Aerial All Stars
Red Bull's Top Five Aerial Athletes
“A little bit of naughty accumulates to a lot of very very bad!”
This was in reference to the accumulative effect of being even just a little off level. On our first 90-way attempt we had so much tension it was pulling the base apart and the first stingers off the base. This effect is most obvious at the extreme ends of the spectrum, when someone is way off level, you can feel them pulling a lot! But when that same person is just a little off level, it is not instantly obvious where the tension is coming from, but when you have a 90-way, it all adds up to make for more tension than the formation can handle, yet when you look at each person’s individual performance, it isn’t instantly obvious where the problem is coming from. So being even slightly off level, or “just a little bit naughty” adds up to a big problem.
Prior to the attempts the weather was looking like it would challenge us. We had the goal of pushing towards a 100-way, which would have almost doubled the previous record set just the previous year. It was ambitious, but after the last record, we knew it was possible. After two perfect weather warm-up days, we had to make plans to break a record with potentially uncharacteristic and uncooperative Arizona cloudy skies.
Luckily we had a crack team of organisers, headed up and brought together by Amy Chmelecki of the Red Bull Air Force and Sara Curtis of Arizona Arsenal fame. With over 120 participants the goal was to keep everyone jumping, even the “Bench” team. J Russ and Stephanie Strange from SDC Core were brought into manage those not on the actual record attempts. The plan was to feed us the next best flyers as the record grew as well as keep everyone jumping and current.
From Europe we had Antonio Arias of ISG Bottrop as well as Nimmo and Raph Coudray of the Empuria Brava based Fly Warriors. From the US, Andy Malchiodi, Ryan Risburg, Steve Curtis, Ben Nelson, Friday Friedman and I took on the challenges of going for a record in less than perfect weather conditions.
The plan for attempt day 1 was to go for an 89-way. This left a bench formation of around 40-ways. But with troubled skies brewing we also had to make plans for smaller formations in the event we were restricted on altitude. The night before we drew up, slotted out and had manifest sheets ready for an 89-way, a 67-way and a 55-way. The smaller formations were the core of the 89-way, so the base and first pods would at least get to practice and then be ready to build as fast as possible once everyone was included. The only issue we had was if the main group was brought down to a 55-way, the bench grew to almost 90-people! All we could do was see what the morning skies would bring.
As predicted those first 2 days of attempts brought less than ideal weather conditions. We were able to attempt some very impressive 55-ways from 10,500ft with only a few grips out. It was universally confirmed that those were the first 3 plane formations any of us had ever attempted from such a low altitude!
The organiser headquarters was one of the conference rooms, but inside it more resembled a newspaper office just hours before the deadline. We were running around trying to plan dives, figure out the manifests, talk to participants to figure out what issues they were having, interspersed with quick power meetings to make the tough decisions. Nobody had one particular job; we just made it happen and picked up what ever needed to get done. A true high performance team, looking back it was EPIC to see it all get done. At the time we all felt like headless chickens!
On the last jump of the second day we finally found some altitude and successfully completed the 55-way core. It was technically a record but was only slightly larger than the previous record of a year ago. We wanted a more genuine record-breaking feeling.
Going into the last day of record attempts we faced some hard decisions, go safe or go big. With a 55-way record already in the books we decided to go big. We slotted out a 90-way. We wanted as close to the 100-way dream as we thought possible. But after 2 attempts we had to start downsizing.
Throughout the warm up and record days it was hard to remind people of the important things to think about without sounding like a broken record and losing their attention. The word “level” was definitely over used and we tried to suggest being on the same plane in as many different ways we could without using the word “level.”
The third jump of the fifth day was around an 80-way attempt. As we got out the build was slightly out of sequence and as I got to my slot it was already a little crowded, I went to take my grip, but I missed. As I went for it again I started to rush and focus too much on the grip, I lost my level and I started to feel the pressure of everyone already built around me or waiting to build on me. Imagine after spending 5 days shouting at everyone to be on level (and cutting some people for not doing so) I was off level and didn’t even realise! I had slowed down the build of my otherwise normally first to complete pod and made a right cock of myself!
It wasn’t the only section not to complete on that attempt but it didn’t help that urge to land off and keep walking. It would have been awesome to have a proper excuse but all I had was a loss of focus and an increase in complacency. After explaining what had happened to my crew of organisers and debriefing the whole group (and using it as a good example of what not to do) I was afforded a second chance to redeem myself (a luxury not many participants had the privilege of).
That next jump felt like the jump of my life. As an organiser I can’t afford to mess up, I had to justify my second chance and be inch perfect. I haven’t felt pressure like that since round 1 of a world meet that I was expected to win! I got out focused, I got on level, and I got to my slot, and made one of the best docks in the history of people holding hands! I literally felt like it was the challenge of my life, one simple dock! AND I FUCKING NAILED IT!
But this was a shared experience by everyone on the record that day; we all knew we had to be accountable for our actions and we had to perform. Everyone who was on any of those jumps had made some level of mistake and knew what they had to do to improve and perform. Looking back now, WHAT AN EPIC EXPERIENCE!
How often in life are you challenged to the point where it feels like your life depends on it?! Obviously that wasn’t the case, but it was as close to as you could get short of actually being in some type of combat!
The fifth jump that day got us so close that when we landed we knew we had it if we could have just one more shot, but the sun was setting. The only chance we had was to get everyone packed and back on the planes and taking off in 20 mins. People from the bench started helping where ever they could “Who needs water” people were shouting, “Who needs help packing?” as I was laying down my canopy I had people cocking my pilot chute for me, what a Rockstar team effort!!!!
On the real sunset load of the fifth day, we took that record! It was one of those records when everyone knew we had it, it was storybook. Everyone was working towards the goal of the team, even those on the bench, some of whom had not even been given the chance to show their skills.
It was a massive learning experience, we were learning, on the fly, the intricacies of larger upright vertical formations. These really were the first jumps of their kind. It was a really exciting, challenging and ultimately rewarding experience and the vibe and patience of the participants was the rocket fuel that got us there!
Thank you to Amy Chmelecki, Sara Curtis and the entire dedicated organiser team. Thank you to our event sponsors, Red Bull, Larsen and Brusgaard, Cookie helmets and Ouragon Suits, but mostly thank you to all the AWESOME participants for your dedication, patience, understanding and EPIC attitude throughout the challenging days of the record. We literally couldn’t have done it without you!!!!
FOR THE GLORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!