Melanie Curtis is one of the most well-known skydivers on the planet. She’s a great flyer, but an even greater person. For years, she’s put out positive vibes into our universe making her someone we want to get to know more. I consider myself privileged to call her friend as she’s one of the brightest lights I’ve ever met in the world. I sat down with Melanie and asked her all the questions I wanted to know from growing up to being a kickass entrepreneur. Grab yourself a cup of coffee, sit down and read the most comprehensive interview ever conducted with the amazing Melanie Curtis.
Where were you born and raised?
Upstate New York, not like Westchester, I’m talking almost Canada.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Middlebury College, Economics major, Arts/Theater minor, study abroad year, James Cook University, Queensland, Australia.
When and where did you make your first skydive?
August 1996, The Verona Skydiving Center, aka my Dad’s house. He was the pilot that kicked me out, and I landed in our backyard. For real.
Current equipment you jump? (container / canopy / helmet / alti / jumpsuit / other?
Container: Sun Path, Javelin Odyssey
AAD: Airtec, Cypres 2
Helmet: Cookie G3
Jumpsuit: Liquid Sky Jumpsuits
Other: Schier Concepts Schier Clamp to easily adjust and secure my GoPro angle.
When you were a little girl, what were your favorite toys?
I always liked Barbies. I loved the outfits and interactions. I also loved adventure exploring outside with my brother. So the whole professional-skydiver-life-coach-NYC-fashion-and-social thing that is my life now all makes sense haha.
Do you have any siblings and if so, what are they up to and have they followed a similar path as you?
I hit the sibling jackpot. Not joking, my brother and sister are two of my best friends on the planet. Even though we went pretty radically in different directions, them with families and location-specific work, our underlying values are still fiercely and obviously aligned. They have my back, I have theirs, and we all make an effort to stay close and connected through communication and making time for family.
It’s clear you’re close to your family. What would you attribute that to?
They are f*cking awesome people. People who care. Love. Who are undeniably there for you. And they’re hilarious. Wow. Yeah. Like I said, I hit the family jackpot. Not that we haven’t had our share of conflict and challenge, of course we have, but we ultimately always come together and move forward together. I know not everyone is as lucky on the family front and that definitely keeps me that much more grateful for what I have in mine.
What would you say is one of the most important values taught to you by your parents?
Hard work. One of my favorite columns I ever wrote for blue skies magazine is called “Venison Steaks.” I’ll let it speak for me. http://melaniecurtis.com/2011/venison-steaks/
Your personality is a positive force and is uplifting; where would you say that comes from?
By far the question I get asked the most is, “How are you so happy all the time?”
The very short, totally incomplete answer is, I earned it. The thing I make CERTAIN every time someone asks is that I am not happy ALL the time. I am happy a lot of the time, and that’s because I worked my ass off with my own coaches, therapist, teammates, friends, family, and self to earn the SKILL SETS of reframing, of nonjudgment (of others and myself), courage, follow-through, self-motivation, self-inspiration, ETC. I capitalize “skill sets” to imply these are things every single one of us can learn. This is a huge part of the work I do with life coaching clients, and I am equally and fiercely committed to that work for myself as well. I put that shit into practice day after day after day over years and years in my commitment to grow, evolve, and improve as a person, in my relationships, in interactions with others, and in my active perception of myself and clarity of my values.
With that clarity.. that conscious awareness to what matters most to me, I then derive my actions from there no matter what life throws at me. Living and acting from that place… its next to fucking impossible not to feel good about yourself, confident on how you live and have true peace in your heart that where you do find love and success, you know it’s actually you that’s at the source of that.
Do I have down days? Tough emotions? Triggers I still struggle with? Absolutely, but it’s all good because that’s “the work”.. that’s me being a beautiful, complex, sometimes way imperfect human just like every other beautiful, complex, imperfect human out there. Perfect is boring, I embrace my humanness in the moments it hits me and in so doing it makes those moments so much shorter, bringing the happy positivity back to the top more quickly. Over time and practice, the positive frame, the beliefs we practice framing life through the most becomes our default. If you think life sucks and the world is out to get you, that is what you will see. I believe that everything in life, EVERYTHING.. is for us… everything has positive value… so that is what I see. That lens colors everything I do. There’s so much more I could say on this topic, but that’s some of the big stuff. :))
As a young girl were there any markers or indicators that made it evident to your family that you would live the life you’ve lived?
Leaping off the stage into the crowd singing Shout one year… deciding to stay in Australia for the full year studying abroad even though I was only supposed to do a semester… MVP in every sport I played even as a younger person… Student Council president, participating in essentially every club offered because I had the goal of having the longest paragraph in the senior yearbook hahaha ridiculous!
Going to school early EVERY SINGLE MORNING to do calculus because I had a goal of getting a 5 on my AP Exam (my teacher, Mr. Johnson was this old guy who rarely smiles, we were an unlikely pair with my sunny optimism and oddly intense commitment to this pursuit), voted “best all around” hahaha.. yeah, there are a ton more stories like this… I guess my life and career do make some logical sense hahahaa!
Can you list every job you’ve had since high school?
- Grass Point NY State Park, toll booth attendant
- Wrapping meat in the family slaughterhouse during deer season
- Westcott Beach NY State Park, toll booth attendant
- Box Office attendant, Middlebury College Center for the Arts
- Bag-stuffer at a diet food place in Australia (skipped class to do this to pay for my skydives in college)
- DZ Manifest, Coral Sea Skydivers, Australia (Did this one weekend at a boogie. Never again. I wanted to skydive too much, couldn’t handle it.)
- Cherry Picker, Orange, NSW, Australia (yes, literally)
- Vineyard field worker, NSW, Australia
- Bus person, Fire and Ice Restaurant
- Retail floor person, Ski Haus (although I quit this to do the restaurant thing entirely)
- Sales Associate, DLJ/Credit Suisse First Boston, NYC and LA
- Marketing and Event Director, ETC, Skydive Elsinore
- Stunt person, many different jobs
- Writer, articles
- Professional skydiving coach/organizer, many many different jobs at many different places and events around the world
- Coach (life, business, communication, fear, etc.), location independent
- Entrepreneur, building brand and arms of service and education ongoing
- Speaker, keynotes, classes, panels
Whew.. I think that’s it.
What job have you worked that you hated the most?
There have been challenging times many times along the way, some that have been more about the people I was working with, but the job itself that I think I hated the most was that retail job in the ski store. Awful. I only lasted like 2 weeks. Quit to focus on the other job I had gotten at the same time. So glad I did.
Entrepreneurship is full of risks and no guarantees. You left a secure job to pursue a career in skydiving. What was the tipping point that pushed you to make such a huge career change?
My entrepreneurial leap didn’t actually happen until 2010. I left corporate America in 2006 to work full-time at Skydive Elsinore as a salaried employee there. Yeah, I got paid a salary to train, compete, coach, come up with cool events to do with my friends, lead parties, learn, grow, have an insane amount of fun, ETC.. hahaa, most definitely the best job in skydiving. When I left Skydive Elsinore in 2010, that was when I really went out on my own as a free-agent skydiving professional, taking on the traveling lifestyle I was so excited to live into, while at the same time bootstrapping and building my life coaching business at the same time. Super intense time in my life and career. Wicked hard work, I just loooooooved it all so I could do it.
If someone is toying with the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, what advice would you offer to ensure they are prepared for the transition?
Do NOT wear rose-colored glasses.. it may appear that entrepreneurial life is one big vacation, but make no mistake, the work it actually takes to have the freedom entrepreneurs have is fierce. One of my favorite quotes is, “Entrepreneurs will work 80 hours a week, so they don’t have to work 40 hours a week.” Hahaa but it’s so true. That’s the “cost” of freedom and the opportunity to live a life and career of your own design. In my view, completely and totally worth it in every respect. And the funny thing too is that I don’t even overly identify as an entrepreneur, if a “job” came along to work with a team, company, or project I believed in, I would be equally open to taking that as my next opportunity. If that did happen, I would still continue my entrepreneurial efforts too because I feel purposeful in it, and that’s something useful to note about entrepreneurship as well, that it is very common to have your main source of income and your “side gig” as you build your entrepreneurial effort into a trustable, sustainable source of income. RARELY can someone just up and quit their job and instantly be making a safe level of income without building it up first. Most entrepreneurs have a period where they effectively have two jobs. So know that’s cool, and at the same time, be ready for what that actually takes.
Because freedom, connecting, creativity, fun, hilarity, hard work, helping others, learning, and growth all are in my core values set, I wake up preeeeeeetty much every morning totally on fire for my life. Because my business embodies all of these things. Fucking crazy fulfilling. Even during the times of terror, believe me, those exist too, for the most part, I almost never lack in motivation. It’s almost weird.
What has been your biggest victory and your biggest challenge since running your own business?
This may sound contrived and cheesy, but it’s each time one of my long-term life coaching clients express to me that they are happy. I’m not talking momentary blips of happiness; I’m talking breakthrough, life-and-self-altered-forever happiness. EVERY time this has happened, I cry tears of joy. I’m tearing up right now just thinking about it. Having the HONOR to be in people’s lives to the depth I get to, and see what they EARN for themselves through our work; I’ve experienced little else as rewarding as that.
Thinking back to being a newer jumper, what was the most challenging part for you?
Hahaha, I laugh because I immediately thought of myself as this gloriously oblivious young jumper, blinded by my insatiable love/addiction to everything skydiving. One challenging thing I do recall is when I was new, some of the proverbial “cool kids” were not cool to me. They made fun of me for my enthusiasm and definitely weren’t nice or inclusive. Anyone who knows me AT ALL, knows I roll the exact opposite way. The funny part now, of course, is that a giant part of my success professionally, and whatever influence I have on the sport and other people in it, is built entirely on those qualities. So yeah, to any new jumper reading this, rock that positive enthusiasm if that’s you! Anyone actually cool will not only be cool with it, but they will also celebrate you for it if it’s authentically you. If you’re the quieter, less expressive type, that’s cool too. The point is, do you, whomever that is, and the cool people in our community will support and encourage you forward regardless.
Who are your heroes in the sport that have inspired you?
Amy Chmelecki, Jonathan Tagle, Eliana Rodriguez.
Jonathan is a unique case in that he also was my best friend, and we lived together for 6 years. He always had unfucking wavering faith in me. It was unreal the love and support we gave each other. I always looked up to him because of how far he had come in the sport, and how he had achieved full-on professional skydiver status, free to travel around the world, etc. I always told him I wanted to be like him. :))) It makes me so happy to remember that, I can see his sheepish response even in OUR PLACE, so it’s not like he had to be humble for show when it was just me. It was true. I would always tell him I wanted to be Tizzle 2.0. Hahaha, and I meant it! This is why I sign my Blue Skies Magazine column, “Tizzle 2.0, out.” It is to honor my amazing friend and mentor, Jonathan Tagle.
Amy and Eliana.. oh these two.. I remember looking up to both of these incredible women and athletes, seeing them in the magazine, totally just enthralled with what they were doing in the sport. Years later, no joke, with each of them one day it hit me, that I actually was for-real FRIENDS with these epic people who had felt completely wickedly beyond anything I was at the time I was learning about who they are and what they did in the sport. That’s one of the coolest things about our sport.. that the best of the best are TRULY accessible, and even I got to grow up and become real friends with Amy Chmelecki and Eliana Rodriguez. It still feels weird to me some days. They are beautiful, beautiful people; I am so grateful they are in my life.
I’ll also give honorable mention to Craig Girard for his unparalleled passion and positivity for both skydiving and the people in it. Here’s a little piece I wrote about the first time I met Craig. :)) http://melaniecurtis.com/2011/look-mel-no-floaties-again/
If you could share some advice to a newer jumper both in-air and on the ground (socially), what would you like to share?
There is WAY MORE than this, but these are a couple of good nuggets:
Air advice: Actually literally in-the-air advice, I’d say learn how to breathe and exhale the tension in your mind and muscles.. smile too… for real, releasing this stiffness from our mind and body makes an immediate and marked impact on actual flying. I’ve done 1000’s of jumps coaching younger jumpers because it’s legit one of my most favorite things to do in our sport, and yeah, this is true across all disciplines. :)
Social: I’ve said this many times over the years, and it applies to a bunch of different things, so think about it from the perspective that may help you… Focus your time in skydiving ON the skydiving, and you’ll be in the sport a long time. :)
Of all the DZ’s you’ve visited in the world, which one has stood out to you the most , and why?
Honestly, there are SO many excellent DZ’s I’ve visited in all my travels it’s difficult to highlight just one. I feel so lucky to have gotten to go to so many, see so many stunning places, and meet so many beautiful people. And that’s what I’d actually say.. the best DZ’s are always made up of the best people.. inclusive and welcoming, happy and helpful, safety-focused, fun and ready to fly.. the facilities and airplanes actually never matter when you have this. Of course, a DZ that has an extra special place in my heart is my Dad’s house.. literally. Curtis Airfield and landing in our backyard. <3
Best jump you’ve ever made?
Once again a literally impossible question. And you of all people know I mega believe in possibility! Hahaha… the joy I have experienced in the sky is wickedly varied… could be that one round at Nationals with Elsinore Jedi, fields of green… could be swooping at night in front of the massive crowd at Chicks Rock as the only chick after organizing it all and wanting to both rock my swoop and land safely.. holy shit, that’s intense and one of the most INCREDIBLE feelings.. could be the jump where Melissa Nelson Lowe helped me fly head down the entire jump for the first time.. I literally cried when we landed… could be jumping into downtown San Fran or that church with all the kids in Hermosillo, Mexico… could be any jump with a young flyer who has the best jump to date in their careers, nothing like helping people have that kind of fun and connect to what might be possible for themselves and their skydiving…
What jump has scared you the most?
The Chicks Rock night swoops I describe above were always wicked Hahaa, but I knew I could keep myself safe.. when I was first learning how to fly in head down groups, I did a skills camp, and I was SUPER scared, so much so, when I broke off on one jump, I did so way too fast and hit someone behind me… Thank goodness we both were fine, but I learned a valuable lesson that day that slowing down is essential to safety and if you are feeling that much fear, it may even be wise to sit down until you can breathe through and reframe that anxiety.
After years of jumping around the country and world, you just took a break. Having had time to get away from it, how has your perspective about jumping changed?
This is one of my favorite columns I’ve ever written on this very thing. My path back to skydiving has been one of the most transformative of my life. I feel like I have one of my greatest loves of my life back, both that flying and the friends. I cannot express the actual magnitude of my joy in having that back in its new, more mature form…. http://melaniecurtis.com/2016/blue-skies-mag-75-we-were-on-a-break/
Getting sponsorship from skydiving manufacturers can be challenging (everyone wants it). What insights can you offer to jumpers wishing to that level, if not competing on a national stage?
No one cares who you think you are. Hahaha.. but really, it’s all about the value you can, and then DO, bring to the companies you represent. So many people just want free shit, and some even get it, but I’d say it’s ESSENTIAL to then follow through in actually DOing what you say, and ideally beyond what you promise.
How does what you offer translate to additional sales for your sponsors?
I certainly represent my sponsors with all the embroidery and stickers and stuff hahaa, but in addition to that, I spend a lot of time thoughtfully sharing knowledge with anyone who asks for my take.. I write stuff to share at large.. I make myself accessible and hopefully approachable such that even the newest jumpers feel free to drop me a line or ask me a question in person. That type of stuff requires effort that extends beyond the typical sponsored-athlete ideas, I’d say. I personally ONLY ask for sponsorship from the companies I would pay to jump their stuff anyway, because I know that’s the only way I will be able to legitimately and energetically be able to share about their products and encourage people to buy in that direction per my experience. And of course I always suggest on the heels of my recommendations that people choose what is right and best for them, as long as those choices are within the boundaries of highest safety.
If you could make a 4-Way with anyone in the world, who would those other three jumpers be?
Ahhh these questions are so hard!! :)) Too many people I love so much. Great “problem” :)) Eliana, Amy, and Natasha. <3
Fast and Fun
Growing up: Tomboy or girlie-girl?
Tomboy. I grew into my sexy fashionista side.
No way I could pick just one, but this one I love by Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat Pray Love: “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love .. And it is equally essential to allow for and embrace the unknown and unexpected as that’s where some of life’s biggest breakthroughs and coolest experiences are found too. Do both.
Favorite Video You’ve Ever Made?
Impossible to choose! The original How It’s Done, amazing.. with Carolyn Chow, April Kloser, and David Sands. What We Do with Cara King… The Off Day with Jonathan.. The Ladies of Monkey Business Rap also with Carolyn… the funny ones are ALWAYS my favorite. Here is one of the funniest articles I think I’ve ever written, entitled, “How to be a Film Festival Winner”.. http://melaniecurtis.com/2012/how-to-be-a-film-festival-winner/
Most embarrassing skydive ever made?
Naked Vertical World Record.
Favorite skydiving movie?
Point Break. The original.
Another impossible question. Inception is up there. Dirty Dancing, duh. Sound of Music. That Awkward Moment. Divergent. And weirdly enough.. True Lies. So many.
What you wanted to be when you grew up?
No clue. I honestly can’t remember.
Favorite country ever visited?
Impossible. Australia. Greece. France. Italy. Nepal. Finland. Switzerland.
Favorite country visited during the World Tour aka WMFT?
Nepal. But Greece was up there too. Here are those blog posts too.. they’ll do these places their due justice. :)
Editor’s Note: Melanie Curtis has created the Virtual Skydiving Center designed for jumpers on AFF status through 150 jumps. VSC is designed to help newer skydivers transition into the community and provide a safe place to answer all of your skydiving questions. If interested, visit: http://melaniecurtis.com/thevsc/