By Brian Giboney
T. J. Hine started skydiving in 1985, and his love for the sport and its people continues today. A well-known formation skydiver at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, Hine has set many state, national and world big-way records and has medaled in 8-way and 10-way at the USPA Nationals. As one of his colleagues said, “T. J. has always balanced his work and his passion for skydiving. His longevity and enthusiasm in the sport inspire many to keep going.”
Marital Status: Married 21 years to Claudia
Occupation: Commercial photographer specializing in food and real estate photography
Education: BFA in communication graphics
Life Philosophy: Live for today, for tomorrow may not come. This becomes more true all the time. It’s okay to take chances, because life is short.
Team Name: STL 10-way (late ’90s to early ’00s); Adrenal8
Container: Sun Path Javelin
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Stiletto 120
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs PDR 143
AAD: Airtec CYPRES
Home DZ: Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois
Licenses and Ratings: C-18638, D-13580. I was a static-line jumpmaster with more than 1,000 students.
Championships, Medals and Records: Two golds and three silvers in 10-way FS and a silver in intermediate 8-way FS, USPA Nationals. Many state FS records, including in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Hawaii. Multiple Parachutists Over Phorty Society records, including the two-point 108-way. The South American FS record 80-way. A few world records, including the 246-way largest formation and the newly achieved three-point 111-way.
Total Number of Jumps: 4,944
FS: 4,500-plus Instructor: A few hundred
Freefly: 50 sit-fly, the rest by accident
Helicopter: 20-plus Demos: A dozen or so
Balloon: One Tandems: I was a student once for an evaluation dive.
Largest Completed Formation: 257-way. It wasn’t held for three seconds, so no world record.
Total Number of Cutaways: Nine
Of all your skydives, does one stand out most?
The 80-way formation skydives in Venezuela commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Army. I was one of 65 Americans who were asked to be part of the team. We were the main attraction at the airshow and could not have been treated more kindly by a country that is predominantly poor. The people were wonderful, and it was inspiring to see how excited and well-mannered the children were. We were treated like rock stars. Everyone came back with terrific stories and a feeling of satisfaction.
What do you like most about the sport?
The people who have become my second family. I now know people from all over the world, and that’s a cool thing.
What do you like least about the sport?
The weather, to start! I also hate to hear about someone being mistreated or ignored when they visit another DZ. There’s no room for cliques in our sport. Each discipline can have its own group, but we should share in the camaraderie.
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
There were a few that took a group of us under their wings when we were starting out, most notably Roger Nelson and Jim Bohr. I’m lucky to still jump with one of my mentors, Roger Ponce [de Leon].
What safety item do you think is most important or most often neglected?
Awareness under canopy. With the different speeds and sizes of canopies, we lose focus that others in the air might not match our canopy speeds or controls, so the item that needs working on is our own eyes.
Do you have any suggestions for students?
Pick up as much information as you can from multiple sources. Not every technique works for everyone; find out what works for you.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way, whom would it be with?
I would do a jump with my dear friend, John Hastings, who was killed in a skydiving accident more than 20 years ago. I would like to show him how far I have come and some of my accomplishments.
What has been your best skydiving moment?
Any announcement from the judges that we just broke a world record; that never gets old.
What has been your greatest competition moment?
The last jump of my first Nationals when we won gold. Hearing your team get called to the podium is truly awe-inspiring.
What has been your worst skydiving moment?
A world record attempt when we had a fatality. It just takes the wind out of your sails, and as hard as you try, you can’t get the moment back.
What has been your weirdest skydiving moment?
When on a world record attempt in Florida, the copilot yelled to get out, so at 19,000 feet, I climbed out to front float on the DC-3, only to see 11 airplanes with their doors still closed. Looking back, there were no other floaters out. I thought they were pulled back into the plane, and they left me hanging. I stayed on that plane for a minute and 38 seconds before the actual go—and docked—only to find out later that the copilot had yelled “no.” Someone heard “go” and jumped and wiped out the rest of the floaters. They landed six miles away.
You knew the late Roger Nelson, the founder of Skydive Chicago, quite well. What kind of influence did he have on you?
Roger was an innovator. He was always looking for better ways to accomplish something, whether it was exiting, flying or safety. He was the first to put students under squares because they were safer than rounds. He was the first to put students on zero-porosity canopies because that’s what the students were going to jump when they graduated.
He rewrote the AFF program (called “accelerated freefall progression” at Skydive Chicago) to make it more comprehensive and safer for students. He taught me to never stop learning because there is always a new and better way. I still believe that philosophy, and I try to learn from anyone I can.
Have you liked the changes to the sport of skydiving?
The biggest change has been equipment. From rounds to squares to elliptical [canopies], these changes have come in a hurry, and I think they have become better and safer. We need to stay up with these changes with education, because fatalities have changed at the same time. I feel we are doing a better job of educating with canopy seminars, but we need to stay on top of it.
The number of disciplines is a drastic change. Style and accuracy and RW [relative work, now called formation skydiving] were basically all we had. When freestyle came about, it exploded, and it was fun to watch these jumpers go through the same progression in the sport as we RW jumpers did. And now we throw wingsuiting into the mix. Can’t wait until the first sequential wingsuit [competition] happens.
Faster aircraft have made a difference in the number of jumps you can do in a day. Although they hold half the number of jumpers, the turnaround times are much faster. To get five jumps out of a DC-3 in a day was a chore.