Sammy Vassilev began jumping in 1989 in Bulgaria, where he grew up around the sport. (His mother was a world champion.) He moved to the United States in 1991 and immediately began having an impact on the sport here as a talented skysurfer and camera flyer. As a strong proponent of promoting skydiving, Vassilev and his wife, Iva, founded Skydive TV, which began broadcasting in 2010. The couple also founded their own drop zone, Skydive Fyrosity in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Sammy Vassilev is not only the DZO, but also a tandem and AFF instructor.
Nickname: The Red Baron
Birthplace: Born and raised in Sofia, Bulgaria. Moved to the U.S. in 1991
Nationality: Bulgarian and American (U.S. citizen)
Marital Status: Married to Iva Vassilev
Children: Two—Jasmyne, 9; Anthony, 7
Occupation: Pro skydiver, cinematographer, photographer, producer, director, host of Skydive TV, DZO
Education: Business management degree from Northwestern College in Chicago; hotel management and film, University of Nevada-Las Vegas
Life Philosophy: Never give up! Luck is 99 percent the result of extremely hard work, dedication to your craft, non-stop education, personal and professional sacrifices, 18- to 20-hour workdays (every day) and never-ending persistence and one percent good circumstances. Dream big and don’t stop working toward that dream. Never mind the cost.
Jump Philosophy:Slow is fast!
Team Name: Double Trouble (with Steve Verner)
Sponsors: Fisher Space Pen, Photographika, Skydive TV, Skydive Fyrosity, Tuborg Beer
Container: Sun Path Javelin
Main Canopy: NZ Aerosports Icarus Crossfire 119
Reserve Canopy:Performance Designs PDR 113
AAD: Airtec CYPRES 2
Disciplines: Skysurfing, tandem, camera
Home Drop Zone: Skydive Fyrosity in Las Vegas, Nevada
First Jump: A static-line jump on November 15, 1989, at the age of 15
USPA Licenses and Ratings: A-23572, B-18624, C-26330, D-19270, AFF and Tandem Instructor, PRO
Medals: 1997—bronze in skysurfing, Perris Valley Challenge Cup (with Kevin Love). 1998—silver in skysurfing open, USPA National Championships (with Steve Verner)
Total Number of Jumps: 9,900-plus
Tandems: 3,500 AFF: 2,000 Wingsuit: 300 Demos: 100 Accuracy: One Tunnel: 500 hours Camera: 3,200 Skysurf: 550 Freefly: 200 Balloon: Two BASE: 50
Largest Completed Formation: The largest formation I’ve been a part of is a 4-way; however, I have filmed 100-ways and 200-ways.
Total Number of Cutaways: Three
Of all your jumps, does one stand out?
My first wingsuit jump with the wingsuit that I built in 1997. I had no one to teach me, no one to show me. I built the wingsuit from scratch and jumped it. What a ride that was! No helmet, [Performance Designs] Stilletto 120 and the wings were covering my [bottom-of-container pilot chute]. I finally deployed at 1,700 feet and luckily had no line twists. I landed three miles off the DZ in the desert. But the wingsuit flew!
What do you like most about the sport?
What do you like least about the sport?
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
My mother, Parachkeva Vassilev, 1972 World Team Accuracy Champion with Team Bulgaria at the 11th Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Parachuting Championships held in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and Patrick DeGayardon, Norman Kent, Tom Sanders and Roger Nelson.
What safety item is most important?
A person’s attitude and training. We all know that skydiving is dangerous, but nothing is safer than the right attitude and proper training to go along with it.
Do you have any suggestions for students?
Slow down and learn, learn, learn. Slow is fast!
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with and where would it take place?
A 2-way skysurf with Patrick DeGayardon at Skydive Fyrosity over the stunning Valley of Fire.
The toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving is:
To put up with all the political drama!
Is there one jump you would like to do again?
Yes, I would love to do another skysurf night jump. I did one in 1998 over Las Vegas, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I had. I did my skysurf competition routine at night without the reference of sky or earth, just feeling the air and using the Vegas night lights as reference. It was amazing!
What do you consider your most significant life achievement?<
Being a husband and a father of our two children!
Do you have any suggestions for USPA?
Put a lot—I mean a lot—more effort into promoting the sport of skydiving via audio-visual media!
What has been your best skydiving moment?
My 8,000th jump with my future wife, Iva, over the Black Sea and landing on the beach!
What has been your worst skydiving moment?
Getting hurt on a tandem skydive in 2011. We had an extremely hard opening and broke two A lines on the right side, which I could not see due to loss of vision. I regained vision at about 500 feet to realize I had broken lines and a passed-out passenger for landing. It hurt! It almost paralyzed me and put me out of the sport for three and a half years. I am happy to have recovered 100 percent.
What is your greatest competition moment?
Qualifying with Vic Pappadato for the SSI (Skysurfing International) Pro Tour. Unfortunately, he died in my hands in a skydiving accident before we had a chance to compete as a team. Also earning the 1998 USPA Nationals silver medal in open skysurfing with Steve Verner, which we dedicated to Vic.
You were a member of a skydiving Elvis demo group. What was that like?
It was a lot of fun. Great team, great people, fantastic events and epic after parties.
Was creating Skydive TV and bringing it to the masses fulfilling?
Extremely! I must say that I did not create Skydive TV alone! Skydive TV is the result of over 10 years of back-breaking work: 25 years of film and TV experience that played a vital role, thousands of sleepless nights, over $1 million of investment, personal and family sacrifices, 18- to 20-hour shoot days during one-month events in brutal conditions. I had a fantastic, trustworthy team in Europe that has been with us for 17 years and, of course, the expertise, passion, drive, talent and incredible efforts of my wife, Iva.
What advice would you give to someone considering opening a drop zone?
Skydive Fyrosity was one of the most difficult business projects I’ve ever organized. It took us three and a half years of legwork from scratch. It is also our second DZ. We ran Skydive Bulgaria for three years (from 2005 to 2008) and learned a lot of lessons. Advice: Get your skin toughened up; you need to have a thick one. Don’t lose any sleep over the drama.
What are your future skydiving goals?
To keep developing Skydive TV with Iva and growing Skydive Fyrosity into a five-star-destination resort for skydiving and, of course, keep jumping as much as possible. I would love to compete in 4-way and accuracy and hopefully resurrect skysurfing.
Explain Sammy Vassilev in five words:
Honest, dedicated, passionate, fierce workaholic.