Catching up with… Andy Grauwels

by Lesley Gale
by Lesley Gale

Multiple World Champion Andy Grauwels, 34, has been skydiving for 18 years and on Hayabusa for 15 years. This year saw his 100th competition with Hayabusa and an unbroken run of 30 gold medals, from major international competitions, indoor and outdoor. Andy is an incredibly fast flyer and the bright light of the team, always smiling, full of energy and with an infectious zest for life. With his strong, powerful, super-experienced brother Dave on the team it's a forceful combination. They are the only two remaining founder members of Hayabusa.

When you were at school what did you want to be when you grew up?

Actually I wanted to be a helicopter pilot, we had this series on Belgian TV about a search and rescue team and I was amazed how these pilots handled their helicopter to pick up victims. I guess flying and heights have always been running through my veins.

I was fascinated with the idea to join the army as a helicopter pilot but my grades and my own lack of commitment to studying didn’t really help me continue this direction. Somehow I did enter the army, but to SKYDIVE, how cool is that?! That’s how life surprises you ;-)

Andy's first skydive, at 10 years old
Andy's first skydive, at 10 years old

How did you start skydiving?

Our dad was really into skydiving when we were little and I joined him each weekend so I could hang out with my friends at the drop zone. There was no doubt that I wanted to skydive like my dad, so he gave me the opportunity to do my first tandem at age 10. It was so special, incredibly overwhelming and thrilling. It was the first time I experienced my whole body shaking with adrenaline and joy. The jump had sparked a fire to want this even more.

"As a kid I was very active and couldn’t sit still" — by Lesley Gale
"As a kid I was very active and couldn’t sit still" — by Lesley Gale

Did you ever dream of being a world champion? With your brother?

Not really. As a kid I was very active and couldn’t sit still. And on top of that I had a extremely competitive mindset – always wanting to prove I could do better. In school doing athletics, rollerblading, go-karting with friends, climbing, etc. But I couldn’t keep my focus to practice it. Except for skydiving, it required a team commitment and this was my drive.

I always looked up to Dave growing up and I was determined to be as good in skydiving as him. So I wanted to catch up fast and watched endless hours of 4way videos in my spare time. (So I was already visualising moves before I even started skydiving. Only later in my career I would understand the power of visualisation.)

Our first team together was the start of our current team Hayabusa, the idea we had was making great skydives, have fun and qualify for the World Championships. The results at our first World Meet made us believe we could do better with more training. It started out dreaming of jumping with the best. My team mates are the best and I am fortunate to jump with them.

What does your brother Dave bring to Hayabusa?

Dave is a very strong and balanced flyer plus he manages to be extremely efficient. What made him the flyer he is today is the diversity of slots he had on the team. Being an outside center and my piece-partner until 2009, today we run the center. His position is vital to the team because of his accurate moves, keys and organising skills.

"I like to think I bring fun and laughter to the team" — by Lesley Gale
"I like to think I bring fun and laughter to the team" — by Lesley Gale

What do you bring to the team?

I’d like to think that I bring fun and laughter to the team. And some experience of the years I have grown on the Hayabusa project. My side work is designing logos and banners, press relationships and social media, plus the technical side of our team's performance through comparing scores and timings.

Who is your biggest support?

We have have a ton of amazing people that support my team and myself. I am truly grateful to have such fans and help from sponsors. My friends and family are huge supporters and always there to help. My teammates, we travel and live most of our days, together we make fun and endure hard times.

My beautiful wife, she follows me though my dreams and supports my crazy ambitions. When I deal with stress from competing and training she is always there to balance out my ups or downs. I like to believe that we all make the dreams come true and celebrate the victories together.

Dave and Andy Grauwels
Dave and Andy Grauwels

What are the pros and cons of being brothers on a team?

I guess the biggest con and at the same time pro, is that when Dave and me argue we forget the filter that you use with others or teammates. So our words tend to be more direct and tougher :-)

Through my childhood I have spent loads of time with my brother apart from skydiving and when we eventually became teammates we grew up building the same ambition. We went through a rollercoaster of emotions together before we even got close to were we are now. It took us a lot of sweat and tears. And we kept motivating each other to do the hard work, and we keep doing it over and over again.

Dave and Andy – Having fun takes the pressure off between the competitions
Dave and Andy – Having fun takes the pressure off between the competitions

Did Hayabusa win everything after your first World Meet gold in Prostejov?

When Jeroen (Bob) entered the team after the 2014 World Championships, we only did 50 jumps together to prepare for the DIPC in Dubai. That competition we ended on a 2nd place. But we were very pleased with the progression we made in a very short time. Our next competition was the Wind Games a month later, January 2015 where we needed to take it up against Airspeed. We won that meet and since that day we haven’t lost a single indoor or outdoor competition. See: http://www.skydivehayabusa.com/en/results (summarised at end of interview).

What was your average at the start of your series of wins, and what is your highest average now?

We won our first competition with Jeroen at Wind Games with a 30.4 average indoors and are now at 34.9. Outdoors we went from a 25 average to 27.

What factors contributed to that increase?

When we won the World Championships in 2014, Roy decided to leave the team. Jeroen came into the team and together with Gary, we considered it to be a new 4way team. We allowed Jeroen to take his time and develop his own techniques and most of all we didn’t force any speed on him. He is a quick learner and picked everything up fast. With his great learning skills we worked on efficiency and experimented with new ways to sharpen our times.

Our team shares the same great ambitions and each member brings his own qualities to the table to make it a perfect fit. The most important thing that we incorporate in our training sessions is fun. It takes the pressure off between all the competitions.

Hayabusa Exit
Hayabusa Exit

Do the wins start to feel the same or are they all different?

Winning is a great feeling. We train a whole season and plan wisely to peak at the big events, that way we are sharp when we go up against our closest rivals. The victories where we have to fight for each point feel the best because we have to give it all we have with no holding back.

Other competitions where we know it might be easier to win, we use the opportunity to go up against ourselves and put scores as benchmarks. The victory in the end does feel different because you are not in the same fight and don’t deal with the stress levels and emotions that go through your body when we share a plane ride or stand in the tunnel chamber with our close rivals.

What are the most important competitions for you this year, and why?

Our ambition when we enter a competition is winning. We train hard to keep up with the best. But we do select which are our priority meets. This year we chose the outdoor World Championships in Australia and the indoor World Cup in Bahrain.

The outdoor World Championships are our Olympics, it is held every 2 years and is the biggest event in our sport. Every nation has a chance to take home the Excalibur sword with your name on the plaque, next to all the World Champions in 4way history.

The indoor World Cup is the first big meet to start the indoor season.

What are you most looking forward to about the World Champs in Australia?

Fighting with Airspeed and France and hopefully bring back the sword.

What are you most looking forward to at the Indoor World Cup, Gravity?

A fierce battle with Weembi Mix like the one we had in Bedford this year.

The Indoor World Cup is less than 2 weeks after the outdoor World Championships, what extra challenges are presented by this?

Well, the dates are not ideal and it’s going to be a tough switch between outdoor to indoor. Flying your body in the sky with a parachute on your back is different from tunnel flying. We have to anticipate the momentum and weight of the rig. In the tunnel the speed of performing is faster because we don’t have to deal with the rig any more. The entrances we use to enter the tunnel are also not the same as from an airplane.

We always look forward for a challenge and we are confident that we can make the switch easily through our experience and training as soon as we come back from Australia.

"I love to swoop my canopy to a fast landing, it boosts my adrenaline"
"I love to swoop my canopy to a fast landing, it boosts my adrenaline"

What’s more fun for you, tunnel or sky?

I am in love with the sky, the feeling of freedom of free falling through the sky and clouds. The diversity of disciplines and dimensions we have to play. And on top of that, flying our fast canopies and swooping it to a smooth landing boosts my adrenaline.

What is your favorite Hayabusa memory/moment?

One of my favourite memories was not a victory but a memory from back in 2003, we went on a training camp in Lapalisse, France. We invited our coach Doug Park to come over. We drove 10 hour drive to this boogie, and we camped in tents. Our coach didn’t mind camping with us and slept in one of the vans. In the evening we were doing bbqs and joining the parties. And when it got too hot during the day we spent time at the dz swimming pool. Such a relaxed way, camping with friends and training at the same time.

How long will Hayabusa keep winning?

No, idea. I am very realistic that there will come an end to our winning streak, but we are in good shape and when it happens we will never back down and always fight back. That’s who we are and where we train for. Craig Girard once told us; I am in it for the fight.

Thanks Andy and good luck!

We also interviewed Andy's brother Dave, read it here

Hayabusa Results

Competitions and record results with current Hayabusa line-up

Results 2018

Wind Games Indoor Championship, Empuriabrava, Spain, February: 1st place: 33,2 World Challenge Indoor, Bedford, UK, April: 1st place: 34,9 (8th consecutive time) Unofficial World Record Highest average 34,9 + World Record 62p

Results 2017

Wind Games Indoor Championship, Empuriabrava, Spain, February: 1st place: 32,5 French Indoor Nationals 4way, Lille, France, April: 31,3 French Indoor Nationals 8way, Lille, France, April 29,4 NEW INDOOR BELGIAN HIGHEST AVERAGE AND HIGHEST RECORD: 42p World Challenge Indoor, Bedford, UK, April: 1 st place: 33,1 (7th consecutive time) World Military Championship CISM, Soest, Germany, July 1st place 35,4p WORLD CUP, Germany, August: 1st place European Championship, Germany, August: 1st place 8way WORLD CUP, Germany, August: 3rd place 8way European Championship, Germany, August: 2nd place Belgian Nationals 4-way, August: 1st place 26,2p US Nationals 4-way, September: 1st place 27,0p US Nationals 8-way, September: 2nd place 18,5p NEW BELGIAN HIGHEST AVERAGE AND HIGHEST RECORD: 26p World Championship Indoor, Montréal, Canada, October: 1st place 32,7 NEW WORLD RECORD HIGHEST AVERAGE Flight Fighters Indoor, Bahrain, Bahrain, December: 1st place 32,2

Results 2016

Wind Games Indoor Championship, Empuriabrava, Spain, January: 1st place: 29,2 World Challenge Indoor, Bedford, UK, April: 1 st place: 32 (6th consecutive time) World Military Championship CISM, Kubinka, Russia, July 1st place Belgian Nationals 4-way, July: 1st place WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, Chicago, USA, August, 1 st place: 26,2 WORLD CUP Indoor, Warsaw, Poland, October: 1st place 30,6 Weembinamic Indoor 8way, Lille, France, December: 1st place 27,8 NEW INDOOR BELGIAN HIGHEST AVERAGE AND HIGHEST RECORD: 36p

Results 2015

Wind Games Indoor Championship, Empuriabrava, Spain, January: 1st place: 30,4 World Challenge Indoor, Bedford, UK, April: 1 st place: 30,4 (5th consecutive time) Belgian Nationals 4-way, August: 1st place 25,7 European Championship, The Netherlands, September: 1st place 25,0 WORLD CUP, The Netherlands, September: 1st place 25,0 Belgian Nationals 8-way, September: 1st place 16,3 NEW BELGIAN HIGHEST AVERAGE AND HIGHEST RECORD: 23p Military World Games, Mungyeong, South Korea, October: 1st place World Championship Indoor, Czech Republic, October: 1st place 31,1 Clash of Champions, Indoor, Dubai, November: 1st place 31,3 World Air Games, December: 1st place 26,9

Results 2014

DIPC Dubai Parachuting Championship, December: 2nd place 24,1

This article was originally published on skydivemag

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