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International, independent, e-magazine on skydiving, BASE & tunnel

Catching up with Katja Larinen, freestylist

Katja Larinen
Katja Larinen

FinOne are a freestyle team with performer Katja Larinen and Matti Mertala on video. They have been flying together for 14 years and are passionate, creative and talented. They are enthusiastic and friendly; a joy to watch and a pleasure to talk to. We asked Katja to tell us more about what it is to be a top freestyle competitor…

FinOne Competition History

2001 The Finnish Nationals, 3rd
2002, 2003 & 2007 The Finnish Nationals, 2nd (no nationals in freestyle since 2007)
2004 World Championships, Boituva, Brazil, 9th
2005 European Championships, Stupino, Russia, 4th
2006 World Championships, Gera, Germany, 8th
2008 World Championships, Maubeuge, France, 7th
2010 World Championships, Menzelinsk, Russia, 5th
2011 World Cup, Saarlouis, Germany, 5th; European Championships, 4th
2012 World Championships, Dubai, 5th
2013 DIPC, Dubai, 2nd
2014 World Championships, Prostejov, Czech Republic, 4th

How long have you two been doing freestyle together?

Matti was my instructor when I started skydiving on a static line course, in 1998. At that time he was filming freestyle with another girl. Then she stopped and I started jumping with him. At the start I knew nothing, and he taught me a lot. Right from the beginning of skydiving, I never did anything else than freestyle, this is what I like to do.

If you don’t have a coach, how do you get better?

We try to do as many jumps as possible together. That’s all part of the fun. We watch other performers and that gives us ideas. I don’t want to copy other people but they spark my creativity and make me think of new moves. I love to create different beautiful ways of flying. I have ideas all the time, sometimes out of the blue, or perhaps inspired by another sport, or else we make something up together.

There are already freestyle moves you can perform on your belly, before you even start head-down

Who do you like the most, who is your personal favorite?

I like to watch all of them, it’s all really interesting. I can learn a lot even from beginners. There are lots of different styles. Normally the men are stronger and more physical in their flying. Women often have a more balletic and elegant style. Some performers are more flexible and gymnastic. We have different strengths and personalities so this can be expressed in the flying. There is room for lots of variations in style, I’d like to see them all appreciated.

by Matti Mertala
by Matti Mertala
by Matti Mertala
by Matti Mertala
Katja Larinen of Fin One — by Matti Mertala
Katja Larinen of Fin One — by Matti Mertala

You have different shapes, is it hard to fly at the same fall rate?

No, although I am quite light I may fall very fast when I am performing. But it takes a lot of jumps to learn to fly together and to keep close. In freestyle, the camera flyer is really important. Both of us work together to keep the right proximity, even when flying around each other.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Getting the jumps in. Because we live in Finland where the skydiving season is very short, we can’t train at home, so we go to Empuriabrava and train for a couple of weeks at a time. Between the training camps we have to work to get money for the training and competitions. That's why it is very challenging to compete especially against the professional skydivers. For example, before we came to Dubai for this competition we didn’t have any possibility to train since the World Meet in Prostejov.

There are already freestyle moves you can perform on your belly, before you even start head-down

What do you think of the compulsory rounds, should they get rid of them and make freestyle even more free?

No, we also like the compulsories. Normally the FAI change some of the compulsory moves every 2 years so you have to learn new manuvers. In fact we would like another compulsory round. At the moment there are 5 free rounds and 2 compulsories. Because we do the same jump 5 times the free round scores are generally similar. If there were for example 3 compulsories and 4 free rounds there would be more variation in the scores and it might keep the competition more exciting until the end.

What does it take to get a good score?

Freestyle is an artistic discipline so you have to be able to create a routine that is technically difficult and aesthetically beautiful. You have to train a lot to get the routine and the technical aspects of the jump, then on every round you can showcase your best flying. The mental aspect is very important; you must have a nice flow to the jump so it helps if you’re in the right mindset.

FinOne, Matti Mertala & Katja Larinen
FinOne, Matti Mertala & Katja Larinen

Are you happy with your scores here in Dubai?

We are very happy with our position, we’re in third place at the moment [after 4 rounds]. The first competition jump we thought was great, we landed and hi-fived, thinking we had improved our performance since Prostejov but it turned out we scored the same. But of course we know you can’t compare the scores of two different competitions. The main thing is that we enjoy our jumps and know the progress that we are making.

How do you like jumping here in Dubai?

I am really enjoying the time in Dubai, it is a beautiful place and the people are very friendly. Every time I come here I feel very welcome; also at the desert drop zone, where we did a few jumps before the competition. They are professionals in organizing big competitions here in Dubai. There is always some extra program going on here. You can see they have been working and planning for this for a long time, they want to entertain us and I appreciate that.

What problems does freestyle have as a discipline?

It can be hard for new people to start freestyle because I think the level at the moment is quite high. It would be good to find a way to encourage more skydivers to take up freestyle, for example there are already moves you can perform on your belly, before you even start head-down. Some countries like France and the UK have two competitive levels, I think that helps.

What do you think about the wind tunnel?

We are not training in the tunnel because we don't have time and money for that, but I think the tunnel really helps you to improve your body control and flying skills in general. However, I don’t want to see freestyle go inside, then it might become too limited. Beginners should be able to start freestyle also in the sky without any tunnel training. The sky is huge, two people have endless possibilities to fly together in beautiful ways. That’s the joy in it for us. We are always challenged. You are never finished with freestyle, there is always something new to try.

Freestyle images show Katja Larinen, taken by teammate Matti Mertala

Artistic Events report, DIPC5, Update 3

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