As a company founded by skydivers for no other purpose than the saving of skydivers’ lives, we like to think of CYPRES as a kind of family. As such, Raphael Schlegel–founder of the Westerwings skydiving gear store, Europe’s largest–sits near the head of the table. Since 2010, Raphael has, through Westerwings (and with Westerwings’ Founders, Sebastian and Laura Nossing), created a space where skydivers always know they can go for reliable equipment, for expert rigging and for thoughtful advice. As it turns out, Westerwings’ jovial “founding father” has a riveting story in airsports, and we’d love to take this opportunity to introduce him to you.
Born in 1968 in a small town in Bavaria, Raphael’s first contact with skydiving was in the military.
“I was German airborne ranger,” he smiles, “and because of that, I was hooked on it like a junkie. I wanted to jump all the time. My problem at that time–in the late 80s–was that I was married to the wrong woman. She didn’t like me to skydive. Eventually, I stopped jumping.”
Salvation sometimes arrives in the strangest costumes. This is no truer than in Raphael’s case. In the year 2000, he was diagnosed with cancer. His prognosis was not a good one. The doctors were sure he was on the way out; they just couldn’t tell him when the hammer would fall.
The trauma of the diagnosis inspired him out of his torpor to live life as fully as possible. Predictably, he started skydiving again. Less predictably, he earned his renewed license right in the middle of a chemo.
Raphael’s “second-phase” jumping career began at a small dropzone in Bavaria, near Frankfurt: Mainbullau. The battle against poor health surged uphill; Raphael notes that it took him about four years to feel “really well” again. Since his relicensing, Raphael has done about 8,000 jumps there–5,000 of them as a tandem-pilot.
“If you feel well,” Raphael insists, “Then you are well. It makes no sense to sit down and to cry all the time and do nothing. That’s not the sense of living. You have to find what you can do for you; what you think is good for you. For me, that was to skydive.”
In 2002, Raphael found another wonderful reason to fight for his health: His second wife, Claudia. The couple met at a company at which they both worked. One day, Raphael says, “it was clear that we had to be together.” They still are, and very happily so.
In 2005, the fates had another surprise in store for Raphael: that company closed, and he and his new wife both lost their jobs.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he remembers. “I didn’t find another job. It wasn’t possible; I don’t know why. The only thing I had was skydiving. I began to do the same thing a lot of people do: I did a lot of videos. The next step was to become a skydiving instructor, then a tandem instructor.”
Since the prospect of making a living from tandem instruction later in life did not appeal to him, Raphael set about earning his rigging ticket. He completed his junior rigger’s license in 2007. Before long, he had joined forces with Sebastian and Laura Nossing’s skydiving shop. When Sebastian’s 9-5 job began to preclude him from running the shop professionally, Raphael took it over. Westerwings, in its current iteration, was born.
“It became bigger and bigger, and more and more,” Raphael remembers. “It was clear I needed more and bigger rooms to match.”
In March 2016, thanks to his wife’s sage advice, he moved the shop to a big retail location in Alzenau. It was the first skydiving shop in Germany that was truly comprehensive, from equipment to services–and, very specifically, not located on a dropzone.
“I wanted to have a rigging loft on a dropzone like everyone else does,” he laughs, “and my wife told me, Hey, you are stupid to do that because if you do that, only the people from this dropzone will come to you and they will only come on the weekends, if it’s too rainy or too windy to jump. They will go to your rigging loft, and perhaps they’ll buy something, but most of the times they will drink your coffee and that’s it. Well,” he winks, “She was right.”
Today, Westerwings occupies a whopping 300 square meters of space, and three other employee/athletes work alongside its proud founder. Thanks to its non-dropzone location, the Alzenau shop is by no means a seasonal operation; this winter, the team had more than 600 reserve repacks on the docket. And–in all 300 square meters’ worth of skydiving shop–Westerwings sells only one AAD: the CYPRES.
“I only sell CYPRES because I love it,” Raphael says, “It has more than 25 years of experience behind it. No other AAD has that. And I love the people working at Airtec. I know them all. It is so cool to work together with them. Every one of them is not just working for Airtec; they are really living Airtec. They are really a family and they work for CYPRES for nothing else but work to save our lives.”
“Imagine: This is a product that has cost the same for 25 years,” he insists. “For 25 years, the same price. Helmut could charge double, but he doesn’t want to. The first thought of Helmut and his CYPRES family is really to save lives. I have a lot of new skydivers coming to me all the time. They want to buy their own systems, and I will never sell them any brand than CYPRES. Never. And I explain to them why.”
It’s not just new skydivers that come to see Raphael at Westerwings. It’s skydivers of all ages, disciplines and experience levels. Raphael’s original goal to build a “meeting place” in Westerwings has really come to fruition over the intervening years, and CYPRES is proud to partner with Raphael in bringing ever more safety, family and expertise into the sport we all love so dearly.
Want to visit Raphael Schlegel in his shop? He’d love to shake your hand!
Find Westerwings at https://www.westerwings.de/rhein-main-shop/
or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Westerwingsshop/. Make sure to say hello from us!