When we talk to skydiving competitor/mentor/coach/all-around-badass Maxine Tate, she’s hours from the nearest dropzone. She is, in fact, shaking the fresh powder from her boots in Park City, Utah — where she has spent 30 days on the snow, dialing in her skiing. This is, to be sure, a woman who is very much in the business of putting in the time and getting it right, no matter what adventure she’s on…and, these days, it’s a very new adventure indeed. After years as a top-shelf international competitor in Canopy Piloting and as the COO of Flight-1, she’s emerging into a whole new moment, and we at CYPRES are proud to ride into it with her.
First, it’s important to understand that this is far from Maxine’s first focus-shift. Since the age of 5, she’s been a competitive athlete: netball, field hockey, equestrian event jumping.
“I’ve always loved to do any kind of outdoor sports and I always had in my mind that I wanted to skydive,” she says.
That didn’t happen until the native Briton went to London for university when she had the classic opportunity to do a charity skydive. An 18-year-old Maxine went to the dropzone with the intention of doing a static line jump on a military round (as this was pre-tandem in the UK). Unfortunately, that first brush with parachuting was far from a nice time.
“It was the worst experience ever,” she laughs. “It literally took 7 or 8 weeks of waiting for the weather, among other things.”
When she actually went up and made the jump, it was hardly worth it.
“For anyone who has ever jumped military rounds, you know… it’s not the same experience as modern-day parachuting at all,” she goes on. “Honestly, I have full respect for those that started their skydiving career this way and stuck with it. My patachute had line twists and I could hardly steer the canopy. I just missed a ditch and came down really heavily. I was, like, What on earth was that? What was I thinking? I don’t want to do that again. Honestly, I have full respect for those that started their skydiving career this way and stuck with it, but I was done with skydiving.”
From there, Maxine went off and lived her life for another 15 years or so until she was traveling in New Zealand. By chance, she ended up close to a drop zone and saw the tandems.
Photos by Zach Lewis
“I was, like, That doesn’t look anything like the military rounds. I’ll give it a go,” she remembers. “I did, and got all the free fall experience, and landed on my feet, thinking — okay, that’s what I thought skydiving would be like and can’t believe I left it so long. I was hooked from that tandem.”
When she came back to the UK, she was stoked to get started. She called up a friend and hooked him into the idea of joining her to learn how to skydive. He was all about it, so the pair headed off to the sunnier, more predictable Spanish skies in 2004 and knocked out AFF.
“I didn’t sail through AFF,” Maxine admits. “I was a spinner. For anyone out there who thinks they can never make it, I’m living proof that’s not the case. Once I finished my AFF, I came back to the UK and was invited on a 4-way team with less than 100 jumps.”
That was it. Within three years of getting her skydiving license, Maxine had quit her corporate London job and decided she wanted to make up for lost time. She moved to the States for a little while to work with Mark Kirkby at Skydive Arizona (when he was on Arizona Airspeed), learning slots for 4-way. From there, she moved to Australia and joined the 8-way national team.
Maxine and her Aussie team went to the World Meet in 2008 in France. During that training time, she made some connections in the States who invited her out to work for them as a full-time skydiving instructor.
“I literally went from Australia to the States to train, then to France for the world meet and then moved back to the States,” she muses. “That’s how I ended up in the US. I basically just followed skydiving from UK to Australia to the US. It was one hell of a turnaround from working in the city, running companies, working in the media industry to doing what I’m doing now. I simply didn’t want to live that life anymore; so I ended up just literally chasing the dream, trying to find the right balance of work and play. I feel like I’m almost there. It has taken me to almost 50 to nail it.”
As anyone reading this will almost certainly know, working as a full-time skydiving instructor is no picnic. It’s completely weather-dependent; it’s predicated on the season; you’ve got to jump to work. Luckily, Maxine had met PD Factory Team Co-Founder Shannon Pilcher through a mutual friend.
“Shannon knew my business background,” Maxine explains. “And they had got to a point at Flight-1 where they needed to bring on some business expertise.”
Shannon contacted Maxine and asked her to interview for the position. Soon, she was signing on as COO.
“It was a random connection and perfect timing,” she says. “I knew I didn’t have the balance right as a full-time instructor; Flight-1 gave me the opportunity to use my career background and still stay in skydiving, coaching, jumping and competing.”*
“I’m very enthusiastic about bringing small companies up and giving them the boost and organization to be able to take the next step,” she continues. “With Flight-1, that synergy has been incredibly successful. I’m beyond happy with the growth we’ve experienced together. I still work as a Flight-1 instructor, but I’ve stepped down as COO, and I’m quite ready personally to move aside and to see the company move into its next phase with other people at the helm, ready to embark on another massive growth phase.”
It was a big decision, of course. However, Maxine insists that it was actually a very easy one to make. First off: stepping down as COO — and away from competitive CP, as well — has given Maxine the space to grow in thrillingly divergent directions.
“I deliberately took the time away from competition for the 2018 season for the first time in a dozen years of competing in various skydiving disciplines,” she explains. “I decided I’m not going to train and compete this year. I’m going to take that time and do all the other things that I want to do. Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t miss it at all. Shifting focus made me realize the time I was trying to create by freeing up my vacation of four weeks a year wasn’t nearly enough, at best it just scratched the surface. That was a light-bulb moment. I was about to turn 50 and I had literally been in a full time, high responsibility ‘career’ position for almost 30 years. It was a very easy decision to stop.”
“Stop,” evidently, is a relative term. Maxine is far from the point of cutting ties with airsports. Instead, she’s digging deep into new skills: speed flying, paragliding and the various other kinds of flight available to keen athletes.
“I’m living my own dream of flight,” she smiles. “I’m always going to be passionate about that, but it doesn’t have to be only under a high-performance wing in competition. As I enter the second half of my life, I feel the calling to try other airsports as well.”
“I don’t want to spread myself so thin that I’m compromising that element of hard work and dedication to fully learn a new sport and make it as safe as possible,” she continues. “I don’t have any more goals in CP competition. At the end of the day, I had a four-year plan culminating in representing my country at the World Games, and I did that. I loved the experience and I’ll always be a swooper but I’m ready for new challenges.”
The next thing, as everything tends to be in Maxine’s closely examined life, has been carefully and exhaustively defined.
“I identified last year what I’m incredibly passionate about and what I’m going to do that doesn’t feel like work,” she elucidates. “I identified the I-can’t-believe-I’m-getting-paid-to-do-this, pinch-me kind of feeling, and I leaned in to that: canopy coaching and load organizing on the skydiving side. Then, together with that, all the travel and different sports I want to take on. The idea is from April through October, I’m going to coach and load organize — working on the weekends, traveling during the week. Then the calendar from October through March is mine to pursue the things I’ve personally wanted to do for a long time in the context of full-immersion training and experiences.”
This season, as aforementioned, she’s immersing herself in skiing as a prelude to speed riding; next winter, she’s going to hike the bottom of South America, into Patagonia.
“I come alive when I travel,” Maxine grins. “That is something that is very deep in me. I’ve never been shy about going somewhere on my own I’ve never been before and experiencing life.”
For all the type-A planning that Maxine has been doing in this new phase, she’s determined to leave herself some wiggle room.
“I’ve got a high-level plan, but I’m also being spontaneous as well,” she notes. “Considering I’ve spent my life as a COO and a Finance Director, two fields where you’re paid to be in control, I’m now at a point in my personal life where I want to move away from that. I want to be able to make a decision in the moment and not feel constrained.”
“Weirdly enough it’s very easy for me to do that,” she grins. “Go figure. After 30 years of being paid to do the opposite, I’m all about it now.
The emphasis on diversity of discipline is a factor of this new lifestyle that is very near and dear to Maxine’s heart. She heartily recognizes that playing in different disciplines can have huge benefits.
“Paragliding and speed flying and working with all these different types of wings and harnesses,” she enthuses, “all come back to the same concepts. It is part and parcel of the same dream of flight. I truly believe the more you fly different kinds of wings, the better all-around pilot you become.”
“Not only do I feel like my passion is there,” she continues, “but I feel like it is a very symbiotic relationship between the different types of canopies we can fly. I’m stoked to take on different types of flying that I have no experience in. I love being the newbie. I get to fly a wing and be on that steep learning curve you get when you start something new. I’m giddy at that.”
There’s nothing lovelier to experience than a giddy Maxine Tate — and we here at CYPRES are thrilled to come along on that journey with her. Luckily, Maxine returns the sentiment.
“I’ve never had to utilize my CYPRES. I’m glad to say that,” she insists. “But I know if I did, I could trust it to do the job, and that’s the most important thing. I will not freefall without a CYPRES. My CYPRES is an integral part of my equipment. I won’t jump without it. Unfortunately, I lost a friend who was knocked unconscious in free fall and didn’t have an AAD. I’ve also almost been knocked out in freefall on a tracking dive. Also being involved in one of the more riskier disciplines in the sport, you just never know what’s going to happen. It is a no-brainer. It is an absolute essential. ”
“My experience with CYPRES has always been amazing,” she continues. “I just love the people at CYPRES. All the way from Helmut through all the marketing department, all of the people I’ve ever met there are wonderful to work with. They have amazing passion for the sport and they are just a joy to have a relationship with.”
Right back atcha, Maxine.
*Fun fact: Most folks know Maxine as a CP competitor, but she has actually competed in four different skydiving disciplines at national level and two at international level.
Tags: Maxine Tate