Halloween Day 2020
*If you don't want to read all this stuff, that's fine. There's 90 second video at the end of the story*
Dylan Bell, my best friend is my tandem instructor. He has no idea I am his student As you can see, I am having the time of my life being his worst student ever, while he tries desperately to control the skydive.
Unknown to him two and a half months ago on 8/15/2020, Brittany Marie Sowle and I decided to move to Zephyrhills, FL for the winter. About that time I decided it would be pretty funny if I could make it a surprise for Dylan who lives in Zhillls.
First we needed to find a place to live. Derek Sluder was able to put me in touch with Dylan's landlords, Rebecca and Rocky. They happened to have a room open for the winter and agreed to keep it a secret from Dylan and Holly Ann. (Rebecca did end up telling Holly anyways though). Now not only are we moving across the country in secret, we are moving across the country and into my best friends house in secret.
I've been a static line instructor for a while, but barely anyone does static line except good ol' Sky Down Skydiving back in Idaho so I needed to finally get my AFF rating. Luckily Skydive West Plains, was hosting Xcelskydiving aka Michael Wadkins for an AFF-I course late in August. Dustin Sacolick helped get me there, and I learned a ton during an amazing course. I got my AFF rating and kept this a secret as well.
Dylan about a month or so later started working on his AFF-I rating. He kept calling and texting me telling me how crazy he thought it was that he was going to be an AFF-I before me. I asked him questions about the costs, how hard it was, how often they do courses etc. He was nice enough to tell me that he was taking notes and making me a notebook so I could breeze through when I finally came out to get my AFF-I rating.
Next I got in contact with Skydive City. Brandon Tomlins put me in touch with Cam the DZM here. Cam unfortunately couldn't guarantee me a job out here, but agreed to keep it a secret from Dylan as well, and mentioned he also loves messing with Dylan.
At some point during this process, I wondered how we could do the big reveal. How do we let Dylan know that we're his roomies? Just move stuff in while he's at work and wait till he gets home? Just show up at the DZ and say, "Hey lets go for a high pull?" Just hop on a load and wait for him to notice in the plane? All of these would have been great options...
Then I realized we could time our arrival to coincide with Halloween. I could show up in costume....Could I do a tandem with Dylan without him realizing it was me? What costume could I wear to give me the best chance of not being recognized? First time I've been thankful for corona virus masks to be the "norm". As I considered costumes I quickly realized my voice would be the hardest thing to disguise. I needed an excuse to talk funny (and knew I would need to say as little as possible). We've called Dylan "Hillbillly" for years and I realized I could do a costume with gross fake hillbilly teeth to help disguise my voice. I finally decided on a Joe Exotic tiger king costume since it seemed to make a little more sense than a random redneck hillbilly costume.
I also plotted that I could send Dylan a video the morning of my arrival of a skydive back in Idaho that had supposedly just taken place. This would just make sure he knew I was still in Idaho and couldn't possibly be in FL that day. At first I thought I'd just send him a random swoop, or a student who took me for a wild ride etc. Then I decided to take it another step further. I decided to organize a halloween costume load. It just would take place October 8th well before Halloween.
I organized the load with all sorts of Dylans Idaho jumping friends, and a few others to fill the plane. They were sworn to secrecy and forbidden from posting pics or video until Halloween. Devin Vega, Addie Perry, Oshea Abney, Kris Burda, Paul Hutton, Ryan Wilson, Marc Julian, Conner Price, Clinton, and I filled the load. I made Pac-Man and Ghost costumes for everyone. Our hybrid attempt went to shit as most of us expected, but we all had a hell of a time.
Brittany and I packed everything up into the Toyota Sienna van that my mom, Lindy Cogswell, let us borrow. We took our time and stopped to see friends along the 3,000 mile journey. First Salt Lake for a night, then we got stuck on some pass in Colorado when the highway was closed. Overnight sleeping in the front seats of the van was far from comfortable, but it was part of the adventure we were seeking. The next day we grabbed lunch with Britt's friend in Golden CO and continued on to stay with her family in North Platte, NE. Roads from this point on were pretty good so we got a hotel room in Kansas City, MO. The next day we headed to Nashville. After that we got to stay with Sarah Eric Skroch in Georgia. Then finally we made it to Zephyrhills at 12:30am on the morning of Halloween.
We slept in a hotel room and met up with Holly in the morning. My tandem was scheduled for 11am. Brittany threw some makeup on me to help further the disguise. After showing up on the drop zone, I watched the tandem briefing video and filled out my waiver. While I was copying my drivers license number onto the waiver, Dylan walked up to get a closer look at my tiger king costume. Luckily he didn't notice the Idaho drivers license on the table and my name written all over the page before I flipped to a blank page and covered my ID. Brittany Smith was nice enough to change my name in the manifest to Joe Brown and pair me up with Dylan.
Dylan harnessed me up and I tried to be as quiet and awkward as possible. Luckily we had the outside videographer, Bob, in on the prank and he was able to interview me away from Dylan. During the ride to altitude I played nervous student as best I could. Constantly looking out the window, leg slowly starting to shake, questioning how loose my harness feels. leg shaking more, whole body feeling tense, awkwardly scooting my butt into Dylans lap. grabbing his thigh.
Finally we get to altitude and we're about to exit. HOLY SHIT. I think this is going to work. Dylan doesn't know he's about to have his skydiving abilities and his temper tested by someone who knows how to do absolutely everything wrong. Yank the corona virus mask off. Cautiously push back as I'm pushed to the door.
EXIT. De-arch. Hands off harness immediately. Dylan gets the drogue out nicely. Now we can have some fun. I get both my legs out straight and out to the side of him. Giving us an awkward nice turn. Then I think I drop both my knees and arms. Just generally awkward and bad skydiving form. After about 20-30 seconds of acting like I had no idea what was going on, I got stable, geeked the camera(outside photos and video by Bob Clark) , and then started to show true skydiving knowledge. I did some knee and arm turns to take Dylan for a few spins one way. Then stopped the spin, and took him for a ride the other way.
Dylan is now over this skydive. He's not sure who the hell is in front of him and how they know how to do these turns, but as I start to track forward. Dylan ends the skydive early by deploying our parachute.
I think the first words out of his mouth are probably autopilot tandem talk. "How was that man?" he stumbles through angrily. I think I replied awesome or something, and grabbed his legs. The next words out his his mouth are FIRM and I can feel how mad he is behind me.
"DON'T TOUCH ME"
"YOU ARE GOING TO DO EXACTLY WHAT I SAY FROM NOW TILL THE TIME WE GET TO THE GROUND.......
TAKE YOUR HANDS AND GRAB ONTO YOUR...."(he hesitates slightly giving me time to reach up to near his emergency handles)
"BELLY BAND!!!! BELLY BAND!!!"
At this point I can't hold it in any longer. I have tortured him long enough. I look up say, "HEY HILLBILLY! It's Noah!" After a split second for his brain to register what I said and to connect the dots, I feel his entire body relax and we start laughing etc. We have a great canopy flight and landing.
Rebecca and Rocky (our new landlords) and Brittany Marie Sowle met us in the LZ. Dylan is clearly in shock about what just happened. Then we fill him in its not a just a surprise visit. We're here for the winter, and we live with you. A half hour later I finally remembered to tell him I beat him to his AFF-I rating by a month or two also.
Any friends who I failed to tell I was moving to Florida, or anyone I didn't have time to say bye to etc, "My bad" but this was worth it! Also sorry for forbidding Brittany from making any Facebook announcements etc about our move. My bad again, but it was so worth it."