Wingsuit Progression Series
A series covering WS skydiving, from your FFC through Exits, Skydiving with Others & Safety, by Matt Gerdes & Taya Weiss...
SDC Core, indoor and outdoor World Champions, talk frankly about their team dynamics and what it takes to be a success…
Each person brings their strengths, and sometimes weaknesses to the team, and it’s an ongoing relationship that we all work to maintain. We’re unified by a common desire to be better, and the hope that our efforts toward that will also involve winning from time to time. Individually, Steph runs the show, organizing everything. Jake is comic relief, as well as head chef. JRuss is the spokesperson, sometimes the hammer. Dusty is the family man who keeps the drama down. Rook brings airplanes, a healthy dose of sarcasm, and some really long arms. Sam Lendle (alternate) is runner up for comic relief, keeping it light and helping us remember we’re just falling out of planes. Blythe Jordan (packer/ master rigger) does all the things we need to stay safe.
Steph and JRuss were on a team in Dubai, and when we returned to the US, wanted to continue chasing VFS dreams. Tim McMaster and Derek Cox had been on that team and also moved back to the US at the same time, but were ready to move on to other endeavors. SDC Core picked up Dusty Hanks, and shortly after Ryan Risburg. Ryan was with the team about 1.5 years, but was forced to step back after a swooping injury. At that point we picked up Kai Kai Buckholz, who was with us for about a year, during which we won the 2016 World Meet. The debrief of that meet included a discussion from Kai that his new daughter needed more dad time, and so our alternate, Rook Nelson, stepped into a full time role. We’ve have this iteration since late 2016.
We’ve all done some level of stunt work for film, but Rook probably has the most, recently helping film for The Rock’s new movie, Rampage.
Try to hold the train wreck together long enough for the next comp. Which is only kind of a joke. Officially, we’re all on a quest to improve our flying, help grow the discipline, and slug it out with some of the best flyers in the world. We hope some of those encounters leave us victorious.
Collectively, we feel that VFS is the most challenging discipline in skydiving, so naturally that’s where we’d like to test ourselves. VFS offers an opportunity to be objectively judged on well defined criteria, while still allowing for creativity in engineering.
Everyone works in the industry, although I can’t say we’re all full time jumpers. Dusty runs a tunnel in Utah, Rook runs Skydive Chicago. Jake, Steph, and JRuss all coach full time. Finding time for training is a challenge, and our schedules fill up pretty fast. But that’s the way we all like it. Our year is very busy. We spent the winter running head-down warm up and tryout camps, we started team training again at the end of May. Between now and Australia we have 10 days of team training each month, a sequential world record attempt, night demo at Oshkosh Air Show (the USA’s biggest airshow), 200 way headdown world record attempts, Summerfest Boogie organizing, US Nationals, Skydive Chicago Rookiefest, and then off to Australia.
A lot of training, a healthy dose of talent, and an ongoing desire to test ourselves against other good flyers.
There’s definitely something to be said for just showing up. Keeping a team together is, at times, work. If you look at some of the top teams over the years, they’ve found a way to keep turnover to a minimum. Once you have a winning team, any change will be a big step back, no matter how strong the replacement flyer is. Keeping the same line up is a huge consideration.
Go into it knowing that it’s a relationship that you have to invest in to make successful. Give your full attention to not being the defensive person on the team. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes beyond counting, and taking each criticism personally will lead to you being the source of the toxic that kills the team.
taking each criticism personally will lead to you being the source of the toxic that kills the team
Don’t be discouraged at how difficult it seems in the beginning.
It is a great deal harder than anything any of us have done in this sport, and between the 6 of us, we’ve done most disciplines.
Like all other freefall disciplines, VFS has come a long way due to the tunnel. Skill levels have improved so much for so many people, that VFS can now be something that weekend jumpers can reasonably do and have fun. The 2005 test event had some of the best flyers in the world posting an average around 8. A decade later, averages hover around 22, with a record of 26.38. A lot of that can be credited to tunnel training.
The US Nationals this year will feature a test event in intermediate VFS. This category will have only head down flying, with a smaller dive pool and fewer rounds. We’re hoping this will make VFS feel more accessible to more people. If the perception of MFS is that it’s “entry level”, then that’s incorrect. It’s a difficult discipline in it’s own right, and if there’s something simpler about it, I can only say that there’s fewer people on the team , and that makes it easier. Intermediate VFS will definitely be easier than advanced or open, and again, that will hopefully bring more people to the discipline. Around the world, there generally aren’t enough people in the discipline to even support more than the open class. We’re hoping that defining a dive pool that’s considered introductory will give a little structure to people hoping to start VFS, and define a pathway that doesn’t make them feel like the discipline is too difficult to begin.
For sure. It’s a lot of work to get ready for either of those comps. Both in a short period of time means we won’t be seeing family or friends much, for a couple months. Normal life for us is juggling how we allocate our time, and packing those two events together means we get fairly out of balance for a while.
Certainly we’re biased here, but the transition from being a good VFS tunnel flyer, to being a good VFS skydiver, can be daunting, and seems to be a more difficult transition than some of the other indoor disciplines.
We were hoping for a rematch against the French team we had just faced in Montreal, but they weren’t able to attend. It was a well run meet and a great facility, but unfortunately for us, didn’t provide any serious competition. We all greatly enjoyed jumping into the tunnel from the access door they have at the top. Super fun.
Similar to all other competitions. Jump as much as we possibly can. For this meet in particular, put ourselves in the Caravan every day possible.
We’re all taking a couple days of vacation right after the World Meet, but then travel to Bahrain and get back to training quickly. We’ve already started flying more tunnel than we normally would at this time of year, to make sure we’re staying fresh on both.
UPT Micron (4), Sunpath Javelin (1) , PD canopies, Cypres, L&B altimeters, Cookie helmets, Vertical suits, and Liquid Sky suits. After so many years of jumping equipment before being on a sponsored team, we all had feelings about what equipment was the best for us. Our sponsors are a reflection of that experience.
In broad terms, our team receives free jumps, up to 1000 per year, and in return, we organize several large events, as well as countless days organizing when we’re not training.
In addition to organizing, I think we add a presence to the drop zone, which hopefully reflects professionalism and a culture of excellence. We do our best to work with jumpers of all skill levels, sharing with them some of the wisdom we’ve developed, in the hope that they’ll find success with their own goals.
They’re both great. It’s so fast in the tunnel, not wearing a rig allows things to happen at a really exciting pace. However, without doubt all of us would give up tunnel, if forced to choose.
After some disagreement, we arrived at round 7 of the 2016 World Meet. It was a very difficult round, but we had trained pretty extensively for that kind of round. It went very well, and was definitely a proud moment for all of us.