Skydiving just lost one of the greats. Not many modern skydivers and fans know how much Kimi contributed to modern skydiving and, from my perspective, especially to wingsuit flying in general.
When I met Kim Griffin she worked for the legendary Skydiving Magazine in DeLand, FL, USA as an assistant editor and journalist. Kimi was also professional skydiver having competed in US national level, teaching new skydivers and writing about her sport passionately. The year was 1999 and I had just started BIRDMAN® International Ltd., first company ever to design, manufacture and sell wing suits, and of course to teach newbies and coach those who started to gain more experience. I had just moved to Florida in order to have a full time presence for my never-seen-before wingsuits at one of the skydiving heavens of the world. I was a stranger with no name from Finland, I knew I had a great product and idea, but I knew nobody, I didn’t know the language nor the business environment, culture, nothing, so I needed best help for an almost an impossible mission. I still don’t know how I was able to convince Kimi to become BIRDMAN’s Business Manager (just a title, she was million times more, as you will soon see), but she agreed and that’s where our story starts…
I can not stress enough how different those times were compared to now. Wingsuits were non-existent, considered "a death trap in a straight jacket” as some put it, banned from drop zones and even illegal to use in some countries, like my home country, Finland. It’s fair to say wingsuits had a very bad rep, for a reason. Over the past 100 years, or from the beginning of skydiving era, wingsuits had been around, tried and tested with extremely bad results, more than often ending up in inventors death. The hostility and fear against wingsuits (and people who used them) was sometimes very depressing, but despite all this, Kimi loved flying and had amazing faith that we could turn the tide if we had a chance to show people.. and that’s what we did, as a driving force against all the odds.
I had started the project and the company couple of years prior with the little hard earned savings I had from my previous life. I had a manufacturing in Europe and sales and marketing in the USA. BIRDMAN® hired two employees, one who was supposed to manage the wingsuit production in Europe and Kimi doing everything else with me in the USA. Being the first wingsuit manufacturer was complicated business, complicated business.
Some of the things we managed to accomplish in these pioneering times included, in no particular order or importance; PR & marketing, which included designing ads, public speaking, traveling to DZ’s all around the world giving lectures, FFC’s (First Flight Course) to customers and students, BMI (BirdMan Instructor) and BMCI (BirdMan Chief Instructor) courses for the more advanced skydivers, measuring people, taking orders, all CS (Customer Support) stuff, writing flying manuals and communicating to the Parachute Associations in all continents, designing and hosting the worlds first wing suit specific website and information center, she modeled for the advertisements and magazine covers and stories, shipping products to all over the world, designing new wingsuits, test jumping them, test jumping different wing suit specific gear, harnesses, parachutes, altimeters, AAD’s, accessories, designing and selling worlds first Tracking pants (called the BirdMan Pantz) for BASE jumpers, T-shirts and even underwear. Damn it was fun! And tough. And dangerous! So many friends and strangers died in those days but there was always more love than fear in the air. The dome was the only limit.
While we didn’t do all this alone (we had amazing amounts of help from some great people within and from outside the skydiving industry) Kimi’s spirit and passion for wingsuit flying was never ending and absolutely essential during those pioneering days of modern wingsuit era. Kimi taught hundreds of skydivers to fly in her career, she served thousands of customers and played the most important role in so many areas of life and business that I dare to say the wingsuit scene would not be today what it is without Kimi.
Now that you are flying above the dome and you can land without using a parachute (which was always our dream), know that what you left behind will never be forgotten. Thousands upon thousands have been given a change to taste the real flight because of you and hundreds of millions of fans in all continents can admire the art of human flying, giving everybody dreams they never had before.
You were strong physically and mentally, you were book-, and street-smart, you were graciously beautiful and cute at the same time, you had a gift of seeing and hearing, your thoughts and words came easy to any publication and your compassion and love for life was so visible and strong that despite of your size, the whole room listened in ave and inspiration when you talked.
For a little girl of your size, you did a gigantically heroic job!
You will be missed, thank you for everything Kimi.
With sincere condolences to family and friends.