Beginning his career as an S&P 500 clerk at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, it wasn’t long before Michael Romanek had stepped up to trade Eurodollar futures. After getting hooked on the thrill of the floor – spending nearly a decade as a derivatives trader on both the CME and LIFFE – he made the natural progression to director level. And, after managing the alternative investment funds division of a large bank, has now settled down to run Rise Partners – a boutique consultancy for the hedge fund industry. However, while his work life may be less intense, he’s certainly making up for it at the weekends…
What’s a Halo jump?
Halo is an acronym for High Altitude: Low Opening. It’s a term borrowed from the Special Forces who use these jumps to insert small teams into remote locations, often across borders. Although it’s not a definitive term, ‘high altitude’ when related to skydiving is regarded as jumps from 30,000ft or above. ‘Low open’ is more subjective – but is usually around 3,000ft. However, some civilian Halo jumps have included openings as low as 500ft, which exceeds both national regulations and sound judgement. Only a few hundred civilians have ever jumped from 30,000ft or higher – and only about a dozen, including me, have done so wearing a wingsuit. To put it in context, that other ‘Gentlemen’s Club of Testosterone’ – climbing Mount Everest – has more then 4,000 members: doesn’t seem so exclusive now, does it?
Talk us through an ‘average’ jump?
On jump day, you arrive at 5am to prepare and put on your gear. No later than 6am, you are seated in the plane fully kitted up and breathing 100% aviation oxygen for the next hour on the Tarmac. This flushes your tissues of nitrogen so that you don’t get the bends on the flight to altitude on an unpressurised airplane.
After the pre-breathe, the plane takes off and the flight to altitude takes around 50 minutes. At 30,000ft, the jump door will open. You’ll be in temperatures from around -30ºC to -50ºC. On exit, look up and the sky really is bluer at this height. You’ll fly normally, but you will notice slightly less control as the air is thinner. On a normal ‘flat’ skydive from this height you’ll get 2-2 ½ minutes of freefall – add a wingsuit and this can exceed five minutes for the best flyers.
As you can imagine, if you could get out of a commercial airliner at cruise altitude and have a look around, the views are pretty impressive. On jumps in northern California, I have been able to clearly see clouds coming in over San Francisco Bay and at the same time look over my other shoulder and see the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
OK – I’m sold. How can I do it?
Well, it will take a lot of time and some serious commitment. For a Halo jump, there are three main requirements:
1) You need to be a licensed skydiver with at least 200 jumps under your belt
2) You have to obtain a FAA Class III Medical (or equivalent)
3) You need to attend a Hypobaric Training Session – where, in a pressure chamber, you experience hypoxia at high altitude and a simulated rapid decompression. One new term you’ll learn is TUC: ‘Time of Useful Consciousness’. It means the point at which you may still be awake, but will be no smarter than a cocker spaniel.
And then what about when you add the wingsuit...?
Depending on the country you have to have done 200-500 jumps before you can put on a wingsuit. Our fun-averse, rule-loving UK goes with 500, but you can train in other countries.
You might be thinking, ‘I’ve seen these guys on YouTube clips; I couldn’t do that; I’m no athlete.’ Actually, contrary to what I think when I hold in my stomach and flex up in the gym mirrors, neither am I. I’ve just chosen a hobby that’s more exciting than golf.
Any correlation between your career and your hobbies?
I’ve always received most satisfaction from activities where there’s an emphasis on being self-reliant and dependent on your own skills and judgement – whether it’s trading or skydiving. There’s certainly a correlation between effective risk management in both financial markets and the realm of extreme sports.
I don’t regard anything for which you can just show up, drop your credit card and do as an accomplishment. Granted, there are exciting things that you can experience as a result of dropping your credit card on the counter (yes, I know – insert your own Spearmint Rhino joke here), but real accomplishment is only achieved when the task requires something of yourself in either training, knowledge or experience.
My life-insurance rates have tripled. But there are only so many hours in a day when you can kill yourself.
020 7268 2455; risepartners.co.uk
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