In The Zone

Page 5 of 7

In addition to coaching at his freeflight school (for which he earns about $70 per coached jump), in January he started a business called Aerial Stunt Services with several other skydiving legends that he hopes will better market the sport to Hollywood.

Show business isn't alien to Omar. He's worked as a stunt man for television commercials for Honda and Axe deodorant, and feature films (Three Kings, starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, and Wild California, an IMAX film). He jumped from one plane in flight into the cockpit of a biplane last year, "a world record," he says. And along with partner and videographer Greg Gasson, he has been featured in skydiving films (like Crosswing, Chronicles and Good Stuff) that play continually on the Bent Prop's big-screen TV.

On New Year's Eve, 2000, he was among a group of 15 who simultaneously jumped off the Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur, the world's tallest building at 1,483 feet, to usher in the new millennium. And he says he had next planned to jump off a skyscraper in New York, but by late 2001, permits became a bit problematic. "Nobody wanted to hear anything about New York buildings and Saudis," he says quietly.

"Omar's a fucking great skydiver," says Ricardo Orozco. "And he's not stuck up about it."

A scruffy 29-year-old, Orozco's more concerned with where he's going to get the money for his next jump ticket than when he might eat again. Big dreams and limited finances can be a frustrating combination.

"I could be working on getting certified as a tandem instructor, I guess. Make some money that way, but I don't want to jump tandems all day long. I want to coach eventually, I guess."

Orozco drives his motorcycle a little too fast, has a smattering of tattoos on his torso and legs and has a strong passion for opera and symphony music, which he studied and performed at the University of New Mexico.

He came to Arizona last year from a small drop zone in California, tried holding down a job in Phoenix and commuting to Eloy on weekends, but couldn't resist the draw of the skydiving environment. The hourlong commute was agonizing, so he quit the job and moved to Eloy in January. He refers to what he did as "cutting away," same as the skydiving term that means separating yourself from a malfunctioning parachute during a jump and deploying your reserve chute.

Orozco's possessions for the most part are contained in his Firebird and in a few boxes inside his small tent. He briefly considered selling the car for a stack of $18 jump tickets at the end of March, when he compromised between living the dream and affording to jump. He landed a job in a glass factory in Casa Grande, and the job allows him time to get in one or two jumps a day after work.

As much a fixture in the party scene as he is in the air, Orozco staked his tent in a choice location within spitting distance of the Bent Prop bar.

Insatiable in the air and on the ground, Orozco longs for the next Holiday Boogie, Eloy's 10-day annual skydiving meet where about 800 skydivers from around the country show up at the drop zone. The crowds can be irritating, he says, especially when visitors are unfamiliar with drop zone etiquette, but the parties are well worth the aggravation.

"New Year's Eve was sick," he remembers with a wide grin, recalling a previous year's event. "There was a disco. The food was all catered. They filled the hangar with balloons that had prizes inside them. They always do these night jumps at 11:59, and people land in the dark, with kegs of free beer all over the place."

Even the hobbling injury he got jumping didn't dissuade him from partying and more jumping at the Boogie. "That day there were some winds, and when I landed, I ate shit good. Tore a bunch of shit in my ankle, and I couldn't walk. But fuck it, it was New Year's Eve! And I still had four jump tickets left. I wrapped my ankle up good and was partying and dancing on it all night."

It was three years and about 800 jumps ago that Orozco was part owner of a glass company in Olympia, Washington. His biggest thrills then were the barbecues he'd have on the weekends at his house on a lake. "That kind of thing seemed important then," he says, seeming bewildered by the memory.

His first jump at a small drop zone near his home was primitive compared to what is offered at Skydive Arizona.

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Susy Buchanan