What do you get when you cross five airplanes, eighty-four upright flyers, and a bottomless pit of champagne and tequila? A hell of a hangover and a whole bunch of freshly baptized, grade-A certified Head-Up World Record holders. Every record has its own story to tell, and this one is no exception. It happened in the eleventh hour while dodging weather, it built over one-hundred people, was within two grips of completion more than once, and was finally made possible by generous donations from SSK and a mystery donor who continued to sponsor loads even after the eighty-four way was complete. While the celebrations aren’t quite finished yet (Summerfest remains in full swing, and if you’re missing it, you’re wrong), there are a few observations that may help those of you who aspire to be on the next big feet-down formation.
1. Skydive more.
The tunnel is a tool, not a miracle solution to your awkward and spastic head-up flying. Go to any big way camp and you’ll see some of the fanciest, tight-suit flying, fat-daffy rocking flyers slip all over the sky like it’s made of banana peels. If you want to train for a skydiving event, do it by skydiving. The rig, the lack of reference points, the overwhelming visuals, the difference in levels, the approaches, the breakoffs, the canopy traffic, hypoxia, boredom, pressure, etc… are all items that make tunnel-only people flop at head-up big ways. Of course, the tunnel is an excellent training tool that is highly encouraged, but it is not possible to forego skydiving specific training and expect to be able to safely get the job done.
2. Calm your shit.
Fliving, off level docks, corks, collisions, and bad decisions are all symptoms of a weak mental game. Over the course of twenty-one attempts, the only real changes were the jumpers’ attitudes. A bad jump would inspire focus, and the next jump would be amazing. Then the pressure would build, and the jump after that would be horrible again. Basically, the record was moody. Don’t think about whether or not the next jump will be the one. Just do your job confidently and consistently, and trust that everyone else will eventually do theirs. Here is a helpful mantra, “It’s just skydiving. Nobody else on planet earth will ever care about my world record.” Repeat this for three years, and then come with a level head and have fun butt-flying with your friends. If you’re having trouble understanding the content of this paragraph, reference bullet point number one.
3. Invest in the right gear.
No matter how good you are at flying, having a container jumping around on your back like a coked-up monkey is not a recipe for an enjoyable world record experience. Additionally, shady pin-protection, loose BOC’s, and D-ring reserve handles are all potential contributing factors to a world-record sized fatality. Having gear fear destroys your focus, so jump something that mitigates that fear as much as possible. I prefer UPT rigs because they don’t buck me around when I’m head up and because of their bomber pin protection, but whatever you decide to jump, the deciding factor better not be the price tag.
The same goes for canopies, because on a record you will at least once find yourself opening dangerously close to somebody. In case you haven’t flown a demo in a while, unpredictable openings are, for the most part, optional on modern wings. I jumped a 67 sq. ft. Fluid Wings canopy for the entire record, and had twenty-one bang-on-heading openings in a row. Some of those times it really mattered. There are lots of wing choices that are suitable for a record, but if you’re going to jump a canopy with the heading performance of a merry-go-round, you had better be a world-class tracker.
4. Be a world-class tracker.
It’s not hard to imagine that there will come a time when records are limited by how many people can safely get away, rather than how many people can safely take a dock. Invest in a few angle camps. Knowing you have the movement skills to approach a formation with power takes away a third of your freefall stress. Knowing you can drive it like you stole it on breakoff cuts out another third. With two thirds less stress, it’s easier to accomplish bullet point number 2, and safer to accomplish bullet point number 1. Plus, who doesn’t like to go fast?
5. Remember why you’re there.
Skydiving is fun. Seeing your friends is fun. Doing unique skydives is fun. Challenging yourself is fun. Riding in a cramped jump plane for forty-five minutes is… never mind. Records. Are. Fun.
Not all moments in a record are fun. It’s easy to get discouraged after seeing the same mistakes over and over for days. However, a record isn’t about already being able to do the job. It’s about taking a bunch of people who might be able to do the job, and training them to be a team that can. People improve on a record, but sometimes it has to suck before that can happen. It’s o.k., because from the suck comes improvement, friendships, spartan battle cries, chocolate milk, secret hi-fives, airplane chants, slow claps, cheesy theme music, and, if everything lines up, tequila and champagne by the lake. Records are like tragedies. They’re funnier when they’re over.
Bonus point: The Bench.
So much stress comes from the looming hypothetical of getting “cut.” It’s an unavoidable feeling of rejection and frustration when you’re told to take a knee. It’s important to remember, however, that records are team efforts and that those on the bench are a critical part of the team. Jumpers are invited because someone decided they were capable of making the formation, and generally, they are. Maybe they had a bad jump at the wrong time, maybe they french-fried when they were supposed to pizza, maybe they got cut and it wasn’t even their fault. The organizers of a record are in the unenviable position of having to make uncomfortable choices for the overall success of the team, and sometimes this means acting without mercy on decisions that can make or break a record. In this case, there were at least twenty people that got lopped off the outside of the record, and it had nothing to do with their performance and everything to do with how much time and money remained to make a record. It’s not always fair, and those who quietly took a knee for the sake of the team deserve a massive thank you.
Have you ever been on a record? Share your favorite stories below!