Skydiving. It’s a crazy concept on first thought: jumping to earth at terminal velocity, learning to fly your body in different positions, making shapes in the sky with your friends. The two major words here are ‘fly’ and ‘friends’. Who doesn’t want to learn to fly, meet amazing people and make new friends?
Well skydiving is full of amazing people who love to fly, especially the women in the sport like Bella Smart. Just shy of 1,000 jumps, she has been learning to fly since she was 17, making her a key player amongst Australia’s best Freefly female skydivers. She is also one of my favourite people and closest friends, inspiring me to tackle life’s challenges with big smile and ferocious ambition. Every girl needs a Bella Smart in their life, I’m excited to share her story and passion for skydiving with you.
“I thrive on exploring new places, learning new skills and experiencing as much as I can. I love to physically push my mind and body – I’ll try every action sport or activity to find my limits and challenge myself to push through to improve them.”
– Bella proving why she is my go-to adventure date!
Related article: Elite Skydiver Amy Chmelecki: Inspiring women in skydiving
Hey Bella tell us about skydiving, what is it you love so much?
Skydiving is literally the fulfilment of my childhood dreams to fly! It gives me the opportunity to travel and see the beauty of the world from above, as well as meet incredible people from all walks of life. But most importantly, I love the flow state that skydiving brings. It’s a sport that allows you to be completely in the moment, where nothing else matters but the challenge of the task at hand. In that moment, there is nothing else you could possibility think of. That’s the moment I chase. Second to that, there is so much you can learn throughout the different disciplines of skydiving… and the more you learn, the more you realise there is so much more to learn! It’s one huge, global adventure.
Are there different types of skydiving and what discipline do you love to do most?
There are loads of ways to fly and each method is called something different: Wingsuit Flying (like a flying squirrel), Freeflying (flying all surfaces of your body, most commonly head-up or head-down), or Flat Flying (belly to earth).
The discipline I love to fly is called ‘Freeflying’. It involves flying all surfaces of your body, not just falling stomach to earth. This allows you to be endlessly creative in the ways you move through the sky: flying in groups, creating different flight sequences where you fly in circles and weave through your friends and building formations. Really as long as I’m moving dynamically through the sky and flying fast I’m happy – There’s not many times you’ll see my skydiving without a massive smile on my face!
What opportunities are available to women in the sport and where do you want to go?
You can skydive for fun or carve a career in the sport. Options include competing at a high level, training others as either a tandem skydive master, first time course instructor, free-fly coach or working as support at the drop zone or wind tunnel. Friends like Hedda Anderson are running female only skydive events called Flying Chicks which is a great way to turn your passion into your career.
I am currently working towards becoming a Freefly skydive and wind tunnel coach. I want to give back to the sport and pass on that knowledge in the same way that others have done for me. I have been blessed throughout my career skydiving, to have had fantastic coaches that have supported me and cared about my personal progression. I have learnt that it’s important to find coaches you click with – personality wise and the way they teach and adapt to your own style. I find it so rewarding to teach my friends to surf or wakeboard for the first time. It’s their motivations to learn and excitement to progress that I thrive off, so it’s only natural that I want to bring that same love into my favourite sport of skydiving!
Apart from physically jumping out of a plane, how do you train to skydive and practice the skills you need?
“I prioritise keeping my body fit and strong and living a well balance, healthy lifestyle.”
I do a lot of skydiving training in indoor skydiving facilities called wind tunnels – they are a great training facility as you can practice your skydive skills in a more focused, controlled environment. You can practice techniques with a coach for a longer period of time in the wind tunnel compared to an actual jump (2mins fly time instead of a 60 second skydive). It is really focused as you can hop out the tunnel after, chat about how it went and what to improve on, and then hop straight back in to fly again. It saves delays of planes, packing parachutes and the impact of bad weather. It also takes away the distraction of fear and needing to fly your parachute, so you can hone in on just your flying skills. I must say though, while you are able to fly in the tunnel rain, hail, or shine, it doesn’t match the experience of jumping out of a plane and flying your parachute through the skies!
You’re also an accomplished aerial silks athlete, how does that help keep you fit?
A lot of my strength also comes from aerial silks classes with the Integral Aerial Arts Group. I get so distracted having fun on the silks, that I don’t really think about it as training but the physical results are undeniable. I wasn’t even able to lift my own body weight when I started but now being asked to do ten chin ups wouldn’t even worry me. Practicing aerial silks inspired me to concept and complete a new aerial silks/skydive combination at Australia’s outback skydiving event ‘Funny Farm’. I jumped off an aerial silk that was suspended from another parachutist – combining the two sports I love. It was awesome!
“I’ve always believed my body is the most important tool to enable me throughout my adventures, so I give myself the best opportunities for success by maintaining a high level of fitness, strength and endurance for anything that is thrown at me.”
What role does maintaining a healthy diet play in your activities?
I’ve always tried to eat a ‘paleo diet’, not because of the trend but because I find it works for my body. I know every individual is different and I wouldn’t tell everyone that paleo the best option for them. For me, after listening to my body and understanding how it reacts to different foods, I find this is the best option. If I eat dairy, I feel bloated and depending on how much I have, my sinus’ can swell. When I eat wheat I feel slow, tired and anti social. I go into a ‘food coma’, which is not a good feeling when your wanting to be active. I’m not strict in cutting out food groups and reading every label of everything I buy, I just try to eat fresh, seasonal foods as much as possible. I also eat really early between 5-6pm so I don’t go to bed on a full stomach.
What is the skydiving scene like in Australia? Are there many other women in the sport to fly with?
I’ve been lucky enough to have shared the skies with some of the best female skydivers across the world (Bella introduced Still Stoked to Red Bull’s only female Air Force member Amy Chmelecki for this interview on inspiring women in skydiving). But women in the sport is an interesting topic – I believe skydiving has a very even playing field when it comes to men and women. There is no significant advantage based on your sex with regards to your ability in the sport. Some of the best skydivers I know both in Australia and all over the world are women, and I can’t even express how well they shred! There is always an interesting discussion about ‘don’t men have less fear so they learn faster?’. I believe that doesn’t always act as an advantage. Sometimes with being fearless comes with an inflated ego and the inability to listen, see your own weaknesses and capitalise on opportunities to learn. It seems that a lot of the time, the less aggressive (feminine) approach creates a good listener and thus, a good learner. I believe in quality jumps over quantity, with more focus on doing the job well and more efficiently.
The skydiving scene in Australia is small in comparison to the rest of the world, it’s a very close and supportive community and is constantly growing. It is full of great people and amazing girls.
What would you say to any girl wanting to start out in the sport?
Go for it! The other woman in skydiving are always there to lend a hand to others. It’s a small community and we want to make sure everyone is safe and having a great time, so reach out if you need to! Also I’m sure you won’t have much trouble getting the men to help either 😉 The ratio of women to men is certainly in our favour! The only thing I will say is, do it for the right reasons, not to prove a point or because your boyfriend wants you to. It’s important to have the drive for the sport to encourage you to want to learn and progress.
Can you share the best advice you have ever been given?
There is no rush and there is no end point that you are trying to reach with skydiving. You are forever learning, so enjoy every jump, every view and every moment. Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone has a different learning rate and journey within the sport. Set goals, ask questions, be safe and enjoy the crazy adventure!
What do you wish you knew when you started out, that you know now?
I wish I knew just how many amazing skydiving events there are through out the world on a regular basis! We call them ‘Boogies’. They are like a giant skydiving festival that is usually between 3 – 9 days with organised jumps, great coaches at no extra cost, novelty aircrafts to jump from like helicopters and hot air balloons, great food, videos, music/evening entertainment and more! They are a great way to travel and skydive around the world. You meet so many new people from all walks of life that share the same passion for living life to the fullest. The rate you can progress at boogies is amazing … the list goes on… just get to one and find out for yourself!
You were involved in creating the brand LVN Lifestyle, can you tell us a bit more about it?
LVN is an Australian adventure brand. We make fashionable and functional clothing and accessories for both men and women, who love adventure, adventure sports and the outdoors – like me! LVN is known for using the best possible, environmentally friendly materials like our signature blend, made from bamboo and organic cotton. The brand has been designed for those who lead an active and adventurous lifestyle, with ease of movement and comfort without compromising fashion. Check us out at www.lvnlifestyle.com and follow us on facebook www.facebook.com/LVNlifestyle
Sky-diving in one word?
Indescribable – sorry everyone, you’ll have to try it at least once to find out!
Any key contact information for readers who may want to learn to skydive?
The Australian Parachute Federation (APF) is the central body for Skydiving in Australia. The best thing to do is have a read through the FAQ section on their site to find out more! They also have a dropzone locator which will help to find the closest skydiving center to where you live (if you live in Australia), otherwise just Google ‘learn to skydive’ in your area and sign up for a tandem jump or your AFF (Accelerated Freefall Course)- the first stage in learning to skydive. You do not need to have done a tandem jump before doing your first solo skydive as part of your AFF.
Once you become an Australian Parachute Federation member you receive regular email updates with important information in the sport as well as a regular Australian Skydiving Magazine that has great articles on skydiving events across the country. There are also great sites with endless information like http://www.dropzone.com
Thanks Bella, keep doing what you’re doing, you little legend! x
Follow Bella Smart’s adventures through the skies on her Instagram