Please respect lights! Please respect landing arrow! Please respect taxiway or taxiway will move one kilometre and you walk one kilometre for plane!

Artistic skydiving events are a tricksy business. Sometimes you curse yourself under canopy for the unforgivable shabbiness of you performance only to look smooth and composed on review, to the broken feeling when you think it went well and the reality is way off.

The pace is better on official practice day. In response to grumbles about the availability of lifts, the previously declared jump limit has been binned so everybody gets done what they can. With the arrival of a third Turbolet, the turnaround time drops from several hours down to a more acceptable rate - but a handful more training jumps is not going to change anything now. Time is up. You have done the very best within the means available to you and your team. So what is left is to not mess it up.

The Varial Freefly tea station is now fully operational, dispensing the proper beverage out amongst our delegation and assorted interested parties educated in the correct way of doing things. Bunting is inevitably everywhere and there is still a pile of unopened bags the corner of the GB pavillion waiting to be set free. Now and then you can spot an unimpressed looking foreign national removing a length from of it from somewhere inside their allocated space as if it slithered up like a sneaky snake while their back was turned. In fact, there is sufficient Union Jackery about the place as if we are expecting the Queen herself to turn up and watch the swoops.

One after next the triumvirate of Turbolets lumber into the air like fat swans, using almost all the full length of the airfield to achieve flight. Most teams manage a handful of jumps, but there is much waiting around to be done. We spend the downtime playing funky milk roulette in the Lidl and attempting to drive on the right side of the road.

Do you have a flag?

The weather gods bestow a nice evening on the opening ceremony as everybody gathers to decide who has the best tracksuit. We are treated to the same speech multiple times from a precession of local dignitaries and politicians as we unconcernedly busy ourselves with the more important task of drinking and gathering for silly photos as they play out their own peculiar competition from the stage. Our patience is rewarded with a dance routine from some local cheerleaders who aren’t really very good but sell it through sheer enthusiasm and succeed by simply not being another platitude-spewing official. After a little more flag waving and some amusingly rubbish fireworks, we split up into separate disciplines to get briefed on a lot of stuff we already know and then argue about the rules.

The subjective nature of awarding points for artistic routines is a regular pain in the ass for everyone involved. You do it hundreds of times, deconstructing it to a macro level. You argue about it, about who messed up and what needs to change, about what can be and what needs to be better. You might land  elated, knowing without a doubt that is the best you have ever done it and get fewer points than the time you slipped on a banana skin on the hill or wrestled with an invisible air gremlin all the way down.

Norway's Beserk Freefly

It can be frustrating, but everyone knows that at the door.

We have been getting 13,000ft. Almost everyone wants more for our compulsory rounds - the only team that raises a hand against the request are the Norwegians. The majority perspective is that the working time of 45 seconds remains true regardless of how high you jump from. A small amount of additional altitude would provide increased safety in the parts of the competition where you regularly rushing to get it done.

The Nordic position is that they have tailored their compulsory moves “by training hard” to be finished before they are uncomfortably low. The objection from them is that by raising the altitude it would take some of the pressure off the rest of us, while they have worked diligently to be finished a little sooner. It is a valid perspective - but it seems a little shaky when they are outnumbered seventeen to one. Whether you jump from thirteen, fourteen of fifteen thousand feet, 45 seconds is 45 seconds, and the judges are oblivious to us flying through our screeching ditters.    

At which point does a potential slight advantage lose its value? At the expense of our collective wellbeing?

I am 100 kilos. I fall fast. One of the Aussies from team John Rumbo standing next to me as the argument heats up weighs even more than that, and a week ago I destroyed a canopy after we pushed this to the limit. I listen to people fight their corner for about ninety seconds, which only serves to affirm that I don’t care either way, and go off in search of beer and pizza. I have two audible altimeters in my helmet - but the reality is that in a competition round that I have trained all year for, those beeps add up to less than fuck all when we need another four seconds to finish our sequence and secure the points.

Safety first, everybody.

 

Joel Strickland.