Local Legends… Shirley Cowcher

I met Shirley back in 2019 over in Perris with Aussie Bigways crew. I’ve always remembered what a positive influence she was for the team as we tried to set the Aussie Bigway Record.

I haven’t been able to catch up with her since then, but I thought she’d be an awesome choice for Local Legends. Anyway to business, Shirley was born in Manchester, England, although Jurien Bay is her home DZ in Oz. She’s been in the sport for 29 years, has her F licence and has around 3,500 jumps to her name.

She used to be part of a AA FS team, TSE, but that came to an end her team mates turned into a pack of 105kg fatty boom bahs and Shirley refused to put more lead on to keep up with them.

How did you first become interested in skydiving?

My sister wanted to do a tandem for her 40th birthday and I went along.  I did the tandem and then wanted to know if I could do it without being attached to somebody.

What was your first jump like?

My tandem was much like anyone else’s at the time.  Exited a Cessna 182 that appeared to be held together by Gaffa tape (the plane had been stripped back to bare metal for a re-spray and had its call sign hand painted on the side). I landed thanked the tandem master (I believe I shook his hand) and then went home.  On the Monday back at work, someone asked me what I had done on the weekend as I seemed very different – more assured.  That was a bit weird!  My first jump that wasn’t a tandem was an AFF jump that took 6 weeks from the date of doing the training to doing the jump, due to weather and the fact that I could only make it to the DZ on a Sunday.  I loved it and was convinced that I wanted to continue but was not convinced that I wanted to spend so much time on the ground due to weather.  As such I changed from AFF to Static Line – thinking I would get more chance to jump as we would only be going to 3,500 ft, initially.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t a natural and after many, many jumps I eventually went back to AFF to complete my A licence on my 100th jump – but that’s another story 😊

What motivates you to keep skydiving?

Other people asking me to help them improve their flat fly skills, or achieve a big way record, or organise a fun flat fly event.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a skydiver and how have you overcome them?

I was not a natural skydiver and fell into the sport because my sister wanted to tick something off her bucket list.  Doing Static Line meant that I was dispatched by an instructor, and they would watch from the plane to see how I had gone.  I could not hold a heading and as a result was stuck on a 10 second delay for many, many, many jumps.  I had a packer B before I had my class A licence.  I had perseverance and was safe under canopy.  Eventually, the instructors decided I had to go back to AFF so they could be in the air with me and see what was going on.  They tried lots of different techniques for me to hold a heading and I was willing to try them all.  I was not willing to give up and knew that eventually I could make it.

What is the most memorable skydiving experiences you’ve had to date?  What made it so special?

There are a few.  Jumping the Jet at a World Freefall Convention with less than 300 jumps – just blew my mind that you feel yourself slowdown in freefall.

The Women’s World Record 181 Way.  The Women’s World Record 2 point 117 way sequential (that was also an open record for 1 day).  The sense of achievement.

Achieving 105, 109 and 112 way Australian Records on three consecutive jumps in Perris. I worked with Greg Jack to help make this event happen and we went there hoping to get a triple digit record.  We knew when we achieved these consecutive records it is never likely to be replicated.

Jumping over the Maldives – the visuals where amazing.

The first time I did a 4 way jump with Dan BC – talk about pressure.

The first time I did a fun jump with Pete Allum load organising.  It is like watching poetry in motion watching him fly.

Have you ever participated in any skydiving competitions?  What is competition like?  Is it worth the effort?

I’m not a serious competitor but I have done 4 way in State Competitions and once at the Nationals.  I wanted to do the Nationals at least once and thankfully it was 2018 before we were faced with virtual events.  I love the camaraderie of competition in terms of your team, and between competitors.  It gives you a reason to go to the DZ with a plan of action.  Before I got involved in 4way I would turn up at the DZ and hope there were people I could jump with.  When you are a team, it’s guaranteed.  It’s fun, improves your flying skills and brings people together.

Do you have any specific skydiving goals you’re working towards at the moment?

Organising and being part of WA POPS Sequential Record.  Scheduled for 12/13 August at Skydive Jurien Bay.  It might also be an Australian Notable Event.

Have you had any bad or challenging experiences while skydiving?  How did you handle them?

Yes, while overseas on a skydiving trip my best friend died from a low-pull no-pull.  I had to phone her partner, who was in Australia and tell him what had happened and then stay overseas, with him, for two weeks while we organised to get her body home.  I had lost friends and colleagues before from skydiving accidents, but this was so much more confronting.  I don’t think my skydiving has ever really been the same since then.

Do you have any rituals that you go through before every jump?

When doing a jump above 10,000 ft, I take my ear plugs out at 7500 ft do my last gear check c. 2000 before exit height and do my final visualisation just before the red light comes on.

Are there any particular destination or drop zones that you consider favourites and why?

Fiona McEachern and Dan BC.  They both have/had a philosophy of inclusivity but were also impressive competitors. 

Have you had any funny or unexpected experiences while skydiving?

Exiting a Pilates Porter on my 98th jump and having my reserve pop on exit followed by the CAP-3 (an old style AAD) firing at 2000ft to launch my main, which I had to cut away.  This was student gear, and I was doing my late stage AFF jumps – I was a problem student who would have taken 99 jumps to complete A licence but due to this happening it took me 100 jumps

What’s your number 1 safety tip?

Always, thoroughly check your gear before every jump.

What’s your favourite bit of kit?

I know this sounds mad, but I love my VOG audible altimeter.  I love how calm her voice is as she tells you your height.

(it’s not mad, VOG Alti’s are awesome!)

Thanks, Shirley! and good luck with the POP record this weekend!

Next week…. someone from Victoria I think!

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