A native of New Brighton, Pennsylvania, Taylor Rombold came to Skydive University to get his AFF Instructor Rating and his Tandem Instructor Rating. He's taking a break from his summer gig owning and operating a landscaping business up north, knocking out a couple of ratings and a whole lot of skydives.
Taylor's only 22. An avid skydiver, he's working his way through courses and ratings––all the while holding a degree in Economics from Penn State. We sat down with Taylor to hear about the highlights of his AFFI course and to learn how the roles of psychology and visualization in the SDU curriculum lent itself not only to his methods as an instructor – but to his skydiving technique in general.
What brought you to Skydive University?
"The whole point of my winter this year is to get my AFFI license and tandem license, so I was researching different dropzones–I needed 200 jumps to make it to 500–DeLand was the cheapest, so I came here and, lo and behold, they had the Skydive University office here. I naturally just fell into it I guess."
Was your first skydive a tandem?
"Noooo. It's actually a funny story: I thought it was going to be a tandem, I had no intentions of skydiving at all. I was at a party with some new friends, I got pretty drunk and they were like, 'Alright we're going skydiving in the morning!' So I was like, 'Me too!' Then in the morning they woke me up and were like, alright let's go. I thought we were doing a tandem, but it turns out they were going for AFF ground school."
That's crazy and you just did it anyway?
"Yea, I was kind of nervous, but I did it and fell in love with it."
Here's AFFI student Taylor, after getting his A License unexpectedly. He was talked into it by friends, including Jake on the right (they still jump together!).
What was the high point of the jumps you did here while training with Rob?
"Well, the point of the AFFI instructor is to release the student but still be right there in case something crazy happens, like if he rolls over or starts spinning out of control. You have to be like a foot away or so, and that's difficult to do in the air – like slot flying and stuff. So the student doesn't know what he's doing, and in this case Rob's the student.
...the first jump – when he's spinning around and on his back – in the beginning I didn't think I'd be able to stick with him. I wasn't sure it was going to work out. But being able to do it and staying on top of things when I didn't think I'd be able to keep up - I was like oh nice, I can do this. That was a high point for me."
So do you think it came easy to you or was it the prep before hand that got you there?
"One thing I have say that helped is that I spent two hours in the wind tunnel down in Orlando before this. But that didn't fully prepare me. If I just went to the wind tunnel and did the evaluation jumps in the course, it wouldn't have worked. Rob's course is nice because he gradually steps you up on kind of an even incline. The first jump we did he just fell like a good student, and then the second jump he started to move a little bit. The third jump he's like going up and down, the fourth jump he's on his back so he builds you up to the point where you're like, 'OK, I got this.'"
So how was Rob at being a bad skydiver?
"He's pretty good at being a bad skydiver."
What was the worst or most difficult trick that he pulled on you?
"The worst was in one evaluation jump, I was on the reserve side and Rodrigo [also taking the AFFI course] was on the main side. Rob taught us that if you're on the reserve side and he's flipped over and you don't sort it out in 5 seconds then the reserve lets go and the main sorts it out. Well, he flipped over and he's like all in a ball on his back, and I'm like trying to get him over and so is Rodrigo––and I never let go. I just forgot so finally at like 7,000 feet–right before pull time–I let go, Rodrigo flipped him over, and then I got back in. So that was probably his best one up on me.
What is something else that you had to overcome in the course? What did you conquer?
"When I first got here I was having trouble with slot flying, like being super precise and having good bodyflight."
How'd you get out of it? Any advice to skydivers also struggling with that?
"A big tip I got to say is go to the wind tunnel if you can't slot fly. That's really good. And get a coach like Rob. I sat through a skydiving coach course with Rob last week before the AFFI course and he kind of explained his technique to build confidence, and it really works. You start out very simple and you work your way up. When your confidence is high you take a step where and you might screw up a little bit but not too big, testing your limits and you over come that each step along the way. Rob does that really well and works you up to the point where you feel like, wow I've done all that and now I just have to put it all together.
Taylor is totally being modest, by the way! Check out his crazy-good AFFI skills in this video of his Cat D Evaluation jump below.
Can you guess why he got bonus points and total props from everyone on the DZ?
What are your plans now that you have the AFFI Rating?
"For now, just to skydive down here until March or so and then get my tandem instructor rating after this."
So are you looking to make this a career for now?
"Well, kind of. I own a landscaping service up in Pittsburg, so I don't work during the winter at my dropzone. I'll work weekends, and if I have light days landscaping I'll just send the employees out to do it and work there at the dropzone doing tandems and stuff. But next winter when I'm done landscaping–instead of coming down here and spending a bunch of money skydiving–I'll go somewhere and make a bunch of money skydiving."
What do your family and friends think about this, are they in to it?
"My mom and dad were a little sketchy about it at first, but after a while I showed them that it's really not dangerous––and it's really not. When you're in a car you're in more danger than you are skydiving. My friends all think it's awesome, though. The two guys I went with the first time, they still skydive so I hang out with them.
So have you now kind of surpassed them in the skydiving world?
"Yea, we all graduated from the same college, Penn State, last May. They went on to get jobs and I just went and skydived."
Here's Taylor BASE jumping off of the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia, leaping 800+ feet into the gorge below.
If you were to offer 3 tips from the AFFI course that would help someone else get through it - what would they be?
"If you're on the edge about doing it and you're not sure if you can. Just go for it: You can. Another thing is don't freak out if you screw up on your evaluation jumps and get psyched out. It's really not a big deal. Rob will get you down, and he'll coach you up . It's not like he's going to fail you, you know? But he also won't pass you until you're ready to be an AFFI instructor, he will keep coaching you up until you get to that point, though. The third thing is to learn to relax by using some of Rob's techniques."
"Visualizing, almost like a meditation type thing in the airplane. Just sitting back and going to your happy place."
So tell me about that, how does he teach you to do it and how were you able to manifest that for yourself? What were you thinking about in the plane?
"Well, first off, I know that he's been a world champion skydiver,so he's like, the man, and you should listen to him. But yea, he explains this whole psychological thing where you take off in the plane and you sit back and just go to some happy place in your past – but it can't be skydiving. It can't be related to skydiving."
What were you thinking about? Can you share?
"...I grew up on a farm so I go back to thinking about chilling out under my trees and stuff, chewing on some wheatgrass. And yea, it really does relax you. It sounds kind of lame when I actually explain it, but it really does work."
No, that's not lame. What's the reason for it not being skydiving? Did he say why?
"No he just said don't make it about skydiving. And he said if you're doing something else like MMA fighting: same thing. Don't make it about fighting, you can make it about skydiving if you're doing that but it can't be the same thing. You kinda kick back go to your happy place, and you're chilled out. You feel real relaxed. Then you go through the jump in your head, everything that's going to happen––you just visualize the jump through and through.
What I brought out of it is, I cycle back and forth: I go back to the farm, visualize the jump, go back to the farm, visualize the jump. Then you’re at altitude your like, I've I've got this. I've seen it."
So you'll draw back on that in the future, that process in the plane, is that going to be like your MO?
"Yea, for sure."
You're a talented skydiver, but tell us what was a low point, if any, of the course?
"That jump when I took him down to pull altitude upside down. That was just like a major spike way down in my confidence and mood. I was pissed, but that lasted like 30 minutes and then we went on another jump and it was fine."
Any advice for getting over that? I mean on a nice day like today–where it's just like jump, jump, jump–and you have a screw up but there's that need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and clear the slate and power through... How did you do that, was that a struggle for you?
"I mean, even at the point I landed on the ground, I was super duper pissed but I just said to myself, 'Dude, quit sucking. Just go back in the air–you've done it ten times before,' so..."
Did Rob––did he instill some positive reinforcement to you at that point? Or was it more up to you to shake it off?
"Well, he kind of left it up to me cause it was towards the end of the day and we had the opportunity to get one more jump in. He was like saying that was a pretty bad jump or whatever you can wait 'til tomorrow if you want––or if you want to go now we can. And I was like let's get it done now, otherwise I'm going to be thinking about it all night. Then it was all gravy after that."
Taylor had a photo op with Bill Booth during a tour of UPT (United Parachute Technologies) here in DeLand.
Nice, well do you have anything else to offer as far as your experience goes with Skydive University?
"I haven't been to many skydiving universities or whatever ...but like I said I did a course at a different school; I definitely won't talk down on them or anything because they were awesome––but I like how Rob tells you about the psychological side of things. The school up there just shows you how to teach and it's very mechanical, like say this now, say this then sort of thing."
Elaborate on that...
"Rob explains the reasoning behind what you do, so it makes more sense to you and you can portray it to AFF or coaching students better. He really emphasizes ground schooling – you know what I mean? If you make good students on the ground you're not going to have to work like crazy up in the air."
I want to hear more about the psychological aspect that you talk about...
"Psychologically – I guess that may have been a bad word – but he uses repetition and instills muscle memory. Then there's the confidence thing, which I guess is psychological. In his school you go on your first AFF jump, but he goes to the wind tunnel first, so those kids already kind of know how to fly in a sense. He does the same thing with us as AFFI instructors, and we'll do it with our students - just creating that nice, gentle progression of starting something, mastering it, then on to something new, and so on."
What are your plans after your AFFI and Tandem Instructor Ratings are done?
"I'm not sure, I'm thinking I may like to get into maybe 4-way teams and stuff like that. Definately going to keep up with the skydiving thing..."