Catching Up With Roberto “Manfi” Hernandez

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From a small DZ in Chile to becoming a new member of Fly4Life, Manfi shares his experience and passions in the sport we love

Roberto “Manfi” Hernandez
Photo by Felix Wtterberg

Why, how and where did you get started in skydiving? What has your progression been like?

A couple of family members became skydivers around 1995. My father actually continued to skydive for quite some years, although not so much these days. I have an Uncle (married to my father’s sister) who was a Commando from the Chilean Army and was, at the time, national champion in accuracy and style. Skydiving has been around me for as long as I can remember and although it wasn’t like my family was at the DZ every weekend or ever worked in skydiving, I have known about it and have been occasionally on dropzones since around 4 years old.

I made my first ever tandem jump at age 13 and could not wait to get my own license and jump on my own, which happened 3 years later at age 16.  

I started in a small airfield in Chile called Aeródromo Cuatro Diablos with a Cessna 182. This airfield turned into Skydive Andes about a year after I started, which became my home DZ throughout my first years as a skydiver. About a year after I started, I spent every weekend at the DZ while all my friends from high school were partying and enjoying the weekends. Eventually, the DZO proposed I become a videographer for tandems. I was there every day, so I turned out to be the best candidate for the job. I gathered 500 jumps in the next year. At the beginning of 2010 the DZ convinced my family to send me to Skydive Dallas to do the AFF Rating and become an Instructor for the DZ. At that time I was a full time employee of Skydive Andes. By 2011/2012 I was the head instructor of the DZ.

Manfi teach AFF over Aeródromo Cuatro Diablos with Julio Muñoz
Photo by Claudio Troncoso

I was already competing in Canopy Piloting nationally and internationally and had achieved gold medals for a couple of years in the Chilean Freefly Nationals. In 2013 I went international to expand my horizons as I felt myself reaching some sort of ceiling in the Chilean skydiving scene.

I went to Europe first, which wasn’t a great success. Next, I found a job at Skydive Spaceland in Texas where I spent the summers of 2013-2016. During that time I did the Tandem Rating course. I spent the northern hemisphere summer in the US and the southern hemisphere Summer in Chile, also working in Pucón (AirSkydive, a little Cessna 182 operation) where I threw tandems all summer with some of the most stunning views and landscapes. 

In 2017 I decided to chase becoming a full-time freelance freefly coach in Boituva, Brazil. I connected all my knowledge as an instructor with the freefly/angle flying skills to perform as a coach in a new place. This took a momentum of its own with ups and downs obviously, and now I’m happily and proudly sitting here, writing this, as a new Fly4Life team member.

Manfi’s first gig as LO at Ethernal Boogie with an excellent crew

Who were some of your mentors early on? 

I can say there are 5 people that really shaped the beginning stages of my career. My AFF Instructor, Eduardo Jara. My first coach, Erwin Schlager. Skydive Andes DZO, team mate, and a brother to me, Julio Muñoz. Airskydive DZO, Hugo Mendez. Claudio Troncoso, CVE team mate. Of course there are dozens of people who’ve helped me develop as a skydiver and as a human being, from family to friends to girlfriends to people I only met for a short period of time. Every single person in my life has mentored me in some way or form.

Manfi, with Julio Muñoz and Claudio Troncoso

How did you start leading and what was that like for you in the beginning? 

Skydive Andes was a small dropzone with an experimental plane (a Comp Air) with capacity for 6 skydivers. Most days, we would gather the staff members for the last load of the day as a staff load, for a classic tracking jump. The conditions made it easy – one load, one group, and lots of out landings. 

We started with the leader leading flat all the way on his back as it was done back in the days. Then we started having the leader on his belly and also later playing with the angle. We did not have any mentoring on how to do this besides seeing what other dropzones were doing. Brazil was the leading freefly/angle flying scene at the time and we were lucky enough to share knowledge with them about tracking and angle flying.

I would, of course, lead jumps for my fellow staff members, progressing in my own ways as a leader. We learned with practice the importance of the winds aloft, type of jump, exits, talking about break-offs, and possible out landings. We had a few incidents and only one accident in freefall during this period. We learned and understood the importance of the preparation of each of these jumps, of everyone knowing the plan. We learned the importance of building the plan according to the lowest skill person in the group. So, without even knowing it, I was naturally sharpening my skills as a track/angle flying leader.

Manfi hitting the pond at Spaceland
Photo by Felix Wetterberg

When do you think you really sharpened your skills as a leader and a coach in the sport? What things contributed to that? 

I can’t really pinpoint one moment in time. I’ve been skydiving for 16 years and every year has contributed tremendously to my development as a skydiver, instructor, coach & leader. But I can say that the things contributing the most are the accidents I have witnessed, which I will always do my very best to not see repeated again. From plane, freefall, canopy and landing accidents; from minor injuries to death.

What is the skydiving scene like in Chile? 

The Chilean skydiving scene is being led by Skydive Andes and a few people in the sport bringing events and foreign coaches to the national territory. The DZ currently has a Cessna Grand Caravan with a Black Hawk engine and operates Thursday to Sunday, all year round. There are several experienced skydivers offering coaching every weekend and the DZ school provides a world class student program and follow up once licensed. They use a sticker system to allow people to follow and lead tracking jumps, where they need to train and take an individual test to be allowed to start leading for 1, 2, 3 or more people.

The second biggest dropzone is in the South of Chile, in Pucón. This dropzone has 3 small Cessna planes and one CompAir (turbine engine). This is mainly a tandem-dedicated DZ, but operates from Sept to April every day of the week. So you can always sneak into one of their loads. The landscapes in this area are stunning. Besides those, there are a few other smaller dropzones.

In 2019 we set the largest head down formation, a 13 way, which hasn’t been broken since.

Manfi leading his new teammates in Florida

What do you think separates people as top athletes in our sport?

I would boil it down to the passion, dedication, commitment, discipline and connection with the people in the sport.

I sometimes believe people underestimate the time, energy and money a top skydiver has spent to be where they are. I also believe this happens for one reason. Unlike other sports, when people become a licensed skydiver and quickly get into it, you start hearing the big names in the sport, in all disciplines. Sooner than later, you have a chance to meet these people in person, share a load or even a drink at the end of the day. This doesn’t happen in other sports, which in turn becomes a double-edged sword. We can observe and learn directly from the best in the industry, but also compare ourselves with the best in the industry, which can lead to quick frustration or a feeling of never reaching satisfaction within our own progression.

To be a top athlete, like any sport, your life becomes the sport. Your mind, your body, your emotions and your spirit are all aligned with what you do. If they aren’t, you tirelessly look for that alignment in everything you do, inside and outside of the dropzone, inside and outside your body.

What do you do to stay current in your own flying and leading?

I jump as much as I can, with as many people as I can, from all kinds of levels, from as many disciplines as possible.

Manfi and Matt Hill above Skydive Algarve
Photo by Gustavo Cabana Imaging

You meditate, rock climb and eat well – can you share some of your thoughts on this? Why is this important to you?

I’m in a stage in skydiving where I ask the best performance of my mind and body in every jump. In order to tap into this every day, I need to nurture my body as best I can. If I do this, sickness would be the only thing that could negatively affect my performance, not my lack of care or effort.
When younger, I was very athletic but never very strong. So, I’m always looking to improve my strength by working out and doing different activities, which helps my flying, especially in head up.

Meditation allows me to align my mind with my body, and although my body might feel fine, my mind needs attention or rest. When I’m extremely busy, surrounded by loud noises and heaps of people, this practice has helped me connect better to my emotions and my mind. I  believe that food is medicine. Whatever you eat, you are. These are all practices that I believe help me to find the top of my performance, and although I’m not competing against anybody, I’m constantly expecting high performance of myself. These are all also qualities of a top athlete.

What has it been like joining a team after being solo for so many years in the sport?

It’s a huge inspiration as well as a massive compliment to my work. Life in the sport has been a long journey with ups and downs. Joining F4L is definitely one of the highs, and within this we are learning to work together, help each other, learn from each other, and be a strong team performing as well as we can. This is a new door that has opened for me, the team work.

Who makes the best arepas on the team?

Myself, and then, the Venezuelans.

Mondial at Dubai, 2012
Photo by Claudio Troncoso

What direction are we heading in the sport? What is new to discover in flying? 

In reality I think most of the boundaries were discovered long ago. We have only pushed the efficiency, the explosiveness, the precision of flying. The group flying and the ability to do all of this in a group environment and at much early stages in a skydiver’s career. I sometimes think people forget that years ago with 300 jumps you were still learning how to fly stable in certain disciplines. Nowadays people with 300 jumps are angle flying, back and belly, at quite a high level of efficiency. But actually, I don’t know. I think that the whole point is discovering. Not knowing where we are going, but going anyway, pushing anyway. I’m happy to be within a group of humans where I feel safe pushing my own boundaries and hopefully I’ll discover something new.

Are there any safety items you think are overlooked? 

I don’t think there’s any specific item being overlooked. The whole combination of items we use when jumping out of planes is what makes the sport as safe as it is today. Maybe it really depends on what discipline you fly. Suits are overlooked, the kind of helmet people are using are also overlooked. But more than that, what I do believe is overlooked is knowing how your devices work. I find a lot of people not understanding how their Skyhook works, how their RSL works, how to connect/disconnect their 3-ring system (If one doesn’t know how to connect it, how can you know if it’s good to jump when doing a gear check?!), or how to change their audible altitude.

Any words of advice for those just getting started in leading? 

Sign up for a leading course and practice leading for one other person before leading for groups of people.

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Meet: Alethia Austin

Alethia is a passionate full time international angle and freefly coach. As the creator of LSD Bigway Camps and LSD Angle Camps, she's been running skills camps in skydiving for over 8 years around the world. Some of her coaching and LSD camps have taken her to Botswana, Egypt, Central America, North America, Europe and more. Alethia brings her years of yoga teaching, love of good health and healthy living into the way she coaches angle flying and vertical flying. Alethia was a regional captain for the Women's Vertical World Record and has two world records. Her sponsors include UPT, Tonfly, PD, Cypres and LB Altimeters.

You can find her on Instagram at

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