on 16mm film”, says Wendy. Patrick and Wendy also wrote a book together – ‘Eyes in the Sky’ which captured some of their journey.
Wendy was present for many of Patrick de Gayardon’s pioneering wingsuit flights – the video and images of her flying over Lake Taupo in New Zealand remain important in the discipline’s iconography. Wendy is philosophical about the loss of Patrick and other friends. She says, “I cope by remembering the great times we shared and by never forgetting what caused them to lose their life. Tragedy should be used as a source of strength.”
Not content with bringing world-class skydiving to the North Island of New Zealand, Wendy was key in establishing the first commercial skydiving operation in Nepal. “Everest Skydive has been and continues to be an amazing challenge in the Himalayan environment. Everything is different at altitude; drinking, eating, and sleeping. So, keeping safety, logistics, cultural appreciation and an abundance of energy in good balance has been an exciting experiment. We have completed eight expeditions so far. As a core team we are continuing to develop our expertise and push further into the unknown to introduce more people to this unique skydiving experience. Contact me for more details about Everest Skydive: freeflykiwis-at-gmail.com
”Since 2008 I’ve been an International Ambassador for the Global Angels Charity, as their main star adrenaline junkie – I do what I do best to raise money for Global Angels. Everest Skydive has played a huge part in assisting this charity raise over 450,000 US Dollars”
Other big plans on the horizon for Wendy include “the next BIG BIG 500 way – l hope we can find the right place and planes, as we have the people to do this right now.“
“I recently completed my Commercial Helicopter license in New Zealand. I have a new training schedule for some amazing adventures around the world. I’m publishing a new book - stand by for information on my website about ordering this one! Yes… I’m free; no marriages, no kids, no baggage, I can move easily, I’m absolutely looking forward to getting back on the road for the next mission ☺
”One must have patience and knowledge, I did tuck myself away down under with helicopter flying and exams but managed to co-ordinate the aerial stunts for Bear Grylls’ ‘Get out alive’ series, film for the Korean Samsung Galaxy 5 release, rock out two new World Records with the ladies at Perris Valley, complete my 20,0000th skydive with lifelong friend and Everest Expedition team member ‘Omar Alhegelan’ at the Top of the World. Everest skydive core crew all jumped into an amazing location on the west side of Nepal called Matang at altitude, to open a location for future clients to come and share.”
Short film by cinematographer Wendy Smith, about the once-in-a-lifetime jump of an Everest skydive. Filmed, produced, directed and edited by Wendy.
Favorite place in the world: The Himalayas.
Favorite DZ: Perris (but then a bunch of friends can have great fun flying anywhere)
Favorite jump: the 400-way World Record
Inspired by: the Dalai Lama.
Life Motto: “Be Happy”
Believes in: Kindness
Worries about: Nothing - for too long
Is excited about: Most things, as simple as some may be
Goals: Living life - sharing knowledge, travelling, jumping, flying, climbing, developing and testing the unknown, discovering new places, meeting new friends, sharing an abundant life with my best friends and family.
Other passions include: trekking, climbing big mountains, flying more helicopters, jumping with my best buddies, camerawork and photography, growing great food, sharing with great friends, travelling the world meeting new friends.
Biggest dream to win 23 Million kiwi dollars on Lotto