WOW! Tiny nation Finland set an 80-way record!
As a newcomer to the Arizona Challenge it was actually very daunting walking out into the packing shed on day one. With the vast majority of participants returning from years past and many fresh from the Spring Fling in Perris I knew that this was not going to be just another casual big-way weekend at the dropzone. What made my first Challenge even more exciting was that I was going along with my father, Brent Findlay.
The skill level was high; all Challengers come from a strong competition FS background with significant big-way experience. Coming from Australia, it was great being exposed to the strong culture of competition in the United States, with many gearing up for the 2017 competition season and plotting their path towards the nationals later this year. This melting pot of experience and competition culture is what allows elite events like the Arizona Challenge to be such a great success.
This was the second big-way event I had attended in the United States with my father. We were here almost two years previously to the day for the 119-way Australian record. A few of the 2017 Challengers were actually on that jump as friends of Australia.
The 2017 Challenge was led by Skydive Arizona’s Airspeed Team captained by Niklas Hemlin with Ari Perelman, Mikhail Markine and Thiago Gomes along with assistance from some very special guest organisers; Josh Hall from Skydive Elsinore as well as last minute ring-ins who know a thing or two about FS, Eliana Rodriguez and Craig Girard who are all Airspeed alumni themselves and brought with them a wealth of knowledge … oh, and I couldn’t forget Mark “#wheresMark” Kirkby. This year the goal (which was unveiled on the final day to the Challengers) was to build a 78-way Phoenix Flower formation with an 8-way in-out base and a maze of cats in all orientations built off it. This was not going to be easy.
To get everyone ready in the lead up to our attempts at the Phoenix Flower (which at this stage had not been unveiled to any of us) we spent three days practicing the skills the group needed. This meant in-outs, in-facing cats, out-facing cats and a range of other fun skydives which put everyone’s skills to the test. What was great about this event was that not a lot of explanation was needed about how we needed to fly the basics. We were all experienced. We knew what we were doing and our coaches knew it too.
Day one was cut short with only one jump being made by everyone due to wind. Niklas ran a tight ship though and had everyone there early Saturday, ready to go early - 6.30am early! We made seven jumps this day, two plane 18-20 way formations from the Otter and Skyvan. Sunday we woke up and put lessons from the day before to work on some very nice 38 - 40 way formations; it was great fun being able to pull together multi-point formations of this size and complexity.
After three successful days of large, complex formations, a few evenings at the Bent Prop Saloon and a party at Bekie’s place the team was feeling confident! Those day one nerves had calmed down and we were ready go. We had made some great new friends and everyone knew that they had earned their slot for the Challenge skydive. We all eagerly anticipated the grand unveiling by Niklas on Monday morning.
When we arrived at the dropzone in the morning the dive plan and slots were on the board surrounded by a sizeable crowd. C15 out of the right trail Otter for me, A12 in the left trail Otter for Dad. It was a short dive down to the base on jump one. Jump two I got to touch Christina in freefall. Jump three our sector built. Jump four was close too with just a couple of people not quite in formation before break off. We were getting close.
Just another jump or two and we would have had it, but due to one serious injury on landing and a couple of dust devils which threw a couple of people around the landing area, everyone’s tolerance for risk was plummeting. Like the skydivers we all are, we cracked open some beers and called it a weekend. It was not that the Challenge was too great, but that we just ran out of time!
Niklas and the team, thank-you for a great weekend, I’ll certainly be back in the future. Airspeed - good luck at the Nationals later in the year. The Australian Parachute Federation is looking forward to hosting all those who qualify for the next WPC on the Gold Coast!
Photos and video by David French, George Katsoulis, John Lyman, Jason Peters, Terry Schumacher & David Wybenga. More photos & video: SkydivingPhotography.com