Wingsuit Progression Series
A series covering WS skydiving, from your FFC through Exits, Skydiving with Others & Safety, by Matt Gerdes & Taya Weiss...
If you find yourself hanging outside of an Otter, at 16,500 feet, in gorgeous, clear blue Southern California skies, you’re well on your way to a great skydive. But add a Skyvan in the lead, and another Skyvan to your left, and you’ve got a big-way jump brewing…
Then, as you’re intently watching the lead Skyvan’s tailgate, the first skydiver, the super floater, comes flying out to start your jump. At this moment, you realize, you’re just one of about 50 skydivers about to come flying out of a three plane formation, each skydiver aiming to be part of the most complex belly formation, that, certainly, you’ve ever done. You take a mental snapshot of this amazing moment and you’re off!
You take a mental snapshot of this amazing moment and you’re off!
The planes seem to rise quickly up and away, as the steady streams of skydivers come pouring out, all chasing a six skydiver base that’s descending quickly right in front of you. You know where to go – the multiple dirt-dives, the creeper pad exercises, and the visualizations you did on your way up to altitude are now playing out in front of you, in real time. You dive towards your slot, aggressively, because you know other folks are gonna get there fast. In fact, on this dive, none of the skydivers are showing any hesitation. This is a full-throttle, confident approach to each slot. Will you be late? Will you go low? No. You’ve done this before, and with a healthy dose of caution, you push to get there fast.
with a healthy dose of caution, you push to get there fast
You’re there – in the stadium just a couple of feet up and off from the coalescing formation. This is when things get tricky, because with everyone focused on their slot and getting closer, so many things can go wrong: confusion, collisions, burbles, and funnels. The list goes on and the visions of past jumps serve as evidence that this almost always happens. But no, not here, not now. There’s no hesitation, each skydiver’s approach is quick, smooth, and accurate. Each dock, on level and gentle. All skydivers are now flying on level with the formation – there are no waves, no tension, no feelings of panic. You dock, gingerly, just as you’re determined to do, and now 50 pairs of arms and legs, 50 individual skydivers are one. For just a calm, short moment falling together at over 100 mph. The formation builds, right on the first jump.
50 individual skydivers are one
You’ve just made a P3 Power Play jump! That was just a glimpse of my experience in this year’s event, organized by P3, or Perris Performance Plus, held in Perris, California. The reason for the speed, confidence, and smooth build of the formation is simple: the 50 skydivers assembled are some of the top skydivers in the world. Many have been doing this for decades, hold multiple world records, compete on world-class teams… This is their passion. So, you might ask, how did I get here? Well, here’s my story, and I hope that it will show you how I did it…
There were three experiences that helped me prepare and taught me important skills, that made jumping complex Power Play belly formations fun, exciting, and, most importantly, possible.
I’ve jumped in Northern California for about 6 years, mostly fun jumps with friends at my local DZs. Obviously, every jump is an opportunity to learn something, but it all started with the frequent speedstar jumps, organized by MadJohn at Bay Area Skydiving, in Byron. These taught me how to exit, be stable quickly, and, most importantly, how to dive to the formation fast and stop on time!
Secondly, the Northern California Skydiving League’s tunnel events, organized by Lori Connor, provided a regular, monthly opportunity to hone 4-way and 3-way flying skills, with the best coaches in the area.
Lastly, my 4-way team’s (go 4Tune!) commitment to regular practice, solidified all the tunnel skills and provided me the opportunity to engineer, analyze, and improve my skydiving with others. But, even with these foundational skills, I needed a place to work on big-way formation skills. This is where the regular schedule of events at P3, in Southern California, really brought it all together…
If you take a look at their website, P3 lays out each year’s events in advance with premeditation – each one of the events builds toward the next one. I started with the Big Way Camp 2 years ago, which taught me the fundamentals like the stadium, break-off groups, and tracking. It was also a great introduction to the variety of exits and slots that one might be asked to do on a big-way jump. Then last year, I continued to the 100-Way Camp, which reinforced these skills with an even bigger group. I also applied to the Spring Fling, which follows the 100-Way Camp, to practice more advanced formations and attempts at multiple points. Finally, this year I applied for and attended the Spring Fling and the Power Play events.
Now, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d get into Power Play. I felt like I had the skills, but knew I’d have to prove them to the organizers first. So, I made sure to do well during the Spring Fling, and after the event, and after a bit of anxiety on my part, Dan BC, the main organizer at P3, invited me to participate. I was thrilled! I made arrangement for my family, put in for my vacation at work, and made reservations for the stay in Perris Valley. I was all set, but wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Frankly, I was even somewhat afraid I may have been over-ambitious, would I be a disappointment? It turned out I was ended up being very surprised by the event.
First, I was surprised about the complexity of the formations. I felt that the skydivers at Spring Fling were really good, we’ve made a number of jumps, and although our first attempts weren’t usually successful, eventually we were able close and sometimes get a second point on our jumps. So, Power Play would just be more of the same, with just better skydivers, right? Not quite. Starting with the first jump, the Power Play formations were highly complicated 16-18 ways, with 4-6 points planned, no solid base, with many positions rear-facing, or with multiple lines of sight required for alignment. I was really worried that we’d not accomplish them at all, or that I’d be not able to remember each point, or my part in it. You see, there was an assumption, that if you’re at Power Play, you’re already familiar with not just the 4-way, but the 8-way dive pool (everyone knows block 22, right?), and, preferably, the 16-way dive pool. I had some catching up to do, and in a hurry…
Second, the skydivers were really good. I mean like couple of levels above from what I expected based on the Spring Fling event. From our organizers, including Martial Ferré, a world-renowned skydiver, coach, and 4- & 8-way world champion from France, to the participants from all over the world, the jumps went spectacularly well, right from the get go. This is where the speed, confidence, and smoothness came from. I really felt like I was in a different league of skydiving, and I had to keep up!
I really felt like I was in a different league of skydiving, and I had to keep up!
So, was I over-ambitious? Turns out I had many of the skills required, and as with any team event, when you’re surrounded by great talent, you rise up to the challenge. I have to say that I’ve learned a ton, and have a ton still to learn. The organizers, Dan BC, Doug Forth, Martial Ferré, and the many friends I made, provided me with the coaching and support I needed to have a phenomenal experience. I’d strongly recommend the Power Play event to anyone who loves complex, multi-point formations. I cannot wait to do it again next year, and I hope, that if this is your passion, you’ll join in to make Power Play 2019 the best one yet! Until then, “Peace out, baby!”