Up Close & Personal
name: Gary Smith
education: B.A. in Commerce and a Law Degree
family & marital staus: Married to Susanne in 2001 .
number of jumps: 8,400
years in Sport: 39
teams: Go Boys 1988 to 1991; Equanimity 1995 to 1997; Optic Nerve 1988 to present; DeLand Magic, 2001 to present.
slot(s): Was outside center, but now starting on point for DeLand Magic
favorite competition: Both World Championships in 1995 and 1997
funniest moment in skydiving: Although we’ve always been serious at all world meets we’ve competed in, we definitely enjoy a good party at the final closing ceremonies. We were involved in a fight with gypsies in Czechoslovakia throughout the meet. We had one of the members of the delegation held and asked to leave the country within 24 hours after the closing banquet. In hindsight I find that pretty funny, but it was quite serious at the time.
skydiving mentor(s): I could mention many names but don’t have any one mentor or hero. What I have enjoyed is that as I got closer to mentors and heroes, I’ve been amazed at their friendliness and sportsmanlike conduct.
hobbies: Golf, soccer, and most sports.
favorite book(s): Fiction books, John Grisham because of the law side to them. Non-fiction, “Hang Time: Days and Dreams with Michael Jordan??? by Bob Greene.
favorite music: Any music – based on the mood.
favorite movie(s): I like all movies with Morgan Freeman and maybe some with Denzel Washington.
favorite place: Wherever I’m happy is my favorite place.
Where will you be ten years from now? The honest answer is that I have no clue, but I hope to be still as happy as I am now.
best kept secret: I don’t have a secret.
"Whether it’s life or sports, the effort you put in is what you get out."
Imagine the opposite of a dare-devilish, adventure seeking, adrenaline-driven skydiver. Imagine a calm and casual thinker, a well educated and perfectly behaved gentleman, a healthy athlete in a great shape - simply a role model for other competitors. Imagine such an image turning into reality, and you will meet Gary Smith, world meet bronze medal winner, current Optic Nerve team member and future Magic point. How can such a personality turn into a snappy and aggressive point-seeker in freefall scoring 20-point average and up? The new NSL Profile will try to develop a picture of the South African lawyer and 4-way competitor living in DeLand.
Having a father that is a jump pilot by profession meant that Gary Smith and his brother, Jeffrey, grew up around planes and skydivers. Their father gave both brothers an option to take lessons either to become a pilot or a skydiver. While Jeffrey chose piloting, Gary learned to skydive at age 17. Since that first jumpon a round parachute in Vryheid, South Africa in 1983, Smith has come a long way in the skydiving world.
Smith’s father, Jeffrey, flew the plane on his son’s first jump, and later on Smith’s hundredth jump. Smith started skydiving by jumping round parachutes for the first 60 to 80 jumps, and his beginning 4-ways were with rounds too. After Smith graduated from the South African equivalent to American high school, he was drafted into the military. Not having passes to come home often, he didn’t do much skydiving while he was in the service. In 1987, finished with his military obligation, Smith began his university education.
He studied for the next five years at the University of Peitermaritzburg, first completing a bachelor of commerce degree and then continuing for his law degree. A drop zone was close to the university and every weekend Smith was jumping. He joined a collegiate 4-way team and the team won the South African University Championship in 87 and 89. Smith, two members from the university team, and Solly Williams, back from a year in America, formed a new team, Go Boys. Smith had known Williams for several years although they had never jumped together and had both made their first jumps at the same drop zone. The team’s goal was to train for three years and represent their country at the 1991 World Championship. The team accomplished its goals and competed in Czechoslovakia in 1991. After the championship, the team disbanded and Smith returned to the university for his final year of education. Smith continued to jump but did not join a team again for several years.
left to right: Fred Whittsit, Robbie Spencer
Solly Williams, Gary Beyer
Smith began his career in real estate and civil law in 1993. That year Smith once again went to the World Championship, but this time as an alternate for a team that included Williams, Robbie Spencer, Fred Whittsit and Gary Beyer. In 1995, Beyer, later a member of Arizona Airspeed, left the South African team and Smith stepped intohis slot.The team was named Equanimity.
After training only four or five months in DeLand, the team placed fifth at the 1995 World Championship in Gap. The team continued to train. In 1997, Equanimity won the bronze in Turkey at the World Championship. Although the team had represented South Africa, most of the expenses came out of the member’s pockets.
Smith said he and Williams tried to keep the team together, but the other members had been offered fantastic business propositions at drop zones and decided to leave. Equanimity disbanded at the end of 1997. Since then, Smith and Williams use DeLand as a home base. Fred Whittsit is now co-owner of Skydive Miami and Robbie Spencer owns and runs Skydive Rhode Island. Graham Harding, videographer for Equanimity, is league director for the Southwest Skydiving League.
World Class Coach
Presently, Smith is working as a coach. Headquartered in DeLand in the winter, he travels to Skydive Texel in Holland and other European drop zones during the summer. Smith said he found a great coaching opportunity and enjoyment with the British national team, Sebastian XL, in 1998 and 1999. He said it was a great challenge to deal with a team at their level and he thoroughly enjoyed it. The team has continued to train for the World Championship in Spain this year. Smith was asked to work with them again, but unfortunately he did not have enough time commitment to achieve their goals.
Check NSL News update on 16 May 2021
Smith has also worked with several German and Dutch teams and the Swedish female team, For Pleasure. “It’s all been very fulfilling", Smith said. "They’re teams that want to achieve and work hard. That makes my job easy."
The beginning of 2001 has been an exciting year for Smith. “After being on the ground in most competitions, I was itching to get into the competitive side of it", Smith said. “Although I had been a member of Optic Nerve since 1998, I always wanted to compete on an international front again." Earlier this year, team negotiations began with Smith, members of the old FX, and Niklas Hemlin, currently jumping with PD Blue. Due to various reasons the team never got off the ground.
Smith and Williams then spoke with Doug Park from FX who agreed to join them on a new team. Joey Jones, also from FX, came on board and the DeLand Magic team was born. Magic plans on a very casual training schedule this year. Smith and Williams have a commitment through the U.S. Championship 2001 with Optic Nerve. Smith said his goal with the new team is to jump at a higher level than ever before. He said hopefully the current USPA foreigner clause will allow him to compete at the 2002 U.S. Nationals and ultimately he’ll be back competing on an international level. “If I don’t win, it’s not like I haven’t achieved my goal", Smith said. “There are so many good teams out there that it’s unrealistic to say you haven’t achieved your goal if you don’t win."
Smith formed another 2-way team of his own in 2001 with his marriage to Susanne Tillman on Feb. 13. “Susanne has been a lot of support in following me around", Smith said. “I always tell teams that skydiving is a selfish sport, you always see the jumpers, but you don’t see the wives and family in the background. I always feel bad knowing that I’m following my dream and she’s just following." Smith still has South African roots and tries to visit his parents and brother at least once a year. He said they have always been very supportive and proud of him. Although he misses the structure of the legal profession and the financial advantages, the happiness he gets from skydiving and coaching far outweigh either of those benefits.
Looking back on the short-term career as a lawyer that Smith left behind, he said he has no regrets. “As far as happiness goes, I wouldn’t change it", Smith said. “In fact I would have skydived more and not studied so much."