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AXIS provides bespoke education for Smart Skydivers: Now with (Gorgeous) Merits!

Ask anyone who’s been in the sport for more than a couple of seasons: the times, they are a changin’. For the first 15 to 20 years of sport skydiving’s popular heyday, there wasn’t any doubt that the party lay at the heart of the matter. In the not-too-long-ago bad old days, your standard sport skydiver would go about chasing boogies all season long — and chase the sun to find even more skydiving parties when her/his own season ran out. Beer, tent cities and magic-carpet exits ruled the day

In recent years — as you may have noticed — the sport is sobering up. Today’s skydiver has a different goal to chase: skill development. Suddenly, it’s not enough to simply jump out of an airplane with your buddies; now, you’d better be using that jump to get — well — better. This is the age of the skills camp; of the training trip; of one-on-one coaching. People just want more. And can you blame ‘em?

Enter AXIS — one of skydiving education’s indisputably premium brands. Brianne Thompson and Niklas Daniel, AXIS’s owners and instructors, are a pair of highly decorated skydivers who founded AXIS as a boutique instruction operation. The intentionally-small operation has been based at Skydive Arizona since 2010. In that time, Nik and Brianne have managed to actually revolutionize how skydiving is coached. 

How’d they do that? In essence, by integrating once-disparate disciplines in a unified space — and focusing squarely on quality. Because the pair have had a long history of competing all across the board, AXIS’s coaching method uniquely implements a singularly effective, multi-domain coaching strategy born in the fire of the highest-level training in the sport. To serve those goals, AXIS has been using the Merit system for a little under half a year — and they love it.

“AXIS merits are essentially a prize-quality achievement that people can be proud of,” Nik says. “When someone sees that a person has an AXIS merit in a particular area, they’ll know that person is legit.”

“We pride ourselves on coaching,” Brianne adds, “but we also know we can’t coach the world. The Merit system provides these traceable, tangible verifications that help visualize somebody’s experience level and qualifications This is a way for all coaching entities — not just AXIS — but the industry at large to start having some accountability, at a moment when skill over-exaggeration has become a systemic problem.”

According to Nik and Brianne, AXIS has incorporated Merits for one central purpose: to help their customers create their own, highly individual definition of success.  

“As there are no ratings or licenses within the USPA system for many of the services we provide,” Nik explains, “we came up with a system based on proficiency, knowledge and skill rather than attendance. To frame it as a metaphor, our Merits are set up like a collectible card game: by mastering the skills set out in the training, you can create your own skill deck. Each person’s deck is unique, in that you as a skydiver can create the collection that best benefits you and what you’re after in the sport.”


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Nik and Brianne both enthuse over the fact that Merits work so well with AXIS’s individual-first format: offering not only what people want, but what they need, and often in a way that doesn’t fit into a simple set curriculum, not only in the specific sense but in the wider sense of athlete development. Indeed, AXIS’s primary goal is to create better all-around skydivers, not just check boxes — but then Nik and Brianne regularly help developing skydivers become specialists, too, and in many ways that’s where AXIS’s offering diverges. Not only can they sign off on a B-license, they can coach a VFS team to go to the World Championships. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure kinda vibe. And now, there’s a Merit for every step along that path.

AXIS has long offered an extraordinarily bespoke format for skydiving training. Within the format of many different coaching entities throughout the sport, an athlete is signed off on their attendance of a given course — but that signoff doesn’t really reflect the student’s aptitude, proficiency or currency. AXIS rolls decidedly differently.

“Every person is unique and has a different goal they want to achieve,” Brianne explains. “Therefore, our training method has always been guided more by philosophy than by a strict or set-in-stone curriculum. We specialize in personalized coaching. Our training is customizable and specific — and so we only work in the one-on-one or small-group setting, just to ensure quality.”



For example: indeed, AXIS offers a B-license course. As such, there are boxes that need to be checked. At AXIS, however, those boxes are checked in the context of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Nik and Brianne help each individual student to co-design a curriculum that not only checks the boxes but helps the student meet their own personal goals. If that’s a little hard to wrap your head around, don’t worry — you’re not the first.

“One of the things that we get asked a lot is if we hold skills camps,” Brianne muses. “The truth is that we don’t hold them that often. Almost everybody who contacts us is by appointment only. We don’t want to make it sound like a snobby furniture store, but the fact is that that’s how specialized our coaching is.”

“Our clientele are high achievers in their own respective fields,” Nik observes. “Doctors; pilots; engineers. People that understand that you need constant continuing education and customized training are the type of people we work with, and that philosophy really seems to be catching on.”

That kind of high-achieving human understands that skills coaching doesn’t happen in a vacuum — and that’s precisely what AXIS has been saying all along.

“If you go to a 4-way coach and your landing sucks,” Nik notes, “They’ll probably skip over that part and coach what they know…but everything is connected. If somebody wants to get great in 4-way but then they hurt themselves under canopy, it won’t just ruin their day — and it ruins everything. It hurts the team’s goals, and it slows everything down for that student. At AXIS, we’ll make sure the student is coached for that need.”




As you can divine from all that, AXIS as a team is very much in tune with what they can do and deliver. Both Nik and Brianne still compete at a high level with Arizona X-Force, and can be seen training at Skydive Arizona year-round: chasing planes, knocking out a dozen jumps a day and doing lots of tunnel time.

“Everything we coach, we have competed in,” Nik says. “We don’t like to coach discipline in which we haven’t reached a high level ourselves. For example: we can wingsuit, and we’ve also received coaching in wingsuiting — but we’re not super-passionate about it, and we haven’t competed in the discipline. So: If somebody comes to us and says, I have the goal of becoming a wingsuiter, that’s awesome. We encourage that, and we’re happy to point them in the direction of people who are specialists for that. We want to make sure people get what they need, and that might also involve us saying we are not the coach for you. We’re holding ourselves — and our students — to a higher standard. We want each one to thrive.”

Here’s another fun fact: When you receive a Merit from AXIS, you are not just receiving a simple verification of achievement. You’re receiving actual artwork. The art on each Merit, as it turns out, is a Nik Daniel original, a piece of art in itself, and the product of a boss-level team effort. Nik came up with each design, and Jochen Althoff (“He is The Godfather, a major force behind the scenes at AXIS,” Brianne notes) helped with the graphic design.

AXIS flight school delivers all of its merits using the Merit certifications platform.

“Each AXIS Merit was hand-drawn and -designed, and every picture has a meaning behind it,” Brianne enthuses. “There is care and love — artwork, passion and pride there. He was at the computer for weeks working on them.”

And that brings us to another awesome project in the works at AXIS headquarters: a coaching app, in collaboration with Good Goblin Games. It features a user-manipulatable sketch figurine named ‘Woody,’ animated to demonstrate orientation and body position. Uniquely, it’ll demonstrate both bodyflight and canopy flight — and include a suite of extra tools for skydiving, such as exit separation, different types of exits and a wing loading calculator. Nik and Brianne designed the app to be useful not only for individual optimization-minded skydivers, but to make sure it could also be used as a coaching tool for coaches who want extra visuals for their students. While the release date isn’t yet set in stone, the app will be available on both iTunes and Google.  

“We have been coaching this stuff for years,” Brianne concludes, smiling. “None of this is new, per se — except the fact that now we have this very beautiful stand-alone system to allow our students to prove their grasp of any material they’ve coached with us with a simple glance online. We are very excited about that.”

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Meet: Annette O Neil

Annette O'Neil, D-33263, is a multidisciplinary air sports athlete: skydiver, BASE jumper, paraglider and speed-wing pilot. Location-independent, she travels the world full-time as a freelance writer and producer. In her spare time, she loves flopping around on a yoga mat and carpet-bombing Facebook from Instagram.

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