Cover photo courtesy of Chris Geiler
When we talk to wingsuit world champion Chris Geiler, he’s celebrating his six-year anniversary. This one’s definitely a keeper: after six long years, he’s still head-over-heels for the state of California.
“Yeah, I didn’t really know it was going to work out like this when I first arrived,” he grins. Such is love.
And work out it most certainly has. After all, it’s here in Cali that Chris really got into the sport of skydiving. The evidence: Chris’s ever-expanding collection of wingsuit medals includes gold at the 2016 F.A.I World Championships, 2017 F.A.I World Cup, 2017 & 2018 U.S Open, 2017 Italian Open and 2018 Australian Open — as well as silver at the 2018 F.A.I World Championships, 2018 Italian Open, 2015 & 2016 U.S Open and a semi-final slot at the 2016 Red Bull Aces. So far, so good.
Of course, that many medals don’t accrue overnight. One has to start somewhere. Chris, for himself, started back in Australia, somewhat less than-auspiciously. He picked up AFF in 1999, but had to quit after only two jumps when his finances tuckered out. It was only after he left Aus to start traveling that skydiving came back into the picture — and that was after a similarly storied career in track and field, which transitioned into some heavy competitive cross-country mountain and road cycling after pervasive knee problems left him reaching for a new set of goals.
“I did that for a long time. My next goal was to get over to Europe and try to race over there because there’s a lot more going on than there is in Australia,” he says, “But I ended up quitting. I was training over 30 hours – and cycling about 500 miles a week — and then I had the realization that all the really top guys are all on the juice. It was demoralizing to realize that, if I kept pushing, that was where my destiny was going to be.”
That balk at imagined destiny is, clearly, not the end of Chris’s story. Instead of throwing in the general towel, he instead dove into a new line of work — crewing superyachts — and traveled “all over the place” on fancy boat after fancy boat. One season, Chris was based on a yacht that was in Italy for the winter. He heard about a local dropzone and, enjoying what extra time and disposable income he had on his hands, he made the trek. He ended up completing his AFF there — and the rest is wingsuit history.
“I got to a point where I just kind of turned my whole life around to be able to jump all the time,” he muses. “Working on a superyacht is a lot of fun but also really demanding. You get to go to some of the most amazing places around the world, the money is good, and you don’t have any expenses but you sacrifice your lifestyle. During the busy seasons It’s almost impossible to make any plans because you can’t guarantee you’re still going to be somewhere the next day. Being able to regularly jump and be in control of my life became more important to me than money.”
As you might imagine, it wasn’t long after getting that A-license stamp — in 2012, to be specific — that Chris walked off his last fulltime boat job. First, he took his new license on a skydiving road trip around New Zealand; after that, he made that fateful move to California. Originally, he’d popped out here for a short trip to the Lodi Parachute Center to boost his jump numbers. As fate would have it, he’s been here ever since.
“I didn’t really have any plans, as such,” he smiles. “All I knew was I wanted to come to Lodi to do a bunch of jumps just to keep on progressing in the sport, to get more coaching and to get better.”
These days, it’s Chris himself that the new kids (and the not-so-new kids) are flocking in to visit. His coaching is quite sought-after in the burgeoning community of growth-minded wingsuit athletes, so he’s a busy teacher indeed, jumping with coaching clients at each of Northern California’s four active sport dropzones. That’s just the way he likes it.
“The education side of things is what that I’m really into,” Chris enthuses. “That’s the reason why I started competing. I really wanted to teach, and I figured that I needed to find a way to get some credibility so people would want to be coached.”
“I’m working hard to build up the wingsuit community here in Northern California,” he continues. “I’m trying to make it so people come and jump at all the dropzones as opposed to only being localized to one. I really want to get everyone together — jumping in larger groups — and everybody trying to push themselves.”
“The 2018 world championships were really weird for me,” he explains. “I was the best-performing pilot, but I also made some really big mistakes. I was getting frustrated with things that were out of my control and at a certain point I realized that I wasn’t having fun. I came away from that last competition season with a whole different perspective: that I needed to have more fun and get back to what it was that I first loved about the sport. That’s how I came up with the idea of working on building a community to get more people up to a high level so we’ve got a good group of friends to go and jump and have fun with.”
Aside from teaching, Chris spends most of his professional time as a test pilot for Squirrel’s performance/competition suit.
“I love doing that. It’s awesome,” he grins. “It really suits my mind as well. It gives me that chance to really break things down and, through careful repetition, find what the important differences are between each of the iterations.”
If Chris Geiler is anything, he’s an inspiration to anyone who has big dreams for the sport. Chris has demonstrated that if you want something bad enough – it’s attainable. Chris, we wish you all the very best for the year ahead!