Over the last few years - as tunnel competitions have grown ever more popular - it began to look increasingly necessary that some kind of formalisation was in order. A small central element of the involved and interested had been doing a splendid job of arranging indoor skydiving competitions, yet the exponential growth of the industry was bringing with it showdowns of condensing frequency - to the point where it was creating an overall muddle in which not a handful of months would pass without a new set of winners earning a small window of opportunity to declare themselves and be declared the best in the land - right up until the next gathering rolled around.
Alongside a strong sense of independence from the tunnel community there was a building desire for more intricate and complex measures that could and would validate victory in the form of accepted world champions with trophies and medals and such. Despite the obvious symbiotic relationship between the sky and the tube there was no small resistance to the idea of joining forces with the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, and although it seemed some form of cooperation was a likely outcome - voices could be heard on both sides of the line.
Perspectives were argued and both had validity. One view held that the FAI was nothing to do with the tunnel (A somewhat ironic switcharoo from the resistance indoor flying was subject to from skydiving traditionalists in its primary years as not being ‘proper’) and that the tunnel community had been doing a bang-up job so far, so what were they really offering other than to assume control over something that belonged to us?
Yet with the increase in scale across all areas of tunnel business there was the question of the organisational structure that could be offered - was the flying community able to manage all of the bureaucratic considerations for operating what are now truly widespread international shenanigans? Could they create and produce all of the documents suitable and necessary to conduct professional sporting events? The office nitty gritty and the formational nuts and bolts? Who was going to do all that?
On the other side - throwing in with the FAI meant access to a support structure that has been in place for many years across myriad airborne disciplines - including the ones out there are already related to skydiving. However the FAI might bring with it the problems that have become routine in artistic skydiving competitions - issues with judging, format and structure and an unwieldy ability to change enough and fast enough despite being continually presented and queried about the problems - thus hanging an albatross around the neck of something that is moving too quickly and altering form from one event to the next while still finding its feet and discovering the best way to find out who is the best.
After some to-ing and fro-ing the result was more-or-less ‘Let’s give it a try and see what happens’. The proof would be in the pudding.
After a tentative first go at iFly Austin in 2014, the Hurricane Factory in Prague hosted the first formal World Indoor Skydiving Championships a year later with broad success, and now with over 200 teams from 29 countries spread across 4-Way Open, 4-Way Female, VFS, 2-Way Dynamic and Solo Freestyle descending on Poland’s FlySpot on the outskirts of Warsaw - it would seem that the overall appeal has proved the relationship to be valid as the World Cup 2016 gets going.
Notably absent from proceedings is a 4-Way Dynamic competition. 4-Way Dynamic is the most dazzling display of what can currently be done in the tunnel and it is a shame that not quite enough teams were ready for this one - also likely indicative of the combination of high difficulty and a still shifting dive pool that sees teams struggle to commit or even spit up into the 2-Way competition.
There is also a strong turnout in the Junior Freestyle category, with two thirds as many members as the open version and many kids also present across the belly competition. Everyone has been saying it for years - that the next generation of flyers, raised up in a tube before having anything to do with skydiving would soon be upon us. Well, with some of even the smallest participants electing to fly with the grown-ups and earn their way on a level playing field - here they are.
Many here keenly feel the absence of two of our best loved and most talented individuals, both of whom we lost to accidents in the mountains this year while pursuing their dreams - Ty Baird, a peerless, perma-smiling ambassador for the sport in general and FlySpot in particular, and Dave Reader - equally influential in quieter ways. The fingerprints of these two are all over the place - not just directly on how people fly by way of their students - but on the evolution of the very techniques we use and also on the composition of some of the elements of the competition itself. They are much missed.
Each time out things are bit bigger and a little smoother. The rules are starting to settle into a reliable shape, the technological gremlins behind the scenes are becoming more manageable, the live presentation gets a bit slicker and as a result our exposure to the outside world a little wider. There is still some work to do to perfect the system, but everything is only getting better - which just leaves us wondering exactly how many people it might be possible to fit in this room to watch what unfolds over the next few days.