We are not all, by nature, very competitive. I wanted to learn to skydive so I could show off about it and went to do so with very little knowledge about what might actually be involved. This may well be a familiar tale. As with many others freefall made quite an impression on me. I wanted to be good, I wanted to be able to fly my body the way the people in the videos could, joyful and effortless. A little bit at a time I began to realise how much I had to do.
Time passes and things progress. There is always something new to aspire to and the next level to achieve. Learn to fly on your belly, get good, learn to freefly, get good, join a team, and get good. These days, getting good means wind tunnel. At the pointy end the standard is so high that tunnel time is the most practical way to be there fast enough. Remember though, being able or even great at flying your body does not make you a good skydiver, you are but on the right path.
Years later and events have conspired to bring me to the World Challenge 2012. However, I fly camera for our team so for this competition my main responsibilities are to hold a bottle of water and accurately operate a watch. With eighty teams from twenty or so countries this has become a true international competition. It is a big place but still full of people and there are a lot of four-way teams. Formation skydiving remains largely a mystery to me. I cannot tell you the difference between an accordion and a doughnut or a star and a stairstep, but from the outside looking in I can see that at the top the training is serious and the competition fierce. These people mean business, resplendent in their matching suits and decorated with the logos of their sponsors. I am deeply under qualified to comment on the form of any of the categories in the belly competition, but for my money the team coming dead last appeared to be having the most fun.
There is good value in a skydiving team. At some point your skills will plateau, you will stop advancing at the rate you were hoping for and be looking for something to push it along. Joining a team or forming one with your friends will help. Wether you are razor sharp, official and endorsed or a rag-tag bunch of misfits cobbled together at the last minute, if you set aside the competition and look closely you will see that the rewards remain the same. You will likely bitch and moan at each other while training and it will probably cost you a bunch of money, but you may find you improve faster than you ever thought possible, you might find it is more fun that you were expecting. Or if you are lucky, in an occasional golden moment, just between yourselves and without need of words, you will know that this time around, you killed it.
The standard in the freefly competition was eye bunglingly high. The teams involved represent some of the best flyers on the planet and even to the casual observer it is clear that these people are really rather good at what they do. The skills on display can only be learned after many, many hours in the tunnel, piece by piece, minute by minute and so a special mention should be made for the handful of competitors who are not tunnel employees or professional coaches for the time, effort and indeed hard cash they have had to put in to fly at this level.
Tunnel flying is for the time being still relatively small scale and the main players for the most part either know each other already or thanks to the modern marvel of little videos on the internet are aware of each others business. Even so, the styles vary. In an artistic category one can never be sure what exactly are the judges are looking for so everyone has an angle. Some teams opted for ambitious routines with moves that are new and spectacular but maybe too difficult to pull off in every round, whereas others brought something they could fly consistently but have a slightly lower technical level.
With the competition all told Julien Hauseux and Alex Gillard of Aircapitale Aerokart took the bronze Medals home to France for the second year running by smoothly flying an impressive routine. The U.S. team from Paraclete XP earned silver again with a new line up of Alex Verner and Josh D’Annunzio, both still in their teens and bringing with them a bear-hug flip twist that for me was biggest move of the whole show. Home team Bodyflight took the gold, Adam Mattacola this time flying with Skywalker Håvard Flaat and demonstrating all the elements required to be at the top of the pile - a full minute of well planned, difficult moves executed accurately every time.
So what have we learned? In 2011 there were seven teams in the pro category, this year thirteen. With the constant increase in the popularity of indoor skydiving and many tunnels either in the planning stages or already nearing completion the standard is set only to rise. Some people like nothing better than to win and few will argue that medals look best in gold, but you do not have to come first to evolve as a team or an individual. This is a great competition for our sport, not to prove who is the best but because the flyers, coaches and instructors involved all have the opportunity to get together and see each other fly, swap notes and share their funny stories. In 2012 we all saw something new, everyone went home with a headful of ideas and in two days tunnel flying got bigger and got better. See you next year.