Last weekend, I had the opportunity to compete in the intermediate category of the 5th Annual Tony Suits Performance Cup at Skydive City in Zephyrhills, Florida. The intermediate category is restricted to suits where the arm wing begins above your knee, as opposed to the open category, which allows for any suit preference and typically includes more experienced competitors. Though I fly both a Swift 2 and an ATC, I chose to fly my Swift 2 in the intermediate category to encourage proper technique and less reliance on suit size to enhance performance in my first competition.
Prior to the competition, I had around 130 jumps on the Swift 2. I’ve practiced acrobatic maneuvers in it, flocking with larger suits, and cloud chasing alone and with friends. I feel very comfortable in it and have loved learning to really fly in it. When my ATC arrived in December, I was torn; I couldn’t wait to play in the ATC and learn how to fly it to its full potential, but I also knew I needed to spend more time in the Swift 2 really focusing on training for my first competition. I put around 30 jumps on the ATC before refocusing my energy on learning the right techniques in the Swift 2 to compete in the Performance Cup.
The Performance Cup is a “PPC” style event. PPC stands for Paralog Performance Competition, though SkyDerby was used instead of Paralog for scoring this particular event. PPC style events judge competitors on performance in speed, distance, and time tasks. Performance is only measured between 3000 and 2000 meters; anything above or below this window does not count in scoring. Performance is measured using GPS data from competitors’ FlySights. Each competitor flies an individual track along a predetermined heading, and the data from each jump is later collected and compared to other competitors’ tracks and data. The goal on each run is specified in advance, with different techniques used to enhance performance based on whether the run is a distance, speed, or time task.
During training, I focused specifically on developing a steep dive to build excess energy that I could later translate into lift or speed, depending on the task. By listening to real-time feedback from the FlySight, I was able to learn how to most efficiently transition into the measured window at 3000 meters to maximize performance for each task. I was lucky enough to get a lot of guidance and feedback from seasoned competitor and Arcus Coach, Dan Darby. He taught me how to read FlySight data to better understand how my glide ratios, horizontal speeds, and vertical speeds affect my performance potential. I also benefited from practice rounds with Arcus student and good friend Jeff Donaldson.
Jeff and I spent the weekend before the competition at Zephyrhills doing a “mock competition” in each of the designated tasks. Jeff is 6’2’’ and undeniably fast. I am quite a bit shorter and better built to perform for time rounds. Distance was anybody’s game to win or lose; size matters less, and technique is crucial. However, I learned quickly that performance in every category matters. Even if I performed my best in distance and time, it was still possible to watch him crush me overall because of a large margin won by him in speed. The pressure was on!
I spent the week leading up to the competition continuing to train, but I still made time for a couple fun jumps on the ATC to destress and play with my friends. The morning of the competition, I felt prepared but was shaking in my booties! Jeff strolled in cool, calm, and collected. As it turns out, Jeff and I were the only competitors in the intermediate category, both flying our Swift 2s. There were a couple other competitors not in larger race suits, but they chose to fly in the open category rather than downsize to “intermediate” suits. At least this meant Jeff and I would both be on the podium! I was still a nervous wreck.
The first task was distance, and it also happened to be my 200th wingsuit jump. We were flying into the wind, so we all accepted that no records would be broken that day and just wanted to do our best. The spot was a little long, so I was honestly pretty relieved just to make it back to the airport. Though it wasn’t my best performance, and I critiqued my data heavily upon review, my distance beat Jeff’s (and a couple other larger suits) by a small margin. Unfortunately, speed was the next task, and I knew Jeff was about to kick my butt. As predicted, he crushed me and was even faster than a few race suits in his Swift 2.* This really pushed me to perform my best in time, as the margin between us in speed was greater than the margin I had over him in distance, and he was now beating me overall. We had a bit of a weather hold due to clouds, and I used the time to get some tips from more seasoned competitors and to distract myself a bit with friends and family. Fortunately, after the weather hold, I performed well enough in time to regain the lead and was starting to relax more in the competition setting.
We did one more distance run on the first day of competition, and I kept my lead when we called it a day and left to enjoy a fun dinner with other competitors. There are definitely nerves, focus, and a serious component with competition, but my favorite part is really the camaraderie that comes out of this experience. I’ve ventured to four different competitions alongside Darby in the past year, and regardless of the stakes – prize money, a spot on the national team, etc. – wingsuit competitors have been a consistently supportive, fun-loving, and brilliant bunch. I loved being a part of it instead of an outsider (or a “swoopie”, as a friend affectionately referred to me at USPA Nationals). During our carb-loading dinner that night out, I looked around a table full of talented, athletic, wonderful nerds talking about data and technique and realized what an unlikely group of skydivers we all appeared. Hardly the stereotypical burnout adrenaline junkie the media might love to portray. Overall, it was a great first day competing, and we were all fat, happy, and tired when we called it a night.
Day two meant only two more competition jumps: speed then time. I braced for Jeff to beat me again in speed, but with a goal in mind to at least narrow the margin of his win in this category if I had any hope of winning the competition. Mission accomplished: he beat me by 4% instead of 7% in the second speed task, and I maintained my lead. I felt encouraged going into the last time round. I noticed upon review of our data after the competition that my overall performance and Jeff’s, too, dropped a bit from the first to the second tasks in each category as we both became more responsive to the feedback from our FlySights and worked harder to correct our performance, which unfortunately actually caused greater inconsistency and less efficient flight.
Nonetheless, my first competition was a success, and I earned first place in a very close match with a truly talented and skilled competitor. Plus, I had a blast and learned a ton from this experience! I put on my ATC and joined a few other competitors in their bigger suits (Freak 2, ATC, and a couple others) for a fun flock at sunset, and it was the perfect end to the weekend. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn from this event and all of the incredible people who attended and offered their insight and support to a new competitor. I can’t wait for more experiences like this, and I would encourage anyone with an inclination to learn, grow, and play in this sport to take advantage of opportunities like performance competitions whenever possible. Regardless of your suit size and experience, there is something to gain from learning to read FlySight data, practicing techniques to maximize suit performance, and surrounding yourself with more experienced wingsuiters willing to share their knowledge and their love of the sport with you.
*Results from the Open competition can be found here: https://skyderby.ru/events/41