Keith “Kebe” Snyder turned to skydiving as a means of escaping his day-to-day dramas. Ninety-five jumps later, Kebe strapped a board to his feet and tried out the more advanced--and dangerous--discipline of sky surfing.
The first time Keith Snyder jumped out of an airplane, he was trying to escape from something. Every time since, he’s been trying to find something again.
What started as a way to get away from his day-to-day problems for an afternoon turned into a lifelong passion for Snyder, who has jumped more than 6,500 times since 1995. It started with basic skydiving, but after 95 jumps Snyder decided to strap a board to his feet and try the more advanced – and dangerous – discipline known as skysurfing.
“There’s an adrenaline thing, and then there’s some other stuff that you find out along the way,” says Snyder, better known to his friends and family and the small but impassioned skysurfing community as “Kebe” (key-bee). “It ain’t all adrenaline. There’s something else where you’re connecting with something higher.”
Snyder became enamored with the idea of skydiving after seeing the X-Games in the mid-1990s, and he decided to give it a shot one day to temporarily escape a “weird girl situation.” Jumping out of planes quickly became a passionate hobby, and then he was exposed to skysurfing.
Skysurfers typically jump with a videographer and exhibit their skill and control by getting into rapid inverted spins of more than 220 rpm, then pulling themselves out of the spin. Skydivers usually need at least 200 jumps to develop the control necessary to strap on a board.
“I saw this guy Rob Harris spinning really fast with this smile on his face, this bliss,” Snyder recalls. “I was like, ‘What is he finding in there?’”
So he began a quest to find out.
It became an obsession. He would jump upwards of 15 times in a day when given the opportunity, and once jumping more than 1,000 times in a year. He tries not to think about how much he has invested in the hobby.
“I’ve done that math before and it’s crazy,” he says. “I came up with like a quarter of a million dollars one time and then stopped.”
Snyder became something of a skysurfing legend, competing at the highest level of the fringe sport. He won national championships and was an alternate for the X-Games before walking away from the sport for a decade starting in 2003.
During that period, skysurfing began to fall out of favor, in part because of more accessible and safer alternatives like wing suits, but also because many of the sport’s pioneers tragically died in skydiving accidents, including Harris – the legendary skysurfer whose video inspired Snyder.
The X-Games eventually dropped skysurfing, and the national and international competitions followed, but Snyder found his way back to the sport when his marriage went south.
“Now I’m doing it because I want to,” Snyder said, noting he jumps in part to “spin out the crazy stuff.”
Snyder is always eager to teach newcomers to the sport, but he recognizes skysurfing isn’t for just any adrenaline junky. They need to first get extensive skydiving experience, and familiarity with other board sports such as skateboarding or snowboarding are helpful.
The 1,000-foot free fall that precedes pulling the parachute provides a 45- to 60-second span during which Snyder is able to reach an almost meditative state of escapism.
“You’re in this high point where most people would think it’s a little chaotic and there’s always been this little balance for me,” he says. “You learn what a minute’s like, and that’s when you start to understand what the world’s really like. That minute you have to work with stretches out and becomes a relative thing.”
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