Camp Unity

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What’s that all about then?…

Share the love, help everyone feel included in our sky family
Image taken at Skydive Perris by Dennis Sattler

Join the Camp Unity FB Live discussion: Facebook Live, 8pm EST, March 8

We’ve been seeing various posts from Camp Unity, so thought we’d sit down with Anastasia Uglova, one of the founders, and find out what all the shouting is about…

Anastasia, what is Camp Unity?

Anastasia Uglova

CAMP Unity is a group of skydivers who, amid the social turmoil and protests in 2020, wanted to get the word out to fellow jumpers who might be struggling, that no matter who you are or what you look like, you are loved, you are cared for, and you are wanted here. We had this idea to publish an open letter in the November Parachutist magazine showing solidarity and support. Then folks started asking how they could donate to us. This forced the question, and we realized we have both the will and the capability to maintain momentum and create experiences for people that care about this stuff. So we filed for tax-exempt non-profit status and accidentally became a real organization.

How did you personally get involved?

Most of us have close ties to Skydive The Ranch, which is how we initially got together. I used to live in NYC before decamping to balmier climes, and while I hadn’t interacted with Alina at The Ranch, we knew of each other. But I was pretty vocal on my social media around summer 2020 about the need for law enforcement reform. I was also looking for ways to encourage people to start listening to understand rather than listening to respond. And not focusing so much on validating our own conclusions that we ignore learning how others see the world. At the same time Alina was trying to bring the skydiving community together to address the divisions that had been festering in society at large – an urge I shared. She invited me to attend a Zoom chat about diversity in skydiving. It was a dynamic and empowering conversation among quite a few people who shared the will to do something. So, CAMP Unity was born.

Why did you feel the need for Camp Unity?

It’s not my place to deny someone’s experience or tell people they shouldn’t be feeling what they are feeling. And you don’t have to be especially perceptive to notice that American society in particular is deeply polarized. We like to think skydiving exists apart from society at large, in a reality-free parallel universe or something. But it’s not. Skydiving is made up of deeply flawed, beautiful, and imperfect people, and those people belong to a broader society, and if people are struggling in the society outside of the sport, it’s a likely bet they’re struggling on the dropzone as well. The difference is they just don’t talk about it on the dropzone because they don’t feel those opinions and experiences are welcome in the sport. I’d like to change that. If there are tensions, if people don’t feel included or represented, or if there’s something we should actively be doing to create a better experience for people, I’d rather bring all that out in the open instead of leaving it to be discussed in hushed tones, allowing it to fester.

If you see someone alone, extend a hand of human kindness. Or a wing!
Photo: Rahul Sengupta and Bryce Schunke by Jasmine Chan

Can you give me examples of such discrimination in skydiving?

We are privy to a lot of stories shared in confidence, and it isn’t my place to share those details. However, we are currently working on a project to solicit people’s stories – anonymous and otherwise – to bring some of those examples to light and generate greater compassion and understanding. What I personally see often is the sight of a newish looking jumper, someone who doesn’t resemble the typical cool-kid freeflyer with an established skillset, and that person is standing alone, jumping alone, and feeling alone. When you see someone who doesn’t “look the part” so to speak, make an extra effort to reach out and include. Maybe scrap your own jump plan and go with that person instead. It’s not just a safety thing. It’s a basic kindness, and it can make all the difference between that person staying in the sport and sticking it out through the first rough few hundred jumps, or just saying “fuck it” and never coming back.

I suppose I think of us as all being one big sky family – which we are, but every large family has some undercurrents of unfairness somewhere. Any comment?

It’s exactly because it’s family that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about stuff, even the uncomfortable things. Families that don’t talk about their shit become toxic and distant. Communication helps everyone. It’s an essential skill to practice often… especially if it’s communication through disagreement. It’s better to communicate and disagree than to pretend there’s nothing to talk about while secretly growing resentful. When stuff festers among people I care about – that makes me worry.

Image: Christian Carreras by Nicholas Reyes

Do you think that diversity is NOT encouraged and accepted in skydiving?

Skydiving is one of the most accepting communities you can find yourself in, at least from my experience. So many people come to this sport to find a family, to finally feel at home and welcome precisely because of and not despite all their quirks and idiosyncrasies. For outliers like me, this sport carries inherent appeal. And that’s exactly why CAMP Unity (and any other groups doing diversity and inclusion work) are necessary here. CAMP Unity isn’t about airing grievances or punishing people and hitting them over the head with the don’t-be-a-dick stick. It’s an active effort to ensure we keep evolving the sport to be even more inclusive, even more accepting, and even more representational of the plurality of human experience. As I said above, we’re a bunch of outliers already, so imagine feeling like an outlier among the outliers. Imagine the heartbreak and difficulty of feeling like an outcast even in this community. That just sucks. There’s no room for that. If there’s anyone feeling like they haven’t found their place here, then I want to do whatever I can to change that, even if the rest of the world burns.

A nice inclusion story – “Spencer Hopp is a young man who lives in Perris. He has spina bifida. He started coming out the DZ a few years ago and really bonded with everyone. This was leading up to the Aussie record event when of course he became one of the big Perris family. We did his first tandem jump then and did another last week with Jen, Kate, Mark Brown and I going with him (pictured). He wrote an article for Parachutist a couple of months ago which ran in the “How skydiving changed my life” column – Dan BC
Image: Dennis Sattler

Is Camp Unity just based in skydiving or encompassing other areas, BASE, speed flying for example? 

We haven’t limited ourselves to skydiving necessarily. But we are limited to the sports and disciplines our merry little band of CAMPers currently represents. We are all volunteers, so hey, if you’re a speed flyer and feeling motivated about this work, come talk to us. We definitely need the help!

Tell me a bit about your team of volunteers


Alina Borovika

Alina drew us all together, makes sure we have regular planning calls, and keeps us focused on vision. She’s a nerdy scientist, baby-bird wingsuiter (150 out of about 450 jumps), and, like me, was born in the Soviet Union, which is perhaps why we share some of that countercultural revolutionary stoke.


Christian was born in NYC, raised in the Dominican Republic, and serves as our in-house accountant and finance and compliance brain. He also just passed his CPA exam, which makes him more qualified than any of us at most things. Christian has 160 jumps and is setting his sights on canopy piloting, freefly, and dynamic.


Alex Jordaan

Alex is a native South African who now lives in NYC. A web and iOS developer, Alex built our website and is our tech hero. He’s also an accomplished formation skydiver who shamelessly cheats on the South African national 4-way team with VFS, angles, and dynamic tunnel flying. He’s working toward his 5,000th jump.


Grace Calpus

Grace joined us most recently because she had separately wanted to do some work on diversity and inclusion in skydiving, and someone at the USPA put her in touch with us. A gift to us at precisely the right time, Grace has 500 jumps and brings a wealth of expertise specifically in leadership coaching and has been working on our visual representation.


Anastasia Uglova

And then there’s me. I focus on strategy, execution, and writing. I started jumping at Skydive Diani, which is a dropzone in Kenya that unfortunately no longer operates. I have just under 600 jumps and have greatly enjoyed traveling the world with my rig: 25 dropzones in 12 countries! But my favorite skydive moment was getting my A license on my birthday in September 2018. I also sometimes write about skydiving on my blog, What The AFF?

The team seems very diverse, was that intentional to match your goals, or random, you were just drawn together?

This was a very organic coming-together of humans with shared interests and love for the sport, drawn together by a mutual desire to mindfully curate a strong and inclusive community. For all of us, it simply felt untenable and complicit to do nothing. At some point, someone was going to have to lead on these issues. Might as well be us.

As we grow, diversity and representation in our ranks is super high priority, so what I’m excited about with this interview is the opportunity to invite readers to join CAMP Unity. Want some volunteer work on your resume? Stoked about what we’re doing? Maybe you’re even skeptical but curious? Talk to us! Message us! We need your help. We need your representation.

Inclusion story: Augusto Bartelle (pictured), from Brazil had a drug addiction problem. He decided to try skydiving as the cure! He arrived at Skydive Perris with no jumps, no English and no friends. Thanks to the sky family opening their doors, Augusto is now happily addicted to skydiving, not drugs. Augusto runs a blog here, giving back to the community that welcomed him

What are your goals and the timescale?

This is definitely a long-term project. We have no illusions that social change takes work, and that work is never really over. There’s never going to be a time when humans turn to each other and say, “Welp, we’re done here. We solved all the problems in all the land and can go home now”. That’s not realistic. There’s always going to be a need for introspection and soul-searching in any community to ensure it is living up to its highest values.

Long-term, we really want to focus on representation. It’s sort of our North Star. If we can find ways to encourage more jumpers from diverse backgrounds to kindle their ambitions and reach for leadership positions in skydiving, our theory is that it will have a snowball effect: it will inspire other diverse jumpers to get in the game, or even inspire mere mortals to make their first skydive. So, we’ve gotta nudge diverse jumpers to gain the skills and experience to lead on the DZ or go to work for a manufacturer. At the same time, we have to encourage dropzones and companies to create the pipelines necessary to identify high-potential talent – or even commit to this as a priority in the first place. That is work that takes years.

Camp Unity in the sky – Anastasia and Alex, with Brandon Johnson – Image by Raymond Adams

How are you intending to achieve those goals?

Progress (or, in the language of business, “change management”) usually starts with a slow process of listening and discovery. That is why we created this platform and a forum for people to share their perspectives – especially perspectives that don’t often get heard or represented because of the way skydiving currently skews towards the white male demographic.

We are also interested in how Sisters in Skydiving has chapters on various dropzones, and would like dropzones to take the lead on CAMP Unity as well. Successful movements are always decentralized, and we cannot succeed if all the initiative only comes from our merry little band. We’d love to see jumpers building their own CAMP Unity communities or chapters wherever they jump.

We are already working with a number of manufacturers on initiatives that we think will get people excited about what we’re after. For example, Squirrel is offering a prize for the winning video or written submission following our FB Live. This summer, we are planning to organize at least one in-person skydiving event. And over time, we’re hoping that brands and the USPA commit to actively create recruitment pipelines that bring diverse jumpers into leadership positions. 

Finally, representation is a big deal, and humans are very visual, so we want to publish stories about diverse jumpers on the Instagram handle I created but haven’t used yet. Anybody out there want to be our content and social media wiz?

It sucks to be on the sidelines
Image at FF record, Skydive Perris, by Norman Kent

Tell me more about the Mentor program

We haven’t formalized it yet, but I’d love for people who have been in the sport for a few years to offer to mentor younger jumpers. This doesn’t have to limited to people of color or minority jumpers. Everyone needs mentorship and guidance on how to a better human and serve others – and that includes me. Details to come as we work them out. BTW, who wants to help us start a mentorship program?!

About the events, is it too early for details?

Definitely too early, but we are shooting for at least one event in summer 2021 (pandemic and more murder hornets pending of course). As we know more, we’ll share where, when, and how people can attend!

Robin Harris, Camp Unity’s moderator, showing her skills

Many skydiving companies are supporting you, can you give me a list?

We had 26 companies / brands, 19 dropzones, 13 teams, and 46 athletes who signed our open letter. You can see the full list on this page

Wow, – you have almost all the leading skydiving manufacturing countries there, what form does that support take?

The most surprising thing has been totally random and unsolicited offers of financial support to help pay for the open letter we published in Parachutist magazine in November 2020. We were originally planning to pay for the ad space out of pocket, but then a few jumpers and brands offered to send us money to offset the costs, which gave us the idea to crowdfund the rest. That’s such a great example of good ideas coming organically from the community, because we don’t always – or really ever – know what’s best!

The people and brands who signed our letter have also been a source for ideas and strategic support. For example, we recently reached out to a few skydivers with many years in the sport and a strong network to serve on our Advisory Board. Three of the people who signed our letter are now joining us for our first panel discussion on Facebook Live. And, as we start hosting events, we will doubtless ask for financial commitments, but we don’t want to just raise money for the sake of raising money. We want to know exactly what we are raising it for.

And support doesn’t only mean money. Sharing our Facebook Live, inviting others, participating on our social media, and helping us get the word out to others about what we are doing is also critical support.

Dan Brodsky Chenfeld
Dan BC

I’ve mentioned many times before how I so love and value our amazing skydiving family.  People of all ages, countries, backgrounds, occupations, religions, political parties, socioeconomic standings, genders, and sexual orientations looking out for each other, caring for each other and sharing the skies together.  I’m proud that as a community we are so inclusive. I’ve recently realized that not everyone feels as included as we want them to be.  Camp Unity was formed to foster that inclusion and diversity in our sport.  They are hosting a Facebook live conversation about it on March 8 with Matt Gerdes, Sharon Har-noy Pilcher, Brandon Johnson and Robin Harris.  Should be a great discussion.  Hope you can join us for it.

Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, Manager, Skydive Perris

Is it a National (USA) project or international?

We started out as a US-focused initiative, but as international jumpers and brands heard about us and signed the letter, we figured diversity, inclusion, and representation are global issues, so it didn’t make sense to limit our geographic scope.

If people want to get involved, how can they help?

Find and message me or CAMP Unity on Facebook, or email us at team@camp-unity.org.

You have a Facebook Live seminar coming up on 8 March, what is that going to cover? 

Since March 8 is International Women’s Day, we want to celebrate the progress that has been made in the sport. Women undertook direct action to increase our own visibility and numbers, and now it’s no surprise that skydiving has become much more friendly and welcoming towards women. At the same time, there is much more work to be done, both on behalf of females and more specifically minorities in the sport. And that’s what we’ll be discussing. Our panelists are Brandon Johnson, who teaches AFF and hucks tandems out of Skydive Dubai and Skydive Spaceland while being an overall shredder, Sharon Har-Noy Pilcher, who is a celebrated high-level skydiving coach, mentor, and member of the JoyRiders team, and Matt Gerdes, who founded Squirrel and wrote the book every current and aspiring BASE jumper has read…at least I hope! We are moderated by Robin Harris, a competitive canopy pilot who has previously taught AFF, wingsuiting, and load organizing at Skydive City.

People can tune in on March 8 at 8 pm EST via our Camp Unity Facebook page, or by going directly to the event page

We will record and post the discussion for people who cannot attend in person, but you definitely should try to be there in order to be eligible for the chance to win $500 SQRL Bucks (can be used off any single item on their website). Contest rules are here on our Facebook page if you’d like to know how to enter.

Brandon Johnson, instructor at Skydive Dubai, is on the FB live panel

What if someone doesn’t want to get actively involved but supports your values – are there changes or actions he/she can make at the dropzone?

Whatever our personal perspectives, at the end of the day, skydiving is family, and if someone in my family is struggling and there’s something I can do to make that person’s day better, or make them feel more appreciated and cared for, or just listen, then why not do that? What harm could possibly come from an overabundance of love? It’s certainly no sweat off my back! (Although, candidly, CAMP Unity, and even just this upcoming FB Live, have taken mooooonths of sweat equity. Come help us out!)

Thank you Anastasia, is there anything you would like to add? 

Did I already mention that we’d love more help and more people involved to keep the momentum going? Cuz that would be huge. And please join us at the FB Live on March 8 at 8 pm EST. At least then you’ll know what we’re all about and can decide if you want to keep hanging out with us.

Camp Unity –FFI 

Win 500 bucks off any item on the Squirrel website by actively participating in Camp Unity’s FB Live event, details here – Image: Roberta Mancino by Max Haim
Matt Gerdes Squirrel
Matt Gerdes

SQRL is grateful to CAMP Unity for their work on these issues, and excited to be able to offer them backing. We are firmly in support of the idea that all facets of skydiving can be improved to be more welcoming, and that our community can be, and should be, more diverse. We pledge to work towards creating more representation in the sport and to continue to foster a more inclusive vibe in every sense, wherever we can. We’re lucky, all of us, to be able to do this and we believe a sense of gratefulness can give us energy to be kinder and more supportive to everyone we meet. ” 

Matt Gerdes, CEO, Squirrel

Pete Allum interviews CAMP Unity

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Meet: Lesley Gale

Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
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