After years of doing this we have learned that what the judges want to see and what everyone else actually thinks is good are not the same thing.
The way freefly competitions are judged is based upon rules. Being mindful of this while training - even to the point of prioritising it above flying to the limits of your actual ability, will see you right in the eyes of a judge who as likely as not will lack the fully developed frame of reference to evaluate exactly how difficult or technical something is. It is popular for freefly types to mock bellyflyers for their adherence to a competition format that is measured out in letters and numbers, as if the way we compete is in some way different or better. In truth, artistic competitions should be considered closer to this than what we might hope or imagine they really are.
We wanted a gold medal this year, but we came second and everything I care to say about it is contained within the paragraph above - as much fun as it would be for me to rage about my puzzlement over yet another competition, it would serve no purpose other than to make me sound like a bad loser when this space could and should be put to better use.
Arranging, executing and judging a skydiving competition is no doubt a lot of work, and we are grateful to everyone who helps to make it happen. 2014 has been our finest performance to date - we have evolved from a seven-point-something team to an eight-point-something team and returned from the Czech Republic with a result that we desired but by no means expected. We are better at this now than we have ever been, and so as long as we keep improving it is worthwhile to continue.
We are better at this now than we have ever been, and so as long as we keep improving it is worthwhile to continue
There are valuable peripheral benefits from forming or joining a team. Done correctly, you develop the ability to appeal to potential sponsors and access the proper channels by which to show gratitude to those who already offer their support. Also to be had is the type of exposure that is important to those who seek to turn their skydiving skills into meaningful income, as well as the motivation to turn up on time, to train harder, to be better. In my case, there is plenty of material to turn into animal metaphors for use in making people laugh on the internet.
This year at Hibaldstow the weather was even more crappy than usual. We got the competition done in a few rushed hours sandwiched between long periods of too much grey sky, but that gave us plenty of time to conspire about things related to our sport - most importantly the underdeveloped potential of the British freefly scene. We even grew bored enough to willingly attend a BPA meeting, much of which was dedicated to the discussion of the distribution of the funds available through the official channels.
Each year our national parachuting association turns a profit, and whilst it is certainly wise and comforting to know there is a small fortune in a bank account that might bail us out should some form of unforeseen dreadfulness occur within the industry, there is scope for portions of this cash to be put to a constructive purpose that would benefit British skydiving as a whole - the only problem is agreeing on exactly what that might be…
It wouldn’t take a lot for us to be a first tier nation at world level
At one end of the scale is the opinion that handing over enough cash to one or more of the top teams that we might go hunting for international medals is the way forward, and at the other is that a blanket reduction of the annual membership fee would be the most diplomatic way to ensure everybody benefits a little. We have seen in the past that awarding a team a significant amount of money is no guarantee of success, and therefore risky, as without triumph there is no real tangible evidence of any motivating effect to pay forward. Also, while giving the entire skydiving population of this country an extra jump ticket is certainly fairest way, it gets us heading nowhere at all. Is the most progressive solution somewhere between the two?
There is definite interest and potential in this country to raise the game - seven teams entered the intermediate freefly competition at this year’s nationals. How much effort would it take to turn that into seven teams signing up for the pro category?
What we are collectively proposing, as the two current official Great Britain freefly teams, is that with some support from the BPA allocated wisely and efficiently, by sharing the skills we have and the lessons we have learned from years of competing at both national and international level, we could move our freefly scene a step forward. It wouldn’t take a lot for us to be a first tier nation at world level rather than a second as the skills are present and available, it needs just a bit better guidance and organisation - a nudge here and there in the right direction.
At the end of next season we should be and could be planning for fifty slots for our head-down record which, as a default statement of Britishness, is more than the French. We might just manage, as a country with four established wind tunnels, to put forward more than an occasional team into the now regular indoor competitions around the world, and possibly, on the back of our collective successes, have the will to back whoever goes to Chicago in 2016 to bring home some shiny.
Who would dream so big?