Naomi Kotzee skydiving at Dubai’s Palm Drop Zone – Photo by Max Haim
A Little About One of Our Favorite Skydiving Instructors
Naomi Kotzee is an absolute gem of a woman. She is, inarguably, the most recognizable person on the dropzone, with her sunny smile, her thunderous laugh and her indefatigably friendly, boisterous personality. There couldn’t be a more perfect person to have next to you to face the challenge of learning to skydive: not only is she a singularly experienced athlete, she’s an inveterate teacher and a truly kind, heartfelt human being. And you’re going to love her story!
Naomi’s history in skydiving starts just after her mom turned 40. At the time, the elder Kotzee was working with a guy who convinced her to make a skydive. She didn’t want to make the jump alone, so she convinced her daughters to come along — rules be damned.
“I was 14 and my sister was 16,” she explains, “and in South Africa, you can skydive at 16 with parental consent. My mother actually signed my papers. On my 15th birthday, we had my birthday at the dropzone and I ‘came out’ if you want to call it that. The dropzone manager was surprised, but he was, like — well, you’ve got a B license already. I guess there’s nothing we can do about it, so just keep on.”
Where Naomi’s mom and sister left the sport after around 30 skydives, the bug bit Naomi hard. Her mom helped her out by putting her through AFF and gifting Naomi her first skydiving rig, but there was plenty of financial uphill hoofin’ left to do towards a skydiving career. The teenager’s mind was made up, so she set to work.
“I was packing parachutes for probably about 13 years for money just to get myself in the sky,” Naomi remembers. “It was pretty tough. It wasn’t easy to get in the sky with no [instructional] ratings.”
Luckily, that was a solvable problem. Many, many pack jobs later, Naomi picked up her South African Jumpmaster rating, then her AFF Instructor rating (in 2006). With that rating in the bag, the frequency of her skydiving accelerated quickly. She toyed with the idea of a college degree (in graphic design and advertising), but she abandoned it quickly and went right back to her first love: professional skydiving.
When Naomi had about 1,500 jumps, she got a far-flung job offer she couldn’t refuse: to be one of the female indoor skydiving instructors, in Abu Dhabi. She, of course, took it. There was no skydiving at the time in the country because the regional industry was busy building up Skydive Dubai, so she didn’t jump out of a plane for almost half a year — but she did a lot of tunnel time, which is worth its weight in gold.
“I had a lot of freedom in the tunnel,” she says. “I could do whatever I wanted. I could run it by myself and just play. That kind of thing is unheard of now.”
In time, she moved to do the same job in Dubai — and then skydiving came back into the mix.
“They had just opened up the first Dubai Parachuting Cup competition, where I had the opportunity to film the South African formation Skydiving team at the time” she remembers. “And after that competition, they were running helicopters and we were jumping out of them on every single day off we had.”
After about six months of working at the iFly tunnels, she went to join the highly regarded skydiving instructor team at Skydive Dubai. She was there for about 10 months or so when she got the call she’d been waiting for: a fantastic job, working at a royal’s private tunnel while meanwhile instructing AFF for three days a week and aerial videography at Dubai’s famous Palm Drop Zone for another 3 days a week. She did that until the Palm Drop Zone management decided to keep her all to themselves.
“They treated me really well,” she says. “In our spare time, [the instructor team] could do all the training we wanted, and the desert drop zone helped us out quite a lot with training as well.”
The outcome of that was pretty cool: Dubai supported Naomi and a few of the other instructors to compete as an unofficial team at the US Nationals, in 2012, in the Vertical Formation Skydiving Discipline. The team was called Blue Collar (“because we were the workers and not the actual sponsored team”), but they did brilliantly: 2nd place; as a guest team competing as Intermediates.
“After we got back from that, all the members of our team got moved into special positions on the dropzone,” she says. “They made me a permanent load organizer for a few years. It was quite crazy and awesome. If it weren’t for that, I definitely wouldn’t be as comfortable in the sky and around skydivers as I am today.”
As you might imagine, a dropzone in the Middle Eastern desert is an unpleasant place to be in the heat of summer. Per that phenomenon, Skydive Dubai takes a summer break. During Naomi’s 2016 summer vacation, she was inspired to head to the other side of the planet — and got a ticket to America. She headed to a cute little dropzone called Skydive Midwest.
“It was really awesome. Keith George and his wife, Megan, run it,” she muses. “For the past three years, I have been hanging out there — not working, because then I wouldn’t be able to go back — for months at a time, just to enjoy the company and do organizing for them.” She punctuated her time at Skydive Midwest by chasing world records (the first head-up World record ever in Arizona first, then the 164-way head-down World record at Skydive Chicago in 2015).
This year, however, our beloved Naomi is staying closer to home. She explains that she’s drawn to spend more time with her family in South Africa, to slow down a little and to contribute her plethora of hard-won skills to her home country’s skydiving community. Luckily for us, she’s chosen here — Skydive Mossel Bay — to settle in and do just that.
“During all my travels over the past couple of years, I’ve been jumping at Mossel Bay and organizing here,” she smiles. “I just fell in love with the place. It is so nice and chill. There is a beautiful sea here. The view from the dropzone is one of the most incredible skydiving views I’ve ever experienced. It is a really beautiful place to live and to jump. The people are super friendly. I’m absolutely loving it.”
The feeling is absolutely mutual, Naomi! We couldn’t be prouder or happier to have you in the “family.”