By Tamas Mondovics
Statistically, skydiving or parachuting may not be as dangerous as driving, yet the sport takes its rightful place on the list of extreme sports, boasting of talented athletes who will always find the way to push their abilities to the limit.
Such is the case with the 55 top competitive aerial athletes from around the U.S. (31 in the open class and 24 in advanced) who took skydiving to the extreme as they competed in the 2016 U.S. Parachute Association (USPA) National Skydiving Championships of Canopy Piloting held earlier this month at Skydive City, one of Florida’s premier skydiving centers in Zephyrhills.
“Canopy piloting isn’t what people really think of when they think about skydiving,” said USPA Sports Promotion Director, Nancy Koreen, during the three day competition. “Instead of slowing down, skydivers will attempt to gain speed as they descend and swoop through narrow slalom-like courses for hundreds of yards, just a few feet above the ground or water at speeds reaching 90-plus miles per hour.”
Koreen emphasized that the stakes were sky-high this year with a number of experienced competitors, including event leader, world and national champion, Curtis Bartholomew from Florida, who was joined by a list of great talents like Nicholas Batch, Matt Shull, Ian Bobo and Thomas Dellibac, to name a few.
“These athletes have all come well-equipped to battle it out for the limited slots on the U.S. Team that will compete at the World Championships this summer in Canada,” Koreen said.
As pro competitor, canopy instructor and owner of Alter Ego Canopy Piloting, Bartholomew’s wife Jeannie, who has been skydiving for more than 10 years, spoke highly of the sport and the competition, while putting things into perspective for all adrenaline lovers.
“I love the sport, always have,” Jeannie said. “Of course, it is not for everyone. Canopy Piloting particularly, adds the challenge of controlling speed, distance and accuracy one jump at a time.”
The aerial competition will continue at the Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales, May 28-June 2, with the 2016 USPA National Championships of Canopy Formation and Style and Accuracy, which requires extreme precision as competitors attempt to land on a dime-sized dot after falling 10,000 ft.
The event will see 50 of the country’s best parachutists (and for the first time ever, 12 athletes from the Cuban national team) who will put their skydiving skills to the test.
In Canopy Formation, teams of two and four deploy their parachutes immediately after exiting the plane, and build courageous formations while holding onto each other’s canopies. In Freefall Style, an individual competitor performs a predetermined series of loops and spins as quickly as possible.
Founded in 1946 and celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the United States Parachute Association (USPA) is a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting safe skydiving nationwide and establishing strict safety standards, training policies and programs at more than 230 USPA-affiliated skydiving centers throughout the United States.
Each year, USPA’s 38,000-plus members and half a million first-time jump students make about 3.2 million jumps in the United States. USPA represents skydivers before all levels of government, the public and aviation, and sanctions national skydiving competitions and records.
For more information about USPA and upcoming events, visit www.uspa.org.