Wingsuit Progression Series
A series covering WS skydiving, from your FFC through Exits, Skydiving with Others & Safety, by Matt Gerdes & Taya Weiss...
The Skyvan is climbing up to altitude at Skydive Arizona, on Saturday November 25th 2017. The skies are clear and blue, and the weather is exceptionally hot for this time of the year. The plane is loud, but as we’ve just done our high fives and gear checks, it’s that moment of calm and stillness, where everyone is quiet, concentrated and breathing the extra oxygen we need for the upcoming 18.000 foot exit.
“See your perfect jump”, I tell myself as I close my eyes. The words echo in my head from a moment from my first ever record experience in 2013, where our organiser Amy Chmelecki was standing in the corner of the packing area at Skydive AZ on an early morning briefing, sharing pieces of wisdom with us in her encouraging and always humorous way. I do my visualisation over and over again, and after a while my brain need a pause. I open my eyes and take a look at the ladies around me; amazing, powerful, fearless –yet-feminine group of awesomeness. I peek out the window to get a glimpse of the trail plane, and think about my old and new friends there. I think about how well the support team has flown, and how great it is to have all of us together on the plane rides. I send an imaginary high five to the other plane. Full of gratitude, I’m capturing these moments into my memory archives as there is no camera handy. A huge smile comes to my face, because I’m so proud of all of these women.
Like every record, it takes time to get it right, and learn to fly as a team. It is all about trust; courage; mindfulness; engineering; finding out each individual’s strengths; and having a tiny bit of luck too. You must be able to reset your mind at any given moment to fly your best no matter what just happened. And oh boy (or in this case, girl!) is head-up flying difficult. Each jump there had been moments where I felt like I was back in sit fly school, feeling like a badminton ball (shuttlecock) turned wrong way around into the air flow; telling myself to straighten my back, be strong in my legs, and mostly, just calm down and be smooth as if in slow motion. I felt so happy I joined the warm up day too to get an extra five jumps in before the record days.
Each debrief a full spectrum of feelings was experienced in the group ranging from laughing at our own puppet-like funny movements, to being wowed for how close we had been to getting a record, to being frustrated or angry at ourselves for not performing as well as we wanted. We supported each other through all of it, and on the third day we had been on the verge of feeling like this record might slip away from us. Chocolate, coffee, food, laughter and chatting about life seemed to do the trick to reset things inbetween jumps. A few encouraging words from my coaches and friends Anna Moxnes and Domi Kiger gave me a lot of energy and inspiration to keep going. Moments before climbing into the planes again Melissa Nelson Lowe had motivated us through a short speech, reminding us how Amy and Sara trust this particular team to do the job. No debrief, no changes, just mock it up and go again.
What a bold decision to aim for a 32-way as a Women’s Upright World Record, when the existing record was a 4-way. It is almost half of the size of the existing open world record, but now with only women. But we females don’t like to be underestimated for our ability to do things, and we like to prove people with potential doubts wrong – especially ourselves!
POW-POW! We all wake up from our meditative moment in the plane as the pilot hits the wall to signal us that it’s two minutes to exit. For the 13th time during this record camp we get up, put benches away, and check our pilot chute handles one last time. The doors in the planes are opened, and a couple more eye winks and smiles are exchanged while we wait for the green light. Our cameraman Steve Curtis puts his thumb up to show he’s seen Andy Locke, our other camera guy, signal us they are ready in the trail plane. In the base, our other organiser Sara Curtis takes a peek behind her to see the last divers are good to go, and she initiates her exit count; “OK! Ready, set, go!”, and we are out the door…
I dive and approach, telling myself “slow and smooth, level, slot…”, and after that it all happens on auto-pilot. As a ‘pod closer’, I am trying to do my best in the moment. I see both second stingers docked in front of me, I go for my docks, and shape out my arms. A moment later I feel the outside stingers getting on. Everyone is working so hard as the pod and formation breathes and moves around. I can feel my legs trying to find space, my body aiming to keep the shape, orientation and lift of the pod, and I am not sure if we are gonna work it out. This is certainly the most challenging flying I’ve ever done! And all of a sudden, it all gets easier and calmer. Everything settles. I am smiling, and I can see Nancy Koreen’s head bobbing in front of me as my peripheral vision opens up to realise the formation is all there. We are flying it! I can count seconds after seconds!
Our audibles go off, I track away and as my canopy opens up I scream from joy from the bottom of my heart and lungs, and I give applause with my hands. We land, we scream, shout, hug and high five. We take pictures as a big group. Lisa Mazzetta tells me and Melissa about her epic butt-fly moment where her whole pod kept flying as she sorted her feet back towards the ground, and we laugh about how our hard work paid off. The emotional state of the group is magical as we wait for the official result.
A while later Amy and Sara summon us all up to the conference room at Skydive Arizona. Lights get dimmed and they play the video from the jump. The excitement level in the room is tangible, as the video slows down to stop to a view of the record formation – followed up by the room filling with happy victorious shouts and whistles, and the judges declaring the new World Record official. We thank each other, everyone involved, the organisers, the drop zone, the manifest, the pilots, the cameramen, the judges, the ground crew, the packers, our event sponsors Firebird and NZ Aerosports. We continue off to our evening party and dinner with big smiles on our faces and cold drinks in our hands. We accomplished what we came there to do; we made history.
Amy Chmelecki, Sara Curtis, Melissa Nelson Lowe, Domi Kiger and Anna Moxnes; on behalf of everyone involved, thank you for your continuous support, encouragement, and trust in the team of ladies in this event. I will never forget that 15-minute call without a debrief before the record jump, when most of us probably thought we were going to get cut. Your courage and ability to bluff SkyGod and have faith in your team is inspiring, and we seemed to play our hand well for that famous 13 seconds!
Below is Amy's edited highlights video, Amy's raw video - it's a 'MUST' with a fabulous view of everyone's smiles from inside, and cameraman Andy Locke's raw view from the trail plane: