When Lossiemouth’s Ewan Cowie decided to take the plunge and try his hand at jumping from aeroplanes, little did he realise that his hobby would become his living.
Ewan began skydiving at the age of 18 in 2002 while a student at Edinburgh University, where he saw a demonstration skydive. He immediately signed up for the next course and now shares his passion with girlfriend Jessica, travelling the globe and taking pictures of world-famous landmarks – and all with a stunning bird’s eye view.
Ewan said: “During freshers’ week I saw a demonstration skydive when I happened to be walking through the Meadows. I remember seeing these people falling from a small plane, and then opening their parachutes and landing in the park. I was amazed!
“I started skydiving for fun, but after a few years I started competing and also working in the sport, filming tandem skydives.”
Ewan eventually became an instructor while also working as a project manager for a renewable energy company in Edinburgh, after graduating with a BSc in geology and geography and an MSc in remote sensing and satellite imagery.
He finally made the switch to becoming a full-time professional skydiver around nine years ago – and hasn’t looked back since.
“While it’s not always been easy, I can honestly say that I’ve never regretted the decision for a second,” he said.
Ewan, who is also a keen climber, now lives in Spain, where the weather is more favourable for regular skydiving.
“When I first left the UK, I actually moved to France, but yes the weather was a large factor! I was based there for a few years, and then moved to Dubai to film the Jetman Dubai project, and when this was put on hold I moved back to France.
“I moved to Spain just over two and a half years ago, to a town called Empuriabrava, which hosts one of the biggest dropzones in Europe. The town also has a vertical wind tunnel, which is a type of skydiving simulator, so it’s a great place to work.
“I have been coming to Empuriabrava for many years, first as a fun jumper with my friends, then for work, so it was an easy decision to finally move here permanently.
“I know everyone here, and it’s a great vibe, with most of my friends being skydivers. I work full-time on the dropzone in the summer, and I’m freelance in the winter, where I travel more to events and for projects.
“My girlfriend Jessica also works at the dropzone in Empuriabrava. She hasn’t been skydiving as long as me, but she similarly found a passion for it, and left her ‘normal’ HR job in Paris because she loves skydiving, and the more relaxed work/life balance that can come with it.
“For me it’s a great balance and a great quality of life compared to my stressful previous job.”
Ewan’s skydive travels have taken him to many stunning locations, and narrowing down a handful of his favourites is tricky.
“I’d say the first has to be the pyramids in Egypt. I’ve been there three times now and I still pinch myself each time that we have the opportunity to do this,” he said.
“Second is probably the Maldives. Staying at an all-inclusive five-star resort on a tiny island, and jumping and landing at the beach next to your villa, is pretty spectacular, and the views were out of this world.
“Third would probably be jumping out of a helicopter at 5am just before sunrise (for air traffic reasons) over the Sugar Loaf in Rio, Brazil, and landing on a deserted Copacabana beach. We even had a private close-up flight around the Christ statue on the way up.
“All three of these were actually completed in 2021.
I love jumping in exotic locations, like islands, beaches, mountains or over cities
“Close runners up are the dunes and badlands of Namibia, a tiny island in the Great Barrier Reef, the Palm in Dubai, Diani beach in Kenya and several other beautiful places.
“I love jumping in exotic locations, like islands, beaches, mountains or over cities. As a photographer, the location can add a very special and spectacular background to an already interesting activity, and result in amazing photos and videos.
“The experience for me at the end of the day is also very special, and I think it’s important to take a step back sometimes and appreciate that.”
You really have to fly your body, by deflecting the air in very specific ways
Ewan works with a wide range of people, from professional skydivers, world champions, fun divers and first-timers.
“Skydiving is a very personal thing, as it is generally carried out, at least initially, to conquer your fear,” he says. “But in general almost everyone comes down with a huge smile on their face after one of the biggest adrenaline rushes it’s possible to have.
“I’d say that around 99 per cent of people are glad they did it, but of course not everyone wants to take it up as a sport, and that’s totally fine.
“I love to share imagery of skydiving with the general public, but I know that it’s not for everyone. If I’m honest, I think that’s partially what makes it so interesting and special.”
Ewan says skydiving is sometimes likened to a mix between gymnastics and synchronised swimming, and has many technical aspects.
“You really have to fly your body, by deflecting the air in very specific ways, to have the maximum control,” he says.
“Learning to fly your body is not particularly intuitive for most people, so even to fall stable at the beginning is an achievement, and as you progress, every step is another challenge and another achievement, it’s addictive.
“But once you are good at it, the things you can achieve together are incredible, such as the world record of 200 people all joining up together in freefall while falling at 200 miles per hour.
“My job is even more technical, as I have the cameras to prepare, manage and jump with on my helmet, while in a pretty extreme environment. I have to concentrate on flying my body as well as aiming the cameras and taking pictures.”
Conditions also play their part in an enjoyable jump, but with years of experience they’re unlikely to affect Ewan’s nerves now.
Ewan says: “You generally aren’t meant to jump through clouds or in bad weather, but sometimes it happens.
“Falling through a thick cloud full of hail is not a particularly nice experience, as you are hitting the hard ice particles with any exposed skin at anywhere between 120-200 mph. That can leave a mark!
“I’m not really nervous about my safety at all any more, except a tiny bit if I haven’t jumped for a while. Nowadays I only feel nervous if I have a specific job to perform, and only one chance to get it right, such as filming a competition or world record.”
Travel is definitely a highlight of the job – but it has few downsides.
“I am rarely completely on holiday but I guess this is true for most freelancers,” he said.
“As a photographer, especially, I have a huge amount of editing and post-production work to do behind the scenes, and it can be difficult to avoid being in the situation of always having some of this work needing finished off.”
Pyramids back on the calendar
Despite a regularly packed calendar, Ewan has no plans to slow down and has a busy 2022 planned.
“My calendar is starting to fill up for 2022, which is awesome,” he said. “I start the year off in Brazil, then potentially Mexico. After that I have an event in the Seychelles, and then I’m mostly staying in Spain for the summer, except to go to Chicago for the world record in August.
“I’ll probably go to jump over the pyramids again in October as well.
I believe in always trying to progress and improve, and the best way to do that is to challenge yourself
“There are still many interesting places I’d like to jump, and records to film. I would also like to work in film and television, filming skydiving stunt scenes, as I think those sort of jobs would be extremely interesting,” he adds.
“I filmed one advert for Renault, and I really enjoyed the experience. I believe in always trying to progress and improve, and the best way to do that is to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone.”
Freedom. Flying. Fun.
So can skydiving be done by anyone? Absolutely, said Ewan.
“One of the great things about skydiving is that it’s accessible to almost everyone, especially a tandem skydive. Its like a rollercoaster in some ways; the safety is taken care of by someone else, so you just have to enjoy the ride.
“I’ve seen everyone from 90-year-olds to paraplegics do a tandem skydive. So to get the full benefit, you just need to have the drive to do it in the first place, trust in your instructor, and be ready to enjoy yourself.”
Three words to describe how you feel once you’re airborne?
“Freedom. Flying. Fun.”
For more information on learning to skydive go to britishskydiving.org