SKYSURFING - THE THRILL OF YOUR LIFE
By - Nancy Terrell (reprinted from Compass - 1998. Thanks to Andy for this great photo)
Sailing has been my #1 avocation for the past three decades. My sons feel the same way about surfing. All three of us adore flying, so it was with great interest that I turned on the Telly the other night and just happened to catch the World Skysurfing Championship on the Xtreme Games. Did I ever sit up in my chair! As I am naturally curious about how sports such as skysurfing get started, I decided to do a little investigating.
It seems that skysurfing is not such a new sport at all. It was actually started in 1980 by a group of Southern California jumpers (wouldn't you know) who wanted to experiment in "freefall" with styro-foam "boogie" boards. At the time it was called Air Surfing. You will remember that boogie boards were very popular, at that time, with ocean going body surfers. It's what the kids called "riding the waves". Well, these guys took their boards to the sky and tried riding them by lying flat on the board and gripping the side rails.
Around 1986, P.M. Magazine filmed a segment showing Air Surfing. The important thing here was that it was the first time a freefall cameraman had been used. Today, skysurfing is done as a two person team with the cameraman being as equally important as the skysurfer.
A year later, Frenchman Joel Cruciani made the first freefall jumps on a board while standing in a traditional surf position. He was the first to use a regular size wave surfboard with snowboard boot bindings. Obviously, the surfer must have stabilized feet in order to do the difficult freefall stunts that they do in competition. In just another year, a French jumper, Laurent Bouquet, started doing experiments with a skateboard sized board strapped to his feet and equipped with its own small parachute recovery system.
By 1990 the sport had really grabbed hold of enthusiasts and the first World Freestyle Championships were announced for the U.S. The event was designed with the goal of creating a TV friendly form of competitive skydiving. The concept was to use a video camera as both the judging medium and as a participating creative element, making it the world's first "video sport." That same year, a handful of European jumpers begin experimenting with standing erect (surfing) on boards during freefall. This activity then officially received the name of Skysurf.
The first World Freestyle Championships were held in Texas using the team video sport concept designed for TV. The teams consisted of a Freestyle performer, a mid air gymnastics and a "camera flyer" who used a helmet mounted camcorder. The recorded video was then sent to the ground and a panel of judges where it was judged for best overall presentation, including camera creativity. Twelve teams from five nations attended this event.
In 1991, skysurfing received world wide attention when an Australian squad performed "stunt" jumps over the outback while attempting to stand on regular ocean surf boards for a Coca-cola commercial. The second annual World Freestyle Championships were held in Vero Beach, FL under the new banner of the World Freestyle Federation (WFF). Fifteen teams from six nations competed.
A year later, the Federation Francaise de Parachutisme recognized Skysurf as a sport and included it in their insurance program. This actually paved the way for the development of a novice-training program. The recognition cleared the way for French Civil Aviation authorities to rule that cutting away a sky board is a genuine emergency air procedure and thus placing jettisoned boards in the same non-liability category as falling aircraft whose pilots have ejected for emergency reasons.
In 1992, Surflite was invented, a light weight honeycomb aluminum with graphite/kevlar composites borrowed from ski and surf industries. To solve the liability question in the U.S., Surflite marketed a parachute recovery system for the skyboard that activates upon cutaway. However the system is prohibited in France as unsafe. Are you beginning to understand how dangerous this sport is.
The first competitive Skysurfing demonstration was held in November of 1992 as part of the WFF Freestyle World Championships. Twenty one teams from eleven nations attended this event and a half hour program was produced by McKeeman Productions and shown on the ESPN networks around the world.
The WFF has really made skysurfing what it is today as it has issued a set of rules for competitive Skysurfing setting both performance and safety standards for participation. The first Skysurfing World Championships were held as part of the fourth annual event at Empuriabrava, Spain. Forty teams from fifteen nations attended this time and the sport was growing. Sky surfers don't fall significantly faster or slower than other skydivers, and although the videos make it appear they cover a lot of horizontal area, in reality their trajectory is much like yours: straight down. Generally speaking, small boards fall faster than normal freefall, while large ones fall slower.
In '93, the second annual Skysurfing World Championships were held in Eloy, Arizona and featured both Men's Skysurfing and the first Women's Skysurfing division. By this time new rules were made and boards that were lighter than a set weight (relative to their surface area) were not required to use a mini-parachute system. Fifty one teams from eighteen nations competed.
The competition also received its first major corporate endorsement in the form of title sponsorship by Sony Handycam. A first ever cash purse of $5,000 paid $700 to first place finishers in the four open divisions. Also, the first woman Skysurfer, American Amy Baylie-Haass, was shown in a TV commercial for Sony Handycam.
I guess we could say, in anyone's terms, that Skysurfing has come a long way. Just imagine what the future holds!