The Next Big Thing

Andy Malchiodi—neck deep in his multi-hyphenate (medalist-coach-musician-filmmaker) life—didn’t set out to co-invent a skydiving discipline. He just wanted to enjoy competition. Luckily for us, he did it anyway. He’s quick to refuse to take credit for being the first person to combine flat and vertical orientations into one discipline, but there’s no denying that he’s the one who has done the most to make it official.

The building blocks were there, but mixed formation skydiving (MFS) in its current iteration wasn’t even on the radar when Malchiodi’s freefly team, SoCal Converge, was stacking up medals on the competition circuit. From 2008 to 2012, Converge won four USPA National Championships, took back-to-back gold and silver at the world championships and racked up two world records.

“In my years of [freefly] competition with SoCal Converge,” Malchiodi begins, “even though we were working within an artistic discipline, we really thrived on—and enjoyed training for—the compulsory rounds. In those years, the freefly compulsories were essentially 2-way MFS; teams flew two flat points out of a 10-point pool over two rounds.”

As well as being fun to fly, the compulsory rounds included several very compelling elements for Malchiodi and his team. “We noticed a lot of cool stuff,” Malchiodi explains. “You can train this without a videographer in the beginning; you can just debrief from your GoPros until you recruit one. You can take it home to a small drop zone with a small plane. People are attracted to the idea of fusing all four primary orientations into one discipline. For those people, it’s a discipline with its own identity. And for those who wish to focus only on the vertical, it’s a stepping stone to 4-way VFS [vertical formation skydiving].”

“The beauty of it is the modularity,” he explains. “Even newer skydivers who aren’t freeflying yet can do the flat points and grow into it.” To be clear: What are considered the more difficult vertical points are omitted from the advanced dive pool, and the advanced class does not include belly-fly or back-fly points. The open class includes points in all four orientations. 

The discipline’s portability is also key—but, clearly, you have to know a little bit about what you’re doing first. With this in mind, Niklas Daniel and Brianne Thompson of AXIS Flight School at Skydive Arizona in Eloy—staunch supporters of MFS—have included both the open and advanced MFS dive pools in their super-helpful online Draw Generator

(drawgenerator.axis.tools). “The idea is to help people get started at their home DZs,” explains Daniel, “so they can take a closer look at the dive pool, with pictures and the current rules.”

Clearly, the latter makes MFS a very compelling inclusion into a newer skydiver’s arsenal. “You might choose to do advanced MFS when you’re at a skill set where you can’t quite take on the VFS open dive pool, but you’re interested in doing VFS,” Malchiodi says.

“It was initially my hope,” he continues, “that advanced [competitors would] do two purely flat rounds and four vertical. The open class would then mix them. The current rules are designed, by suggestion of USPA, to appeal to those who want to use MFS as a method of progression into VFS.”

In 2011, as Malchiodi and Converge were getting excited about the possibilities of their nascent discipline, the freefly compulsory rounds changed. The rules moved away from speed compulsory rounds into artistic compulsories, where teams receive four moves to style a routine around.

“It is pretty different than it used to be,” Malchiodi sighs, “and we weren’t very happy to see that change. We had our reasons for believing it was good the way it was. So I took it upon myself to take that really good stuff and make it its own discipline.” He had a lot of work in front of him to create an official space for MFS. He took the moves that existed in the pre-2011 artistic freefly compulsory dive pool, brought in several of the points that existed in the wind tunnel competition dive pool (which, at the time, wasn’t as elaborate as it is now) and started to work out the details.

The biggest challenge Malchiodi faced surprised him. MFS is at heart a formation skydiving discipline, and in formation skydiving you cannot have one point that begins or ends with the same grip as another point. “You would think,” Malchiodi muses, “that with multiple orientations—head up, head down, belly and back—that would open up infinite options, and you wouldn’t have a problem creating points that didn’t start or stop with the same grip as another point. It was more challenging than I would have guessed.”

The tunnel competition dive pool, developed in great part by Arizona-based skydiving legend Jason Peters, included several points that—unsurprisingly, considering its non-formation-skydiving provenance—did not abide by that FS-specific rule. “At the beginning, if you watched a very fast 2-way tunnel draw,” Malchiodi explains, “it looked like a game of patty-cake, because you would finish one point and then begin the next point with the same grip. Pulling off that grip and going right back to it looked kinda funny.”

Challenging as it was, Malchiodi stayed the course to match MFS’s rules and regulations to existing formation skydiving disciplines as much as possible. He brought a few other top-shelf skydivers to help him work out the engineering puzzle, Ari Perelman and Rook Nelson among them. The think tank communicated with then-USPA Director of Competition James Hayhurst and Competition Coordinator (now Director of Competition) Randy Connell to get multiple sets of eyes on the points, rules and regulations. With all those collaborators on board, 2-way MFS enjoyed an intuitive and logical evolution as it came into its own.

With staunch USPA support, MFS made its public debut in 2013. The first test event, at the USPA Nationals, was very well attended. Malchiodi remembers that everyone was very enthusiastic about it. The first official event was at the 2014 USPA Nationals, where MFS drew 10 teams (seven in advanced and three in open). From there, the discipline has consistently ramped up with every passing season, with a total of 19 open and advanced teams participating at the 2016 USPA Nationals.

Official international recognition through the International Parachuting Commission is the next logical step, and MFS’s next big push is the one that will send it over the ocean into Europe and Australia. Slotting into place at the world level would allow MFS to be included in events such as Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Cups and World Championships, and that’s exactly what its inventors intend. So far, the U.S. is the only country with 2-way MFS on the docket, which is stupefying, considering the discipline’s flexibility, portability and low infrastructural requirements.

“They’re waiting to see how it goes in the U.S.,” Malchiodi says, “and they’re slow to move, but the more competition skydivers who push for MFS at their Nationals, the closer we’ll get.”

Jumpers can find the MFS dive pool in Chapter 9 of the USPA Skydiver’s Competition Manual, available as a free download at uspa.org. To learn the MFS ropes, jumpers may reach out to Andy Malchiodi himself at facebook.com/andy.malchiodi, Jason Peters at aboveallphotography.com and Niklas Daniel at axisflightschool.com. 

About the Author
Annette O'Neil, D-33263, is a multidisciplinary air sports athlete: skydiver, BASE jumper, paraglider and speed-wing pilot. Location-independent, she travels the world full-time as a freelance writer and producer. In her spare time, she loves flopping around on a yoga mat and carpetbombing Facebook from Instagram.

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