Profile - Craig O’Brien | D-19294

By Brian Giboney

Craig O’Brien, D-19294, is a world champion skydiver, world-class freefall photographer and Hollywood stuntman and camera flyer. In the late 1990s, O’Brien and his then-soon-to-be wife, Tanya, formed the skysurfing team Firestarter. With Tanya on the skyboard and Craig flying camera, they were virtually unbeatable in national and world competitions. Later, O’Brien began working in Hollywood. His credits include filming and doing stunt work on “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “Iron Man 3,” “Godzilla,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Bucket List” and many other movies, as well as commercials, documentaries and other productions.

Age: 54

Birthplace: Bakersfield, California

Marital Status: Better, now that we have both been “Profiled”!

Children: Two beautiful girls

Occupation: Photographer

Education: Some college/trade school

Transportation: Otters and Skyvans, mostly. Pickup truck when on the ground.

Pet Peeves: Inconsiderate people 

Pre-Jump Superstitions: Don't forget to turn on the camera.

Life Philosophy: Do the best you can, always.

Jump Philosophy: Don't kill the cameraman.

Team Name: Perris Valley Firestarter

Sponsors: Airtec, Bonehead Composites,
LiquidSky Suits, Performance Designs,
Skydive Perris, Square One, Sun Path Products

Container: Sun Path Javelin Odyssey 

Main Canopy: Performance Designs Spectre 120 and Sabre2 135

Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs PDR 126


Discipline: Camera flyer

Home Drop Zone: Skydive Perris in California

First Jump: 1993, one tandem, then marched straight in and signed up for AFF.

Licenses: C-24478, D-19294

Championships and Records: Gold at the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Skysurfing World Championships in 1999 and 2001. Gold at the FAI Skysurfing World Cup in 2000. USPA National Skysurfing Champion in 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007. Multiple FAI World Records for large-formation skydiving, including the largest formation skydive (400-way), largest head-down formation skydive (109-way) and largest wingsuit formation (100-way).  

Total Number of Jumps: 22,000   Camera: 21,000

Freefly: 9,000   CF: 6,000   FS: 5,000   Wingsuit: 1,000

Balloon: 250   Demos: 100-plus   BASE: 12 

Largest Completed Formation: 400-way (camera)

Total Number of Cutaways: Nine

Of all your skydives, does one stand out most?

In competition, it would be the last round of the 1999 world meet. It was a very close race with the defending champion team, who killed us the year prior. We had a very slight lead going into that last round. Right at breakoff, I knew we had done our best on that jump and that it should seal the deal: our first world-meet gold.

What do you like most about the sport?

I really have a hard time figuring out what I like the most. That’s a long list, starting with meeting my wife and many great friends who have become close, like family. 

What do you like least about the sport? 

Losing very close friends from skydiving accidents. 

Who have been your skydiving mentors?

Dan B.C. [Brodsky-Chenfeld], Norman Kent, Dave Crouch

What are your future skydiving goals?

Continue to work on bettering my flying skills and be current in multiple skydiving disciplines. 

What do you think is most dangerous in skydiving?

Complacency in general. 

How did you become interested in skydiving?

My father was a jumper when I was young. One of my earliest memories is going out to the Arvin DZ and waiting for him to pop open his ’chute and float down. It’s in the blood, I guess. 

I skydive because …

It’s super fun, and I made a career out of it.

Do you have any suggestions for students?

You can’t learn if you’re not having fun.

What's the most bad-ass thing you can do in the air?

Land safely.

What is your favorite jump plane and why?

Twin Otter. Preferably Shark Air [Skydive Perris’ Otter, which is painted to look like a shark].

If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with and where would it take place? 

A Team Firestarter jump over the Hawaiian North Shore would be my idea of the perfect jump situation. 

Were you a hard child to raise?

I’m still working on growing up.

The toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving is: 

Become good at skysurfing. 

What kind of skydiving student were you?

I think I was an average student who expected more from myself. I didn't have lots of money, so it took me a few months to get through AFF only being able to afford one or two jumps at a time. I do remember it being so much fun! 

What is your most significant life achievement?

By far my children are what I consider my most significant achievement in life. As for skydiving, I’m amazed that I was able to achieve success working on Hollywood productions shooting major motion pictures. In 2013, I received two Taurus Stunt Awards for my work as aerial director of photography. This past year, I received an Award of Excellence from Communication Arts for my still photography on the Storm’s Edge Red Bull project along with Sean MacCormac.

Do you have any suggestions for USPA?

Keep keeping our airspace available for skydiving. 

What has been your weirdest skydiving moment?

Recently I had to film a commercial using a hand-held cell phone as the primary camera. All while accessing function on the touch screen. Boy, was that challenging! 

What drives your competitive spirit?

I’m driven by desire to “get it done.” 

What is your motivation for skydiving all these years?

I worked in construction for numerous years prior to moving into skydiving as a full-time career. I know what it’s like to put in a hard day’s work day after day. I now get to skydive and create images for a living. I can’t imagine giving up on this. 

What’s your best memory of being on Team Firestarter with your wife, Tanya?

Winning multiple world championships is always cool, but being able to be together 24/7 working on a common goal in skydiving is what I miss most. 

How did you become interested in camera flying?

Once again, my father was into photography. I showed interest in cameras at around 6 years old. My dad took time to teach and inspire me. I studied photography in both high school and college. When the camera flyer pulled up in my face on my first tandem jump, I knew then I was coming for that guy’s job.

What is your favorite bonfire story from all your movie,
commercial and TV show work?

I’ve been really blessed to have worked on a lot of production jobs with many of my close friends and even my wife. “Charlie’s Angels” was a blast since I was in front of the camera along with Tanya. I did many jumps on that job, all with an amazing hidden-rig system, a reverse Hitler mustache and a wig sewn to my scalp. It was fun playing the bad guy. 

What is your perfect day like? 

A day on the Hawaiian beach with family.

Explain Craig O’Brien in five words or fewer: 

Husband, dad, son, brother, friend


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