Bob “Feisty” Feisthamel started his skydiving career in Roundup, Montana in 1972. He was introduced to skydiving by a few smoke-jumper friends, and after taking a photography class in college, he began freelancing by taking ground shots of local skydivers. He was asked to come back repeatedly and finally said that he wouldn’t return unless he got to make a skydive himself. Feisthamel eventually gravitated to canopy formation (formerly canopy relative work), and was hooked—by more than just a hook knife. Today, he is a nine-time medalist on the world stage, a 20-time medalist at USPA National Championships and still an active skydiver.
I first met Feisty back in 1995 as a fellow DZO ... and while he certainly has lived up to his nickname, he has always been willing to share his knowledge and experience as a positive influence on the sport in many areas—as an examiner, mentor, DZO and world record holder! –Jen Sharp, Parachutist profilee #159
Birthplace: Glendive, Montana
Marital Status: Divorced
Pets: Two dogs, Skittles and Sandy
Occupation: Currently, FAA Inspection Authorized Aircraft Mechanic, Senior and Master Rigger and Designated Parachute Rigger Examiner. In the past, a chemistry lab supervisor, environmental scientist, process supervisor at Sabreliner and DZO of Skydive Missouri.
Education: B.S. in chemistry and physics at Montana State University Billings
Hobbies: Tournament poker, billiards, fishing high-mountain lakes
Neat packer or a trash packer? Psycho packer
Jump Philosophy: Do my very best, safely.
Team Names: Roundup Bunch, Tension Free, AR8, U.S. Parachute Team
Sponsors: Currently, none
Container: Sun Path Javelin, Rigging Innovations Talon, Parachute Laboratories Racer
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Lightning 160, Vengeance 120
Reserve Canopy: PD, various sizes
Home Drop Zone: Various Florida DZs
Licenses/Ratings: C-9245, D-7730, legacy examiner, current only as AFF-I
Number of Jumps: 13,034
Largest completed formation: In freefall, 38. Under canopy, 100.
Number of Cutaways: The first was on number 1,773. Currently at about 200, but since 2012, zero.
How long do you plan on skydiving?
Until ill health grounds me. Before my first jump, while gearing up, Larry Skrupa asked, “How many jumps will you make in your jumping career?” I responded, “100 jumps!” The four jumpers on the load laughed out loud. After landing and being dragged through 100-plus feet of prickly pear cactus, I looked like a pin cushion! Larry again asked, “ How many jumps will you make in your jumping career?” I said, “I will beat all of you guys to a thousand jumps!” And I did.
What do you like most about the sport?
The wonderful people that are involved in all aspects of skydiving
Most embarrassing moment at a drop zone:
At the 2001 World Meet in Granada, Spain, I was taking an off-road drive around the Spanish Air Force base. Mark Kruse was driving and I was navigating when we nosed into a four-foot-deep cut in the road. The rental car was totaled, and we took a five-mile walk around the base, missing the opening ceremonies. So, Mark and I had to stand before the seven other team members to explain the reason for our absence.
Who has been your skydiving mentor?
In the beginning it was B.J. Worth. He was an inspiration for all of us jumpers in Roundup.
What do you consider your most significant life achievement?
As an instructor, I have had a positive affect on many people’s lives. One older man in his 60s, who was blind since childhood, came to do a tandem. His glasses looked like the bottom of a coke bottle. Everything went fine during the jump, but on Monday he called me to say that something was wrong with him and he was seeing a doctor. No details. I’m thinking, “Oh s**t, find the waiver!” On Friday, he said he could see again and had 20/20 vision. Apparently, the jump released pressure that existed behind his eye. On another occasion, I helped bring a mother who lost a son out of severe depression. On another, a meek, quiet and shy man with a group of co-workers left the DZ with a boost of confidence and a bounce in his step.
Greatest competition moment?
Can you explain the thrill of winning your first world championship?
My team trained hard practicing top docks, diamonds, blocks and formation transitions for the meet in Toogoolawa, Australia in 1984. We were so far ahead that getting a zero in rounds seven and eight would still give us a gold medal. We relaxed and had fun on those. That team had the best vibes of any team I’ve been on. We were a fun, creative, cool group of men.
What are your future skydiving goals?
Another world record in canopy formation—120-plus. Is there another U.S. Nationals in my future?
Worst skydiving moment?
Jump 12—January, 1973, in Montana. I was told by my instructor, Greg Nardy, to position my arms a certain way upon leaving the step of the C-185. Aggressive me put my arms in position as I left the plane, and began a freefall flat spin that could not be stopped. My vision went from clear to reddish to black, and the other jumpers said that, from the plane, they couldn’t tell my arms from my feet. That’s when survival kicked in and I pulled the ripcord. I was under a 28-foot round canopy at 5,500 feet with line twists from my neck to the lower lateral band. Each twist that I kicked out, the canopy slowed descent more and more, and the landing was a normal PLF. I didn’t jump again that day.
Best skydiving moment?
Jump 13—a week later. Greg adjusted his training to add: “Leave the plane, arch, delay five seconds, position arms for a turn.” Everything planned on that jump was completed perfectly. That was the most fun, memorable, motivating jump ever, and a boost to my self-confidence. That jump changed my life.
After 50 years of skydiving, are you happy with the progression of the sport?
Yes! Safer equipment, rounds to squares, solos to teams, belly to freestyle to butt-up/butt-down to horizontal movement. Square-foot accuracy on the ground to square-canopy accuracy on the foot (CF). Radial-engine to turbine-engine aircraft. Static-line to AFF and tandem progression. PLFs to swooping standup landings.
No! Go to the DZ to jump, then leave to go home? What fun is that? You didn’t share a story or a laugh. “I don’t have enough time or money to be really good at the disciplines skydiving has to offer.” What happened to the mentors that passed on knowledge for free?