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Swooping San Diego

Swooping San Diego

Swoop Freestyle FAI World Championships

Features | November 2018

For the first time in the U.S., a swooping competition came to the heart of a major city, giving the non-jumping general public a front-row seat to the dynamic, high-speed, spectator-friendly sport of canopy piloting. The Swoop Freestyle FAI World Championships came to the waterfront in downtown San Diego September 14-15, and the action lived up to the hype.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale only recently sanctioned the relatively new discipline of swoop freestyle as an official FAI competition event. A. Sports, a private company based in Denmark, held the first Swoop Freestyle FAI World Championships in Copenhagen last year, attracting as many as 100,000 spectators to the city’s downtown lakes. This year, A. Sports expanded the event to two tour stops, the first in Copenhagen in late August and the second in San Diego.

Unlike other FAI-sanctioned skydiving world championships, SFFWC was an invitational event, and A. Sports used the combined standings from the two 2018 tour stops to determine the overall world champion. In San Diego, 17 competitors from 12 countries vied for the title.

For the competition, organizers set up an inflatable platform in the bay next to the Embarcadero Park South in downtown San Diego. After exiting a helicopter at 5,000 feet, competitors had to perform two freestyle tricks as they dragged across the water, then try to come to a stop on the large raft. The freestyle tricks included a range of technical maneuvers with names like boomerang, switchblade, lazy boy and Superman. They involved the canopy pilots laying out their bodies and canopies in different orientations as they swooped across the water, sometimes putting both toggles in one hand, other times releasing them both. The event included a total of six jumps for each competitor—two practice jumps Friday afternoon and two jumps for each of the qualifying and final rounds on Saturday.

In addition to the swooping competition, A. Sports organized a festival and air show of sorts over the course of the two days. Activities included live music, food vendors, acro paragliding displays and wingsuit demo jumps. Following the final swoops on Saturday, the event capped off with a flag jump and demo by the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs parachute team.

Spectators enjoyed watching the high-speed swoops, challenging freestyle moves and some spectacular wipeouts. Coming to a stop on the platform proved quite difficult, as it turned into a slip-and-slide, becoming wetter and wetter as the splashes continued. Some competitors came up short; others went sliding off the far end as they tried to stop; and the skilled few managed to come to a stop right on target. Regardless, at some point all went swimming in the salty, choppy water.

For the final round, competitors jumped in reverse order of standings. Holding onto first place, Pablo Hernandez of Spain was the final swooper of the event. On the last jump, he made a smooth approach, completed his two freestyle maneuvers and dramatically slid to a perfect stop on the center of the raft. The crowd erupted in cheers as Hernandez threw off his helmet, held his arms in the air and did an intentional front-flip off the platform into the water, earning the title of Swoop Freestyle World Champion.

At the end of the event, the competition crowned champions for the San Diego tour stop, as well as the overall season champs. Hernandez took the top spot in both. American Travis Mills finished second in the overall standings after winning gold at the Copenhagen event, and Franco Darman of Argentina took third. For the San Diego competition, Curt Bartholomew of the U.S. earned silver, and Cornelia Mihai of the UAE took bronze.

The event also attracted a lot of media attention. Several major San Diego news outlets came out to cover the action, including ABC, FOX and CBS, and U.S. competitors had multiple in-studio TV interviews both in San Diego and their hometowns.

A. Sports is hoping to expand the competition to more major cities both in the U.S. and abroad next year. If this inaugural U.S. event is any indication, Swoop Freestyle holds a lot of promise as a fun, spectator-friendly competition that can bring the sport of skydiving to the general public in a new and exciting way.

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