Profile - Taya Weiss | D-27874
by Brian Giboney
Taya Weiss, D-27874, is an accomplished wingsuit pilot who has an Ivy-League education and founded skydiving outreach organization Raise the Sky. She was instrumental in developing the first official judging system for wingsuit formations and was on the 68-way U.S. Wingsuit Formation Record in 2009. Recently, she and canopy pilot Jessica Edgeington became the first female pair to perform a canopy-wingsuit dock.
Occupation: International Woman of Mystery. Okay, seriously—professional wingsuit coach and organizer, writer, policy consultant
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Harvard University; Master of Public Affairs-International Politics, Princeton University
Life Philosophy: Time is the most important thing we have.
Pet Peeves: Wingsuiters who claim they don’t need AADs because they might be flying too efficiently for them to fire. An AAD will work when you need it most.
Sponsors: Airtec; Chuting Star; Delta Gear, Inc.; TonySuits
Container: Mirage Systems G4
Main Canopy: Icarus Safire 2 99
Reserve Canopies: Performance Designs PD 113-R
AAD: Airtec CYPRES
Home Drop Zone: Johannesburg Skydiving Club in South Africa, Skydive Sebastian in Florida, Skydive Pepperell in Massachusetts, Skydive New England in Lebanon, Maine. Can I have four? I totally have four. I need to settle down.
Championships, Medals and Records: U.S. record for Largest Wingsuit Formation (68-way, 2009). Can’t wait to get wingsuiting at Nationals so I can add to this list!
Year of First Jump: 2001. I made one tandem, then AFF.
Total Number of Jumps: 2,500
Balloon Jumps: Five
Accuracy: One. Bill Wenger and I had a bet going, and when he started flying a wingsuit with me, I had to carry through my end of the deal. I jumped a 238 Classic [Eiff Aerodynamics accuracy canopy] and wore his USA Accuracy Team jumpsuit, complete with the spandex pants, and a frap hat to top off the outfit.
Total Number of Cutaways: Two
Most people don't know this about me:
I spent five years researching the illegal small-arms trade in Africa.
Of all your skydives, is there one jump that stands out most?
The first 71-way wingsuit formation attempt in November 2008. I was wedged in the Otter door holding onto nothing but Jeff Nebelkopf’s harness. There was a moment where everything got quiet, and then I was pulled into the air when the floaters exited. As I started flying, I was overcome with a feeling of total exhilaration. A lot of people had said a wingsuit formation that big was impossible. I remember thinking, “I would rather fail spectacularly right here and now than sit on the ground safely wondering what might have been possible if we tried.”
Who has been your skydiving mentor?
Eric “tonto” Stephenson taught me to fly a wingsuit and to respect the consequences—good and bad—of choosing to be a skydiver. He was my life partner before his death in 2007 on a high-performance landing. I still miss him every day. I host an annual boogie in his memory every year, the tonto Boogie in South Africa at our home DZ. I’m proud of how I’ve managed to keep his memory alive, for myself and others, in a happy way.
What are your future skydiving goals?
Organize and participate in a world record wingsuit formation. Mentor the next generation of wingsuit flyers, teach them everything I can and encourage them to dream. Compete at Nationals.
What safety item do you think is most often neglected?
Replacing worn gear like risers and pilot chutes before they look like they really need it.
How did you become interested in skydiving?
I had just quit a job I hated—in a somewhat spectacular but perhaps unwise fashion—and wanted to celebrate. As soon as the door opened for my tandem, I knew I’d be back.
Do you have any suggestions for students?
Seek out good mentors, and refrain from dating them until you have at least 100 jumps.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with?
I would do a wingsuit flight with Peter Hazelhurst, one of the few surviving original birdmen, who did three jumps on canvas and wooden wings in 1957. We dirt dived a 2-way jump wearing TonySuit wingsuits in his garden, but he can no longer jump solo due to his age. I wish he could experience how far we’ve come, what it feels like to take a dock while flying and how much we’ve learned from the raw courage of people like him.
What’s the toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving?
Swimming in the risk rather than ignoring it. Experiencing the death of people we love and the loss of friends who don’t understand why we skydive and choosing to continue believing that the transcendent moments make it all worthwhile.
Do you have any suggestions for USPA?
Continue encouraging and supporting the evolution (not just growth) of the sport.
by Brian Giboney
What is your perfect day like?
One in which everyone I love lives to see the next.
What drives your competitive spirit?
A very serious desire to not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Competition is the best way to channel ambitious energy, because it raises the game for everyone whether you win or lose.
When you founded Raise the Sky in 2009, what did you hope to accomplish?
Two things: connect skydivers to charitable outreach through raisethesky.org, and help mainstream communities see our sport in a new, positive light. Raise the Sky always links the awesome things we do in the air (like Project XRW) to raising money and awareness for charitable partners like City Year (cityyear.org) and Operation Freefall (operationfreefall.com). It’s amazing how effective real outreach is for helping people to see skydivers as both athletes and superheroes.
What attracts you to organizing large wingsuit formations?
I am inspired by the sheer awesomeness of sharing the sky with so many of my fellow wingsuit skydivers and friends. There’s just nothing like a big-way to bring everyone together and showcase the beauty of our discipline.
What was the landmark canopy-wingsuit dock with Jessica Edgeington like?
Totally surreal. I could see her pink nail polish as she waved me in for the dock—it’s amazing the things you notice in moments like that—and the very first time we went for the surf-style dock, we got it. I was amazed at how light it felt to be surfed by a canopy pilot. Once we linked up, I felt like we could fly forever.
How did you motivate yourself to help implement the first official judging system for wingsuit formations?
When we did the 71-way formation in 2008, we were not a recognized discipline, so we couldn’t have our attempts officially judged. This led to questions about when and how we would know if we “got it,” since large wingsuit formations fly unlinked. It seemed logical to put together a simple set of rules that everyone could understand. Standards and rules evolve with the sport. You can’t wait for some mythically perfect moment or formation or standard to start measuring success. You start where you can, and you constantly improve from there.
What is your jump philosophy?
Free your mind and your skills will follow.
Explain Taya in five words or fewer:
Adventurous humanitarian skydiver.