Reposted from the PD Blog
When you meet Nik Daniel and Brianne Thompson, the first thing you notice is their energy, passion, and boundless enthusiasm for the sport of skydiving. These two founding members of AXIS Flight School seem like they are perpetually running between coaching, competing, tunnel flying, training, and fun jumping at their home dropzone Skydive Arizona.
But no matter how busy they are, Nik and Brianne can always be found with big smiles and high fives all around. They love what they do and they’re good at it – just two of the many reasons we featured AXIS Flight School in this month’s Dream of Flight ad.
Nik and Brianne both started skydiving early in life, a time when they had – like many of us when we first started jumping – big dreams and small bank accounts. Brianne spent her high school graduation money on AFF, while Nik took months to get through AFF due to financial constraints. But each was persistent, putting every spare minute and dollar into jumping and tunnel flying.
Brianne started developing her 4-way FS skills early on in her jumping career, joining her first team in 2001 at just 75 jumps. Nik, on the other hand, caught his break when he discovered tunnel flying in 2005. “Right after I graduated AFF, I won a five minute gift certificate for the wind tunnel,” he said. “After that, I would go there every day, sit in front of the glass, and stare at people fly. It came to the point where I realized ‘This place makes me happy.’” Just a couple of weeks later, he applied for an instructor position and started his career in skydiving.
Brianne met Nik while she was coaching a student in the Perris tunnel. “[Nik] was supposed to be driving and paying attention to the student, but he was staring at me the whole time.” They immediately became friends and soon after that Nik was invited to shoot video for Brianne’s FS team Spaceland Blue, a team that went on to medal in both the 2008 and 2010 World Championships.
Though they loved competition, Nik and Brianne felt that something was missing from the skydiving community. They would often chat about the rift in the sport between jumpers in different disciplines. “We didn’t like that people didn’t like tunnel instructors, belly flyers didn’t like freeflyers, and freeflyers didn’t like belly flyers,” said Brianne. “But really, it’s all the same! It’s just pushing air around!” They wanted to see a fundamental shift in the community where skydivers could come together instead of drawing lines in the sand between disciplines and skill level. And with that, the idea of AXIS Flight School was born.
“AXIS Flight School is meant to be an appreciation of all body flight,” says Nik. “We want our students to be well-rounded skydivers with all axes of flight – whether it’s body flight or canopy flight. Above all, we want jumpers to have respect for other disciplines in the sport.”
Since its founding, AXIS Flight School has continued to grow. What started out of the trunk of a car in 2010 is now the official coaching entity at Skydive Arizona, one of the largest dropzones in the world. And their success hasn’t stopped there. Even if you have never met them, you might recognize Nik and Brianne from the Foundations of Flight section of Parachutist or from their various features in skydiving magazines all over the world. But no matter where their dedication and talent take them, they are never “too good” to talk to the new jumper at their dropzone – in fact, that actively fight against what some might call the “elitist” culture in skydiving.
“I’ve seen jumpers and coaches that won’t waste their time on you unless you already have a certain skill set,” says Nik. “But you can’t get to that skill set unless someone teaches you! Just because you have 60 jumps doesn’t mean you’re garbage.”
While AXIS Flight School mostly focus on the “after A-license, what’s next?” demographic, their inclusive attitude towards coaching has led them to work with an amazingly diverse group of jumpers. From coaching a student that took over 40 jumps to get through AFF, to working with Todd Love and Operation Enduring Warrior, Nik and Brianne are always finding ways to adapt their coaching to individual students’ needs. “We refuse to give anyone the bowling speech,” Brianne says. “There is a big difference between inexperience and inability. The next person walking through our door could be a future world champion, and that’s really cool! We learned a long time ago that we are not capable of judging someone else’s potential.”
We learned a long time ago that we are not capable of judging someone else’s potential.
While coaching remains their focus, Nik and Brianne are always pushing themselves to learn and grow within the sport. In 2013-2014 Nik competed as an inside flyer for Arizona Arsenal, placing first at two US Nationals, and placing 2nd at the world championships in Prosteyov, Czech Republic. Nowadays, they both compete on the VFS team Arizona X-Force as well as the 2-way MFS team Machete Squad. They also regularly compete as player coaches at USPA Nationals as part of AXIS X-pansion Project. “We are still trying to expand on our own knowledge and skills,” says Nik. “We still get coaching ourselves. We’re trying to get people excited about the learning process as we are trying to learn as well.”
In the last year AXIS Flight School has also expanded to offer USPA rating courses as part of its X-Ratings program. Ben Lowe was brought on to to be the head I/E who works with jumpers wanting to become instructors in the sport. It seems like this is just the beginning of a very successful journey for AXIS Flight School.
We are very excited for everyone to see Nik and Brianne’s Dream of Flight (hint: this ad is on fire!). In the meantime, if you want to learn more about AXIS Flight School, be sure to check out their website, which has tons of great resources including access to the Foundations of Flight articles and a great Draw Generator for a range of disciplines.