Who is Derek Baxter?

“When I was 13, my mom tried to buy me a skydive”. It was only four years prior that Baxter had his first encounter with skydiving, even if now just a faint memory, he knew he would one day be up there, flying through the sky. Baxter’s journey in skydiving is something you might expect, he’s had his own unique struggles, made his own mistakes, and spent time at numerous dropzones across multiple countries. Let’s dive in to learn about his journey and the best advice he can offer to anyone earning their license or learning a new skill! Just as anything new, we can never be sure how we’ll handle the moment, for Baxter, it was, “I was scared until the door opened”.

Hailing from Windsor Canada, Baxter grew up like most other kids who enjoyed the outdoors. He camped, climbed trees, hiked and was an active Boy Scout. While not enjoying the outdoors, he kept his mind busy, enjoying puzzles and computer games. He played 10 years of baseball, and had a short stent of football before realizing it wasn’t for him. After all, he was “barely 100lbs by 11th grade”, and if that weren’t enough, he was injured in the sport. Growing up quickly, Baxter was self aware of his skills and aptitudes, as well as his shortcomings. “I knew I was good at math, science, all the stuff, English not so much”.

Baxter didn’t just decide to “try” skydiving after being convinced by friends and family. No, instead he and his good friend actually organized a large group of 15-20 friends to all make their first jump their senior year. “We decided we were going to get a bunch of people together over the winter, and in the springtime we were going to go.” As Spring rolled around, sure enough all backed out but him and his friend. This was a special event for him, after all, it had been on his mind since age 9!

Knowing he had an aptitude for Math and Science, Baxter pursued and graduated in 2006 from Ryerson University in Toronto with a degree in Aerospace Engineering in just four years. “No victory lap needed”. The following winter, he found a job in the city that would fund his PFF (Progressive Freefall), becoming a licensed skydiver that next spring. After 44 jumps (19 more than required) Baxter finally earned the right to jump out of an airplane unsupervised. He attributes the majority of his struggles to being less than current as more time than he would have liked passed between jumps. When asked how he felt watching others pass him up in the course and how he handled the struggle, Baxter replied: “I just kept going, just gotta grit your teeth and go” and, “The one thing I learned early was to never compare yourself to other people”. As a further demonstration to his tenacity he stated: “I still got it, I still got it done”. Learning early in life that there are just some things you’re going to get right away, and some things you’ll have to work a little harder at Baxter had this sentiment to offer: “High school was a joke to me, but when it came to English class, I sucked”

“It was never an idea to be a career, or to do it full time, that just kind of happened along the way, but I knew I wanted to do it.” Baxter’s first several years in the sport were spent mostly on weekends with a couple boogies that first year. His first was the “Work Stinks” Boogie in New Jersey, and his second was the Christmas Boogie at Z-hills. His first year in the sport, Baxter logged 92 skydives, the least he’s done annually ever since. In the following years, he kept a steady charge, which he recommends, “Don’t rush, I’ve seen where bigger steps end up being their last steps”. He’d earn his Coach 1 rating after his first year, Master Rating in the following, then Coach 2 following this. On the weekends, he’d have 5-6 students lined up, eager to learn. Coaching by day covered his slots, packing by night paid for everything else, including two rigs! By 2011, Baxter would earn his AFF rating and begin teaching at a drop zone in Michigan, switching back and forth between his home dz. “The engineering job was great, but I lived in the city, the real job paid for real world stuff, skydiving paid for skydiving stuff”.

It’s now Spring of 2013 and Baxter has just earned his Tandem Rating, little does his boss know, he’s planning to retire the city life to cut away as a full time skydiver in the fall. Sure enough, that fall, at 30 years old, Baxter packed his belongings into his truck and headed west as he had prospects of working at a northern California dropzone. Upon arrival, he found that after traveling across the country that they had forgotten all about him and given the job to the guy standing in the same room. Feeling defeated, but not giving up, Baxter headed to Hollister where the DZO was gung-ho for his arrival. 

After his first successful season as a full time skydiver, Baxter continued his dropzone tour across the country, spending anywhere from months to a season to years at each including, Michigan, San Marcos Texas, Hollister as an S&TA, Spaceland Atlanta where he met our very own Rigger Rob Wilsey on his path to earning his own Riggers Ticket, and finally landing in Perris for 6 years as an AFF instructor for Military and Civilians, as well as working as a Tandem Instructor. “I got to see a lot of different operations, a lot of good, a lot of bad”.

In 2020, Baxter split his time between Skydive Perris and Skydive Chicago as a Tandem and AFF instructor. In 2021, he committed full time to Skydive Chicago working with Tandems and occasionally spending time in the AFP room. As he returns this year to Skydive Chicago, Baxter will lead the AFP program as the lead instructor. His goals for the program are to help as many students earn their A license as possible while helping his instructors progress in their career as well. Baxter knows first hand the downsides of too many days between jumps as a student and highly encourages anyone working towards their license to come out every chance they get, even on weather days. Baxter is by far a great example of making the most of every opportunity. On days he wasn’t able to jump, he was on the mat, learning how to pack; a skill that would provide fruitful for years to come. 

More advice from a veteran?

“Don’t try to be the super swooper by 500 jumps, you don’t have to be, there’s time”.

“At the end of the day you’ll end up being a better skydiver for taking those smaller steps than making those larger steps”.

Baxter looks forward to a fun and safe season for all!

Baxter has a decade and half working as a professional in this sport, everything from Static Line, to Military, he holds multiple ratings including: CSPA – C1, C2, JM, PFFI, SSI, GCI, SSE, C3319. In the USPA – Coach, AFFI, TI, Senior Rigger and is D licensed, D-32267

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