Published: May 21, 2017
In 2007, Skydive Carolina hosted the Family of Freaks boogie which brought together all of the skydiving fraternities of the day (Rodriguez Brothers, Pink Mafia, Flying Hellfish and others). One of the LO's was Eric Deren of Team Mandarin. Eric had done such a great job, we invited him back for SkyFest in 2008. Eric was unable to attend, but he recommended this young, 22-year-old free flyer who not many people had heard of, but had skills and brought big fun. That guy? Simon "Bones" Palacio.
Since that year, Simon has become the original gangster of CarolinaFest as the only LO to have organized at every single event.
With this being his 10th consecutive year, we sat down with Simon to get to know him beyond the jumpsuit and as it turns out... he has an amazing story.
Photo by Ben Nelson
Section I: Personal Questions
Give us the skinny. How old are you, where are you from and what's your blood type? ;-)
I'm 32 years old (I think), turning 33 on June 10th. I was born and raised in Miami before ending up in Philadelphia to finish out high school. My parents were first and second generation immigrants of Spanish descent. Through a series of tumultuous childhood events, I ended up a homeless youth by 12. I spent my teen years working jobs where I could to keep putting myself through school, finding living situations in boys shelters and group homes, and eventually doing a foster home for two years until graduation. My first language as a child was Spanish, but growing up in American schools quickly made English my primary language. And the blood type is B+.
What were you like as a kid and do you have any siblings?
In my earlier childhood, I was a prankster and clown. I took nothing seriously. I got suspended a lot in middle school for organized pranks, food fights, hacking the school computers, etc. I also relentlessly chased girls. My earliest memories from childhood where of trying to chase girlfriends and kiss all the girls on the playgrounds. After shit hit the fan and I ended up on my own, I really switched gears into becoming a survivalist and my personality took a turn for the serious. I got serious about working long hours, saving as much money as I could, and trying to get as much school as I could. I lived by developing 1 and 5 year plans to improve my situation. I have one blood sister that ended up on a different path, after going into homelessness we lost touch for about 15 years. Apparently now we're going to go backpack Asia together in July. I also have two foster sisters from Philadelphia that I stay close to.
What did your family think of you getting into skydiving?
One of the greatest parts about growing up the way I did was the absolute autonomy and independence. I was 19 years old, active duty in the Navy, and didn't really have to worry much about what anyone would think. I remember my foster parents thinking it was pretty cool, I even talked my foster mother into doing a tandem and I got to shoot video back in 2005. Some years later when she turned 18, I got to take a foster sister skydiving as the tandem instructor. I remember showing them a video of a base jumping accident I got into down in Brazil in 2008, my foster father shrugged and said, "I figured something like that would happen eventually".
Were there any indicators or activities you did as a kid that indicated you would lead the life your living as an engineer and as a skydiver?
Engineering yes, skydiving kind of came out of nowhere. As part of that survivalist mentality, I enlisted in the Navy right out of high school for their nuclear power program so that I'd get some years experience in nuclear power operations and a free ride to college for a high paying degree. The skydiving thing sort of came about by accident. But I suppose I did always buy a summer season pass to six flags while in high school.
You always bring the fun, but turns our you're a pretty smart guy; your Facebook profile of jobs worked reads like a list of dream jobs for nerds, counterbalanced with photos of naked skydives and the descriptor of how to pronounce your name as "Doosh Bag." How do you describe your personality and who do you get it from?
I'm a very work hard and play hard kind of guy. I'm not much into spiritual things and I'm very much a political moderate. I don't really read fiction much, for me, a fun read is the Economist, Wall Street Journal, and an assortment of foreign policy think tank publications, law blogs, and technical brewing books. My religion is logic, reason, and the scientific method. I don't watch any television, none of it, not tv-shows or netflix series. But I'm also very against taking myself too seriously, we've all got a pretty short time on this planet so you've got to live it up as best as you can while you've got time. Where did that come from? I think when you're trying to take yourself from homelessness to success, your best friend has to be a very calculated approach to life.
What are you looking forward to this year (aside from CarolinaFest, of course?)
I'm looking forward to seeing a really big women's head up world record! I'm taking 3 weeks in July to go backpack Japan, South Korea, and China, so that should be quite an adventure. I'm looking forward to a few cool trips coming up, Calgary, NYC, Louisville, Memphis, Costa Rica. I get a fair amount of cool travel from my job and I like it a lot. I'm also looking forward to growing two beehive colonies, I'm going to have so much honey next summer.
Section II - Skydiving Questions
As the Brits would say, tell us about your kit. What canopy do you choose to fly, container you choose to sit in and all the rest? Insert your sponsor shoutouts!
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Velocity 79
Reserve: PD Optimum 126
Container: Sun Path Javelin Legacy
AAD: Cypres 2
Altimeter: Alti-2 Neptune
The average career span for most skydivers is five years... you've been at this for a long time. Tell us when you made your first jump and under what circumstance did you decide to make that jump?
It was labor day weekend in 2003 and I had a long weekend free. I took a flight to visit a high school girlfriend in Maine who suggested we go for a skydive at a dropzone she read you could camp at. So I accidentally stumbled on the Tiki boogie at Skydive New England to set up a tent and do a tandem skydive the next morning. We got raging drunk and ended up running around naked with a bunch of skydivers. For me, this is was my first view into what skydivers were like. The next morning my girlfriend was too hungover to jump and I was committed to follow through. I thought the whole thing was pretty neat and originally didn't think too much about continuing on. I took the video from the tandem back to my military base to show a boot camp buddy and told him all about my adventure. He suggested we immediately sign up for a class and get our licenses. The funny thing is that had he not insisted, I probably wouldn't have signed up for AFF and yet, I ended up signing his B license as an AFF instructor and he doesn't jump anymore. The dropzone became a sort of family culture I wasn't used to having, but really enjoyed being around. Especially, before camera phones and social media, when it involved a lot of running around naked ;)
You are the original gangster of CarolinaFest having organized at every single one. Having seen them all, can you share your thoughts on some of your favorite aspects that you've enjoyed through the years (favorite jumps you've made).
CarolinaFest sees a LOT of visitors from other places around the country and world. This year being my 10th year, what has really stuck with me and keeps me excited about returning every year, are the locals. There's a lot of effort on the part of the local skydiver community to put together the event and make the event as welcoming to visitors as they can. The event goes a long way to polish up and highlight how great Skydive Carolina is, but Skydive Carolina isn't just a hanger, packing floor, and landing area, it's the humble, kind, and welcoming hosts behind it. The recipe they've put together for that great welcoming flavor is very unique among the boogies going on. My favorite jumps? Definitely all the spaceball and tube jumps! For anyone reading this, I need more tubes by the way.
Of all the things that go on during the week of CarolinaFest, what aspect of the event do you look forward to every year?
We jump hard. I love that the ball is rolling at 6am and skydivers get an extra long day of jumping as a result. When my alarm goes off at 5:30am and it's a clear sunny day, I know that we're about 30 minutes from non-stop jump jump jump until sunset. I'm going to spend the whole day in a high-speed frenzy of putting together cool skydives, making new friends, and getting lots of high fives until the sun goes down and that first cold beer gets opened with your new buddies.
You've been touting the High Five belt leading into this year's CarolinaFest. What's that about?
It's been long understood that I'm the undisputed champion of Carolinafest high fives. Apparently Zach Sabel thinks he has what it takes to challenge the title. I've seen his high fives and they're nothing more than slapfight among the blind. But I'll give him a shot this year at Carolinafest. I'm always happy to do some schooling. Stay tuned, the high five show down is coming.
Most memorable jump you've ever made that brings a smile to your face when you think about it?
There are a lot to pick from. On this day I'll pick the first head up world record. It was a long road to get there. There were a staggering number of naysayers along the way that ridiculed and said it couldn't be done. Even as my Texas mates and I were heading off to Arizona, plenty laughed at us and said there was no way that something bigger than a 20 way could be built. Even among the event organizers there was a sense of doubt and uncertainty. And yet we very quickly built a 40+ way. That first day came with a proud sense of validation that my vision was right. Skydiving can build big sitfly formations. The very next day we broke that record with a 50+ way. Now we're up to 72.
Photo by Jessie Vander Schauw Brownlow
What keeps you motivated to still be jumping so hardcore today?
It's a couple things. That 100-way. I won't rest until we build a 100-way sitfly formation. And we probably could have done it at the last record if the weather had been better for us. And also I just really enjoy an airbath on a hot day in my shorts and t-shirt. There are few things better than a couple play jumps with your friends on a hot day with big puffy clouds in the sky and a late night drinking beer with skydivers. But yeah, I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with myself after we get that 100-way. I worry I'll lose a big motivation and end up skydiving a lot less. I'm going to need inspiration on a new sport-shaking project.
Jump you'd like to do over again?
Some years ago I was at a little dropzone in Vermont, a little Cessna DZ just south of Burlington. I happened to be there in the fall right when all the leaves were changing orange, yellow, and red. The dropzone is situated across the Adirondack mountains of NY right along Lake Champlain. It was absolutely beautiful skydiving. I'd like to see that again.
Section III - Beer
Watching you on Facebook, it's evident you enjoy making and consuming beer. Where did this interest come from?
From a pretty young age, I discovered that Sam Adams beers were simply much better than a lot what else was available out there. I developed a taste for a higher quality, more flavorful product. By the time I was of age and living in Virginia in 2007, we had a beer bar that specialized in a large selection of imports. My friends and I were every Wednesday regulars learning about (drinking) all sorts of traditional styles, brewing cultures, and regional ingredients from around the world. It was an expensive hobby, some of these obscure imports weren't cheap and I was a full on beer snob. When I left the military and started into college on the GI bill, my budget could no longer afford the level of beering I was used to. For my birthday Penelope bought me a surprise homebrewing kit. It was basic, but it suddenly allowed me to try and recreate all the things I had learned for a fraction of the budget. As long as I learned everything there was to know about brewing and saved up for some new accessories, I could brew everything I wanted to have for cheap.
Of all the beers you've made, what's the best creation you've made and what's your absolute favorite beer both in the craft world and commercial beer world?
I'm very much into the monastic brewing. If I was the last person on earth, I'd pretty much brew entirely like a Belgian trappist monastery. If I've got my hands on the strain of yeast from the Chimay monastery I can make one hell of a Belgian Tripel with it. The other style I lust for are the Abbots, the 10's and 12's, here in the US we've started the trend of calling these beer styles "Quads". If you want to see where my heart is at, I'd recommend the St Bernardus Abt 12, Rochefort 10, and the Chimay Blue Grand Reserve. There's also a brewery in Pennsylvania called Victory that makes an outstanding Belgian Tripel they call the Golden Monkey.
What's the one beer every human must try?
I suggest doing a tour of the traditional Belgian Trappists, a sampling of the brews from Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, Achel, and La Trappe. And do so with a good reading of the history of monastic brewing. These Cistercian monks have been brewing these recipes for hundreds of years for the purposes of religious fasting, providing a safe alternative to drinking water in the middle ages, and generating revenues to support social services in the late Renaissance. These monks faced enormous challenges through all the centuries of European wars.
Making beer can be messy... worst beer disaster?
One time some years ago, some friends and I decided we'd try to make a MAN beer. A beer for the real men of men. It was supposed to be a beer that only a real man could drink and only the manliest could go back for seconds for. We ended up brewing a smokey barbecue sauce beer that was like 15% abv. I'm not going to tell you it was bad, it was definitely like drinking a glass of potent smokey barbecue sauce, but only a couple of us more stubborn manly beer drinkers stuck with it and committed to finishing off the whole batch. That was not easy, and that whole period of beer drinking was kind of a disaster ;) It was 5 gallons worth.
Section IV - Fast Facts
It's got to be bbq ribs or traditional sushi. And schnitzel. Favorite junk food? Candy. I have a problem with candy. I've got a sweet tooth.
Favorite food that you enjoy that most people would consider disgusting?
I've had some sweetbreads and lamb brains I've really enjoyed.
Favorite place you've visited:
The west coast of Ireland, Bruges, Munich (Oktoberfest), and Buenos Aires
Place you want to visit that you haven't been to yet?
I want to plan a backpacking trip across the Caucasus mountains, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia. Summer 2018.
When I'm hungry and someone slow is holding me up from eating.
What you said as a kid: "When I grow up I want to be ___________________."
A psychiatrist. No idea, for some reason I really thought I wanted to do that as a kid.
Something about you that few people know about and would be surprised to learn?
I spent years working as a nuclear plant operator on submarines. We did a lot of missions spying on Iran in the Persian Gulf. I got really good at driving a highly enriched nuclear reactor like a rental car. I kind of miss the controls.
Best book you've ever read?
Fiction - The Hobbit
Non-Fiction - Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation by Chris White
If you were to write a book, what would be the title?
I think you've got me here, I have no idea!
Most used app on your smartphone?
Google News and Pandora.