First Commercial Skydiving Center in the United States
Published: January 17, 2018
Every diehard skydiver has a fun origin story, but Fred's just might take the cake. Case in point: I'm in stitches within a minute of asking Fred Olsen to tell me his.
"So in 1983 I'm in college," Fred Olsen begins, "And I'm dating this girl and I'm telling the best stories I've got. I'm bringing them all out. Finally, one evening, she looks at me in disbelief and stops me and says: Enough b*******. Have you ever been skydiving? I said no, but wouldn't that be great! She was like: Okay, let's go. Two weeks later, we showed up at this little Cessna DZ to do the static line course."
"They said that we had to be there promptly at 8:00 or they'd start without us," he continues, "So we did." There was not a soul to be seen. At about 8:30, we see one of the campers start rocking. This guy bursts out of the camper, runs across to the woods and loses his cookies. He walks back and we see him realize that he's got a busted arm. He finally looks at us and says, 'Are you here for the skydiving school?' Yeah. We are. 'We are going to be a little late getting started this morning. Can you go get a coffee in town? See you in 45 minutes.'"
"So we went to town, got a cup of coffee, and--because we're not too bright--we came back. We did a static line from 2800 feet under T-10 rounds. I was a pilot at the time and had spent some time in aircraft, so I was okay. But Crystal, my girlfriend, got caught up looking around. She hit the ground like a sack of potatoes and sprained her ankle."
"Being the boyfriend that I was, I asked her to borrow 10 bucks so they would let me go again. She did," he laughs. "I would ask her to marry me about two or three months later. Now we're about 33 ½ years married. But after that experience, Crystal said that there was no way in hell she'd ever going skydiving again."
It would take quite some time for Crystal to be wrong. Luckily, she was.
Cut to around 2006, when Fred and Crystal's son, Nate, was 15 years old. Inspired by a gorgeous demo jump televised from the Torino Olympics, Fred hopped online and to look at indoor wind tunnels. As it turns out, there was one opening nearby: Skyventure New Hampshire. Crystal was keen, as was Nate, so the family started turning up regularly. They soon became card-carrying tunnel rats.
"Nate was just getting to the point where he was flying head down," Fred says, "And then he turned 18. He was like every tunnel rat who has never actually made a skydive. It is just like skydiving, right? Any instructor would look at you and go, well, um, no. But Nate was getting to be pretty badass, and as his friends turned 18 and went off to college, they started skydiving. His mom was dead-set against letting him jump, but it was kinda inevitable."
"Pretty soon, he started to beg," Fred continues. "He'd done the research. He knew that AFF is what he wanted to do. Crystal is, like, 'No. It's an instant death sentence. I've been there and done it. You are never going skydiving.'"
"It gets pretty heated the summer of Nate's 18th birthday. Then a family friend who Nate has dated on and off goes for her tandem. Then Crystal pulled her classic move. She's, like, 'Okay. We can do AFF. All three of us.'"
So, on Fred and Crystal's 25th wedding anniversary, the trio went and did Jumptown's four-day AFF camp. By the next weekend, all three were solo skydivers.
"It was amazing to do the camp," Fred says. "It's really unique. You escape from the world for four days to immerse yourself 100% in skydiving. I was a nervous dad, researching where I was going to take my family. We looked at the gear selection they had there--at their safety record--at their instructional program and instructors, the aircraft, and then the dropzone."
Now, Jumptown is home.
"To be quite frank about it," Fred explains, "We live close to a dropzone in Maine and drive by two more to go to Jumptown.
"On top of all that," Fred adds, "At Jumptown, you've got deep history. You're at the place where the 1962 World Championships were held! The guy who talked me on the radio on my AFF jumps was Gary Pond."
The Olsen family, suffice it to say, nailed it to the wall. They went to Nationals in 2013 and 2015 as a team.
"Our view of skydiving is so different than most people's," Fred grins. "When we were going through AFF, we showed up as a three-person team. When one of us was nervous--or had screwed up--we had someone to talk to. I'm horrible at asking people to go skydive now because I'm so used to having three people. It's, like, We're good to go! Anybody else want to join?"
Since those salad days, each one of them has progressed steadily in the sport. Nate worked for Mirage for a year, then headed out to Salt Lake City to pursue BASE jumping, paragliding and skydiving. Crystal still has designs on going back and doing 4-way, and Fred went the instructor route. He earned his tandem, static line rating and AFF ratings--not necessarily for income, but for passion.
"Before I retired, I'd been an auctioneer for 16 years," he explains. "The business was very successful, and so the flying was just a hobby."
"I've been doing tandems for about 3 years now," he continues. "I truly enjoy it. Interacting with people is fun! I enjoy the one-on-one, and I enjoy how the different kinds of instruction explore different parts of the psychology. AFF is much more intense; a student will always remember you, and you will always be their AFF instructor. At the tandem level, I just love seeing that first-jump experience. I love seeing the student's face when the canopy opens that first time."
Fred always has the same great advice for his students, tandem and AFF alike.
"Smile and have fun!," he enthuses. "You'll learn better when you're smiling. It's too easy to get focused on making progress and not stay focused on having fun. Let's just go skydive. That's what we're here for: Smiling."