The second article in our new series looking behind the scenes of outrageous skydiving stunts – Jeff Provenzano explains how he landed on a moving jet ski on the first try…
One of the most common questions I get as a Pro Skydiver is “What is your most memorable jump?” With 21,000 jumps under my belt, this question is nearly impossible to answer.
Skydive Mag recently asked me: “What was your most memorable stunt?” This is a bit of an easier question for me to answer; I can work with this. I thought about so many of my previous stunts, listed my top ten, then narrowed it down to my top three. Once I put thought into it, the answer was clear, without a doubt, my most memorable stunt was landing on the back of a moving jet ski at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2017 at Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas.
On September 1, 2017, after a long day of traveling, I arrived at the event the day before the jump. It felt like a normal demo jump. Arrive – Check in to hotel – Link up with the crew – Go to dinner – Talk about the event and the jump – Go to bed. This demo jump was a standard Red Bull jump in the sense that I was going to land in front of a huge crowd, except this time, I was landing into water. Water landings are easy (well, except for the drying out and clean up part). Landing in the water usually means it’s a low stress jump for me. The landing zone is big and there are usually not many obstacles to deal with.
While at dinner, I ran into some of the production crew from Hangman Productions, they are the super amazing team that run a lot of events for Red Bull, like Flugtag, X-Fighters, as well as the one I was at [Cliff Diving World Series]. They set up the infrastructure of the event and when it involves water, they usually have a few jet skis floating around. One of their team members, Tim Carlson, casually looked at me and said, “you should land on the back of a moving jet ski at the event tomorrow.” I laughed. This type of stunt is super difficult to pull off. This I know from experience, as I have landed on the back of dirt bikes, 4 wheelers, on top of cars, etc.
In the past, the drivers of these vehicles were always skydivers, so not only were they experts on the ground, but they knew what they were looking at and watching out for when I was approaching them on landing.
Most people don’t think about this aspect, but so much of the success of this type of landing relies on the driver, not just the skydiver. For jumps like this, I set up to land down the runway similarly to the way I would swoop down any other line (moving or not). The kicker is the driver catching me on the back of the vehicle, that part is all about the driver. They have full control over this, they are both literally and figuratively in the driver’s seat. They need to speed up or slow down to match my exact speed and catch me.
To pull off stunts like this, it is super important that even the most talented driver be a skydiver or at least have skydiving experience. They need to be familiar with the speed and nature of the swooping parachute. They need to be able to react in real time, an instantaneous response based on the anticipation of the speed and trajectory of the parachute.
So, when Tim [Carlson] nonchalantly suggested I land on the back of his moving jet ski, of course all I could do was laugh.
Tim is not a jumper. He has no idea what it takes to successfully do this. We never talked about the idea, let alone practiced it together. Trying to pull this off in front of thousands of people during a live show would be nearly, if not outright impossible to pull off.
That night when I went back to my hotel room the idea of landing on the jet ski wouldn’t leave my mind. The first thought I had when I woke up the next morning was that idea of landing on the jet ski.
I went to the gym and kept thinking about it. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I was obsessing over how cool it would be. How could we do this?
After I wrapped up my workout, I decided to head to the event early to look for Tim. I found him and told him I couldn’t get his idea out of my head. I needed to land on his moving jet ski. We needed to make this happen.
There was only one way to attempt to prepare with such little time, and that was to hop on the jet ski together, head out to the landing zone in the water and quickly run through what the jump would look like.
There was a lot of explaining to do and a whole lot of visualizing. We talked about the approach, the recovery, the plane out. We took the jet ski down the line where I would land on it. I didn’t leave out any details.
I walked him through where he would need to start out and approximately where I might be when I landed. I could not stress enough that it was up to him to be focused on my speed, and that he really needed to think fast to match how fast I was going to successfully catch me.
We made a handful of runs up and down together on the jet ski, while doing so, I told him where to speed up and when to slow down.
I tried my best to clearly paint the picture for him so he could envision everything, anticipate what was to come, and get the best understanding of it. We wrapped and it was go-time. Tim dropped me off at the dock, we high-fived, I threw him a right on sign and told him I would see him on the back seat of his jet ski.
Okay, so at this point, I wasn’t 100% convinced it would work, but I figured it was worth the try. Why not. In the end if I didn’t land on the back of the jet ski, I would just be landing in the water anyway, which was my original plan, so why not. I was going for it.
The drive to the airport was about 20 minutes. It’s always nice to take off from an event in the helicopter, and even after hundreds of demos, I still find it less than ideal to leave an event, meet and depart offsite to a jump ship. The drive, the distance, it takes you away from the jump mentally.
When you add the time of leaving the site, driving to the airport, waiting for our plane to arrive, have a brief with the pilot and taking off, you are looking at anywhere from one to two hours.
During this arc of time while I am off-site gearing up to jump, the event flooded with people. Hundreds and hundreds of boats started to pull into the cove [the location of the cliff diving event]. By the time I jumped, there were thousands of people at the event waiting to watch the brave cliff divers send triple twisting flips from the 100ft platform. Little did they know Tim and I were about to attempt to throw down a one attempt, never practiced epic live stunt (though we had no idea if we were going to pull it off, and with such little prep time, going for it cold, I wasn’t overly optimistic, but I was super stoked to try!).
We took off and flew over to the event in a small Cessna. We made a couple of low passes to check out the location and to wave to the crowd from the door. I spotted Tim cruising around the water on his jet ski, and I had one thought: Game On! I knew he was just as amped as I was. When we got to the jump altitude of 5,000 feet, it was time to send it.
Everything up until this point was rather standard: Exit – Open – Set up for landing. I made all my usual calculations and reading the winds determined my set. There were so many boats, it was phenomenal and amazing to see from above. It was like diving into a postcard. Spectators were out in numbers, partying on their boats. It was buzzing with an “all ages” spring break vibe. True euphoria. So beautiful. So fun. It really raised the bar for me on the notion of what it is to party!
I started my turn, a standard 630-degree turn (well standard for me!). When I finished the rotation, I was hauling the mail, going incredibly fast. Tim was exactly where we discussed. He hammered on the throttle to get to the rendezvous point. Immediately I saw our speeds begin to match, at that very moment, I knew it was going to be good.
Then I saw a moment of hesitation and feared I was going to overtake him. For a fraction of a split second, I thought I would bail to his side and land in the water, disappointed, but I would stick to what I was originally intending to do. Then to my surprise our speeds started to match again. I made a small correction to get back on my line, and then BOOM! Suddenly it was there, we were probably slowed down to about 25mph, respectively, and we were matched up perfectly! Just like that, I touched down on the back of his moving jet ski.
WOW!! WE DID IT!
Success on the First Try 🙂
The crowd went nuts! Fans were screaming! The announcer was screaming! Everyone was so ridiculously excited! We pulled up to the bottom of the cliff where the divers would be jumping from while kiting the parachute above my head. What a feeling.
The planning was minimal, as was my preparation. It was never attempted prior. There wasn’t a rehearsal. There wasn’t a practice run. Tim Carlson from Hangman Productions casually threw out the wild suggestion that I land on his moving jet ski, and I was wild enough to want to go for it.
The reality is my years and years of countless jumps, training and stunts is what led me to be able to attempt this generally impossible stunt. That was my preparation.
I heard Tim’s idea, thought about it, and that’s the reason this stunt came to life. The easy thing to do would have been to respond with a laugh and let it go. It would have been super easy for me to ‘just play it safe.’ Wake up the next morning, go about my day, do my demo jump as planned and land in the water and then move on to my next gig.
Want to know what does motivate me? That. It’s imperative to sustain excellence, and to do so, you must continue to push yourself. That is where growth comes from. That is how you continue to elevate within your career. It is also important to listen. When you listen, you learn. When you listen, you can pull and build upon new ideas. Listen to others and to their thoughts. Try. Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone; nothing good happens there. You need to push yourself and find comfort in the uncomfortable. Continue to evolve and grow and learn from everyone you can.
The success of the jump wasn’t just because I was open to it. This happened because Tim and I collaborated. We worked together. We [quickly] came up with a plan, he trusted me, I trusted him and because of this, we pulled off what I thought was impossible and in one single try!
In closing, here is my quick answer to Skydive Mag question of, “What is your most memorable stunt?”: Landing on the back of Tim Carlson’s jet ski, unrehearsed, first try, at Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2017 at Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas!!!
Ad if you want to laugh check out my second try. What can I say… I needed a bath 🙂
More of Jeff Provenzano
- You can find more info about Jeff Provenzano’s adventures on his website, Facebook page, Instagram and Youtube accounts 😃
Outrageous stunts series
How to make a living room fly – by Joe Jennings 😃
Joe Jennings, long time skydiving cameraman and stunt flyer, describes what went into making a living room fly! In this case Jeff Provenzano was the guy on the couch with the TV remote. “Jeff’s real job was to manage the unknowns and to stay alive.“