Catching up with… Pete Allum

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Pete has over 36,000 jumps and multiple international medals in two disciplines: 4-way and Canopy Piloting. Pete must be the most well-known and most-loved British skydiver on the planet. His coaching, development and mentoring have positively affected countless individuals and for sure Pete has increased the safety and development of our sport. His induction into the Hall of Fame this year is richly deserved.

Pete was British National Champion in FS – 4-way and/or 8-way – continuously for 19 years, from 1985 to 2003. Then, four times Italian National Champion, four times in 4-way and four times in CP, 2005-2009. Then, he became UK National 4-way Champion again in 2015 and 2016, and started flying with a new 4-way team this year, Meraki. Pete’s currently a Flight-1 instructor and 4-way coach at Skydive Empuriabrava.

I loved doing this interview. I’ve known Pete 30 years and I found out some new things about him…

When you did your first jump in 1979 aged 15, did you imagine then the sport would become so important to you? 

Yes, and No. When I first started, I definitely thought I was in it for the long haul but I quit within a year and then began again 6 months later. Then I knew, this was it; I was running away to join the circus and I was never going to stay away. 

I was running away to join the circus and I was never going to stay away

Why did you quit?

In my head it was ‘boring’; Mum and Dad were doing it! I wanted to do something different, in my mind I was rebelling. I went on the road and had lots of adventures. Then I realized skydiving was where it’s at.

Did you imagine at the beginning what you would become in the sport?

I must have had some inclination, as I had posters of my skydiving heroes on my bedroom wall. I had a direction, I definitely wanted to be something within the sport, I wanted to represent my country on the world stage. 

Who were your heroes?

On my wall, Golden Knights, Mirror Image and Vision, they were 8-way teams going head-to-head back then. Scott Meek, of Vision, he was one of my heroes. He was our coach in ‘85 for Blipverts, who then became Mo, which became a kind of UK 8-way dynasty. 

Any other early mentors/heroes?

I had loads of them. Symbiosis, Tom Piras, Jack Jefferies, Dan BC, Patrick de Gayardon, they were all pioneers.

Sebastian XL

What was the best advice Scott Meek gave you? 

He didn’t give it by words, it was by his actions, the way most good advice is given. The way he was, his professional attitude, he put everything into it, even though it was ‘just’ coaching an 8-way team. That stuck with me.

Why are 4-way and canopy piloting your two big ‘things’ in the sport? What’s the attraction? 

4-way I felt for a long time that, ‘it was what I did’. I ‘retired’ numerous times but kept going back, there was something about 4-way that had its hooks into me. It’s the detail. It’s not just about the flying or standing on the podium, it’s the journey that you have with your teammates, the stuff you learn about yourself and other people. Then of course there’s the skydiving. Now that I’m back on a team and doing one camp a month, I’m really enjoying the flying again. The control, the speed, the level of communication and synchronicity that you must have to work together, that’s the level of detail I love.

Sebastian XL, British National Champions continuously 1996-2003. The XL legacy continued with various hugely successful line-ups for indoor and outdoor competitions during 2000-2018. Photo by Richard Orford

And with canopy piloting… back in the late nineties we had one of the first swoop competitions, the ‘Daytona 5000’, held at Flagler, on the beach. We were on Velos; it was the first time we were flying them in a really aggressive environment. It seemed like that was the thing to do. Then I took a canopy course with Scott Miller, the foundation course, equivalent to Flight-1’s 101 nowadays – and I did it on my Velo 84. People thought it was weird, they were looking at me like, why is he doing that?! I wanted to do it because I thought it would give me the basics, the first principles behind canopy flight. It did, it opened a door. I realized that what I was doing wasn’t just descending underneath this piece of nylon but I was really flying something and I had to understand it. I started a journey, I’ve always loved flying my parachute but from that moment on it became an obsession – to try and understand everything about flying wings. 

Pete at his home drop zone, Empuriabrava
Photo by Roy Wimmer Jaglom

You paraglide too, is that part of the same obsession?

Yes. I started paragliding initially to get to know more about flying but that’s become a separate journey. It’s just fantastic (said with an almost biblical quality and a longing look skyward!). We’re pretty spoilt here in Empuriabrava. After a one-hour hike you can be out there flying for hours… looking at the kestrels, checking out the other birds, the weather, places to land. It’s really beautiful.

4-way is a team event and CP is individual – do you use the same or different qualities in these disciplines?

The act of 4-way is more of a team effort – ‘Together Everyone Achieves More’ and all that. But when you’re canopy piloting, you notice that when you join an event or training camp, the interaction between the competitors is way more than you would get at a 4-way meet. So, you become one big team. Although you’re focusing on your own event there is so much support from the community. No one wants to see anyone hurt, that’s one of the key things. If you go to a meet and you do something dangerous you will be told, immediately, in a supportive way, with the best intentions. So, it’s weird, the team environment is different in CP but the support you get from the community is huge. 

Pete competing Yoda-style
Photo by Mordace

You’ve been a Flight-1 instructor for nine years. What is it that you like about canopy coaching? 

It’s obviously a job for me – and I think I find the best jobs in the world! I get to talk about things that I love. From a selfish side, I increase my knowledge by becoming a better canopy coach. I get to really dive into geeky alleyways – the sort of thing you get into when you’re teaching something and they ask an interesting question. But the main thing I get out of it is, you see people have more fun under canopy, they enjoy it, they stop worrying so much about it and they are given skills to save their lives. It feels very special to be able to do that. Knowing when you’re teaching someone that you’re making them a better pilot, and giving them more chance of walking off the drop zone at the end of the day. Also, they are becoming a more reliable part of the community. Because we are a community and if someone is flying unsafely or erratically, they’re as much a danger to everyone else as they are to themselves. A lot of people don’t realise that. They are like, ‘Yeah I can do this!!’ But it’s really like, ‘Yeah maybe you can. But what about that person that you don’t see?!’

Did you ever think of getting a ‘real job’ ?! 

Are you saying I’m not doing a real job?! (We both giggle.) I used to get that from my Mum and Dad a lot, ‘when are you going to get a real job?’ I guess at certain times, especially when I was younger, I thought maybe I would move on but that thought never stuck too long. 

I look at the different avenues I’ve explored within skydiving, such as in Covid times I did a bunch of online classes, or back in the day I did a distance learning Sports Psychology Diploma. The days they posted all the stuff to you, you had to mail your coursework back and it took forever (laughs). I shied away from further education when I was at the age you were supposed to do it but since then I’ve really enjoyed it. I like the continued learning, and I get that in the sport. 

Empuria Canopy Project
Photo by Roy Wimmer-Jaglom

What do you think is the least understood thing about canopy flight?

The physics behind what we do, how the parachute works and how we should work better together. Flying Better Together is the Flight-1 motto – flying better together in a fun way like flocking – but also flying better together for the safety of everyone. If you’re driving down the motorway and someone’s weaving around next to you on the phone – well, that’s what some people do in the air. 

How do you feel about being inducted into the Hall of Fame?

It felt liike a blow! A positive blow but that’s how much of a shock it was. Ian [Bobo, who nominated Pete] called me before he filed the nomination to check I was ok with it. I have the utmost respect for Ian, I consider him to be one of my mentors, well to have someone like that to put you forward was very special. At first I felt that there were so many people who were more deserving but then I realised it’s a peer review. If your peers give you this award, this honour, then you should embrace it with open arms and accept that – take the love from the community. It was a very warm glow. 

Extract from Ian Bobo’s citation:

Pete is loved and respected across our community because of who he is as a person: humble, polite, well-spoken and thoughtful, he connects to all at the same level. Whether he’s competing against the top echelons of our sport, flying with someone in the tunnel, or briefing a student on how to land their parachute safely, Pete is one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet in this community. He continues to explore his passions through new disciplines to this day, constantly evolving, staying agile to learn and jumping actively with one and all.

Ian Bobo

You have a ‘Yoda’ quality in the air, why is that?

I feel most comfortable when I’m skydiving; in freefall and under canopy I feel most at home. My Awareness Radar is out there and I’m fully immersed in the environment. Maybe in another life I would have been a Water Man but Air is what floats my boat in this one!

Pete Allum and Dani Roman, extreme xrw over Lauterbrunnen
Photo by Puro Skydive

Your fascination with wings extended to xrw, where you and Dani Roman are flying proximity lines together, tell me how that came about

I really wanted to fly my parachute relative to the Pilatus Porter, I thought it was possible and I found a pilot who was prepared to do it. PD worked with me to get the right wings. The next idea was to have a wingsuiter flying with us. Dani showed up and seemed really keen. We did some jumps together and within a day, we had built some really good communication. It felt like a team was born.

We’ve done a couple of hundred jumps together, playing with a lot of things, mostly about progression. About 3 years ago we were very lucky to get some support from a friend of ours, Susy Lee. She runs Kensho Capital and her support has allowed us to do several special projects in Spain and Switzerland. With the aid of a heli, we were able to insert ourselves into some beautiful parts of nature, and fly many stunning lines. We just got back from Lauterbrunnen, where we did some incredible flying. 

I love the planning for all these things. It may look to the outside world as though we just turn up and huck it but there are months and months of planning that go into it. Scoping the lines out, figuring things out on Google Earth. Thinking of all the things that could go wrong – because if you’re in that environment you’ve got a lot of things that could go wrong. Coming up with plans to make sure that those things don’t happen, or doing our best to be prepared for them if they do. 

What’s the dynamic in your partnership with Dani?

Dani is really fun, he’s definitely going to push me. He’s young and full of really good energy and I’m the slightly calmer, older partner there. We keep each other going in the right direction. 

Pete Allum and Dani Roman over Lauterbrunnen
Photo by Pete Allum

You went on two personal crusades in 2010-11 to educate skydivers to avoid canopy collisions. Thankfully, collisions are rare these days. What would you educate skydivers on now?

I would still educate everyone on flying a good pattern and understanding the physics of the wing, because low turns are the big killer now. Turning close to the ground is the way we most prefer to kill ourselves or our friends. That’s something that needs to keep being addressed. Keeping awareness of what we are doing, that it is still dangerous. Our equipment is getting better, as our education is getting better but we still need to have a lot of understanding of the wing and how it will react. 

The human factor is the driver behind most of these accidents. You can look at the physical reasons why the accident happens like, ‘a low turn with insufficient altitude to recover’ but what put the person in that situation? Was it a lack of sleep, was it their ego, uncurrency, what was it?

You’re working on sustainability in skydiving, is there something you would like to share?

The whole green side of skydiving, sustainability, is really important. I’m not just talking about energy or aircraft, it’s about all of us having a sport. The things Skydive Mag reports on; the safety side, the social side, the inclusivity of skydiving. And of course, energy; there will come a point when governments will stop us skydiving, because we can’t use precious fossil fuels just for fun. If we don’t start working on that stuff, we’re going to have it ripped away. That would be sad. I can go BASE jump, I can go paragliding, but I’d rather be able to skydive. I know that we have the tools to do make a fully sustainable drop zone, aside from the aircraft. Everything is there for us to create a community that can look after itself, let’s make it happen. 

[Note, see Pete’s blog, Future Proof Skydiving)

What are your ambitions now, what would you still like to do?

It’s open-ended. When I started skydiving, I thought it was this pyramid that you worked your way to the top of. And the longer I’m in it the more I realise that it is a pyramid but it’s upside-down. You start with zero and then see there are more and more options out there. I’ve been doing 4-way since 1985 – wow, 37 years – I still find better ways to do it, better ways to explain it, we’re still progressing. You think that the sport’s going to get to a level and that’s it – but it’s never done that. I remember people saying ‘when you can average 12 in 4-way, that’s it’. But then it was 20 and then it was 30 .. and what’s next?!… 

I really enjoy freeflying and I just started wingsuiting, that’s super fun, I’ve done about 70 jumps. If I can improve my wingsuit and freeflying it would be cool to learn to use the wingsuit to fly on different axes. 

With the developments in canopy piloting techniques and equipment that are going on, that’s open-ended too. Since Vince thrust a Mutant in my hand and said, ‘Jump that!”, developing equipment has kept me focused on progression and safety. I work for UPT on the Mutant side, I’m involved in everything from design right through to customer service and training. Working with Ian Bobo and Vince, we designed the Flight-1 curriculum that we use to put people into the Mutant. What Flight-1 is doing too with the forums and the progression that’s happening with education, that’s another unfurling adventure ahead as well.

Is there anything you would like to add Pete?

Without a family that puts up with all this I could never have done it. My parents, partner and kids have been brilliant. Having a supportive nurturing environment has let me have this incredible journey – and by that I include my skydiving family too. 

Pete by Andrey Veselov

Want to learn with Pete?

  • Canopy coaching – Pete is based at Empuriabrava, check his availability for canopy coaching or contact him here
  • Flocking – Pete Allum and Julian Barthel are holding a series of Flocking courses in Europe, for a range of experiences and wing loadings. Details here
  • 16way Workshop – Pete Allum and world champion Andy Grauwels are hosting a 16 way workshop in Empuriabrava, 1-4 September 2022. They will each have a group each and run through all the fun steps: exits, approach, sequential, break off etc. For more info email Pete
  • Pete’s blog on sustainability: Future Proof Skydiving

Pete is proudly sponsored by PD, UPT, Cypres, Cookie, LB Altimeters, Vertigen 

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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.
Lesley is delighted to be sponsored by Performance Designs, Sun Path, Cypres, Cookie, Symbiosis suits and Larsen & Brusgaard

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