Over 115,000 people lined the shores of Pebling Lake in the center of downtown Copenhagen, eagerly watching a helicopter circle before the exit of first jumper kicked off a brand new era in skydiving…
2017 marks the 3rd year in a row where a freestyle swooping competition was held on live tv in the heart of Denmark. This year Swoop Freestyle, headed by George Stribling Blythe and Michael Kattrup Lassen, really upped the stakes. A World Champion would be crowned at the end of the competition, backed by the stamp of the FAI. As the first jumper exited, the roar of the crowd could be heard across the city!
18 of the best freestyle swoopers from across the planet filtered into Copenhagen, expecting big things. They were met by an army of volunteers and a massive array of staff members. The first day was spent in meetings and briefings, filling the competitors in on how everything would shake down. Rules were covered in every detail; course layout was discussed and the production details were disclosed. One of the big changes for this year was the rules. The competitors were limited to 2 move combos per round. This was to promote holding each move for a longer time to display the moves better to the public. The moves were also limited to the basic moves on the list provided by the judging panel. This meant no Ginger Flip or Barrel Rolls this year. The judges laid out exactly what they were looking for in depth during the briefing, along with the adjusted 75-meter action zone and where the competitors were expected to make their approach from. It was obvious to everyone that the staff had poured their heart and souls into this event for the past year. Not a single detail had been overlooked and everything had to work like a well-oiled machine to pull this event off. The competitors headed out for some R and R before the start of the event with dreams of victory bouncing around their heads.
the staff had poured their heart and souls into this event
Friday saw the arrival of the training day. Each competitor was to complete 2 jumps in the same amount of time that both qualifying and finals would occur in the following day – a dry run for the main event on Saturday. The winds were very strong during the training runs, gusting around 25 knots on the ground while the uppers were even stronger. Even the most seasoned of competitors were struggling with their setups. One of the toughest things the competitors had to deal with about Swoop Freestyle is the fact that it is not just a competition. While dealing with the normal pressures of a World Championship event, they were also in effect putting on a demo and a show for the crowd.
While dealing with the pressures of a World Championship event, they were putting on a show for the crowd
There were 10-meter-tall trees just off the perimeter of the course, and just behind those were 4 to 5 story buildings. Depending on the angle of approach for the selected move, turbulence could be a huge factor and wasn’t quite the same as you would run into at a dropzone. Boats either plucked jumpers out of the water or grabbed them from the raft. The competitors had just a few seconds to sort out their gear, take their helmets off and make a good show for the cameras following them in secondary boats. After jumping out onto the dock, they were shuffled down to Irish, one of the MCs, for a quick interview before the next competitor came in, all the while Regan Tetlow and Matt Fogerty commentated to the crowd. It was a huge production feat to keep everything moving that the competitors also had a part to play.
After the interview, we had just shy of 10 minutes to pack soaking wet gear that had been all tangled up from getting dragged out of the water, then we would jump in a car, drive across the city, get in a boat, shoot across the bay, jump in another van that would take us to our operational helipad at the Danish Naval Academy. Jumping soaking wet gear also affects how the canopies fly, so some adjustments have to be made to flying styles. All while focusing on our competition and playing it up for the crowd and watching what we say on live tv. No big deal, right?! Some of the competitors chose to simplify their moves for training just to get the setups down. Doing just a boomerang helps get the setup, then doing a boomerang blindman during qualifying and finals is a perfect example. The conditions were so tough that very few competitors landed on the raft, most overshooting with the strong downwind push. The high winds also made the 600 by 200 meter wide body of water very choppy, making it tough to stay down on the water which is an integral part of the scoring process. When the dust settled after training, Nick Batsch ended up in 1st, Claudio Cagnasso in 2nd, David Ludvik in 3rd, Jeannie Bartholomew in 4th, and Curt Bartholomew rounded out the top 5.
After the training rounds most of the competitors stuck around and hung out in the VIP area waiting on some festivities for the night. The venue was set up with a live DJ, a massive screen to show slow-mo replays for the crowds, food trucks on every corner, a huge JBL inflatable tent, and a crane was even set up for bungie jumping during the event. The organizers put on a huge night demo for the crowd that stuck around. Everything from single swoopers landing on the raft, to a 3 way team landing, freeflying with pyro, and even night xRW was put on for the crowd. A good chunk of the judging panel got to make a jump with Tukes Iwamoto and Pat Kaye, involved with freeflying and creating a barber pole with the pyro visible from the ground. Billy Sharman, who was largely involved with organizing the event lead the team swoop. Max Manow flew the canopy side of the xRW with the Red Bull Team of Marco Fuerst and Marco Waltenspiel flying wingsuits lit up with LEDs and pryo, while Wuzi Wagner was the video slot. The two wingsuiters were cleared to jump BASE rigs out of the helis for the show and pulled just over 100 meters off the ground to a collective gasp from the audience. The demo was something spectacular to watch and was executed flawlessly in less than ideal conditions. Even though the ground winds dropped off, the uppers were still just as strong making the setups tough.
Wingsuiters were cleared to jump BASE rigs for the show and pulled 100 meters off the ground to a collective gasp
Saturday was the big day. Everyone got together for a quick briefing in the morning before heading out to their various assigned tasks. First up was qualifying. The weather was much better than the day before, but still a bit windy with more downwind conditions. Reverse order from the previous year’s rankings was how the competitors would be seeded. Scores started to rise as everyone adapted to the tricky conditions and fell into a groove. Two shockers were Nick Batsch and Curt Bartholomew. Nick rushed a move on the first jump due to a tight setup and crashed, dropping him down to eventually qualify in 14th out of 18. Reigning 2016 Champion Curt struggled a bit as he changed his first-round move from the day before and qualified in 11th. Ulisse Idra surprised a lot people while qualifying in the top spot with some very difficult moves. Christian Webber, the hometown hero, qualified in 2nd with some impressive Ghostrider Lazyboys. Cornelia Mihai improved her runs quite a bit and moved into the third spot. Claudio took 4th, Aurel Marquet took 5th, Max Manow took 6th, Jeannie took 7th, Abdulbari Qubaisi took 8th, and David Ludvik rounded out the top half of the qualifying positions. The production staff was on point, filling gaps and switching from camera to camera and showing slow-motion replays while Regan and Matt talked the crowds through what was happening. The competitors only had a few minutes to process what happened and what they needed to adjust going into the finals. Only an hour separated qualifying and finals and the competitors had to get packed up, get back to the helipad and figure out which load they were on. The results from qualifying decided the jump order, and the competitors would exit in reverse order of the standings so that the top qualifiers would exit last.
Cameras followed the competitors around the staging area at the helipad as they made final preparations. More air displays from wingsuiters and even a tandem kept the crowds busy and interested during the lull in competition. The first load boarded the plane ready for battle, and as they exited over 115,000 spectators watched and cheered for their favorites. The wind continued to drop off and the conditions could not have been better. Scores skyrocketed and everyone was flying very strong. David Ludvik, Nick Batsch, and Max Manow all came out of the gates swinging with scores in the 75 point range with Ghostrider Supermans and Blindman Boomerangs. Curt Bartholomew also fared better during the competition and was only a few points behind those scores, as well as Ulisse with a strong showing. Travis Mills had a score of 71 points with an impressive Method Cowboy. Christian Webber and Claudio also were right on everyone’s tails. The crowd went nuts every time a competitor landed on the raft, which was happening more frequently with the better conditions. When someone would slide off the end of the raft the collective gasps were comical, the crowd really got into the show and everyone was having a great time.
When someone would slide off the end of the raft the collective gasps were comical
There were also some epic camera flyers following the competitors around and the crowd got to enjoy some live air to air shots on the big screen. Mike McCann flew the live video camera with Billy Sharman and Wuzi Wagner flying normal air-to-air cameras. The video pilots did a fantastic job displaying the amazing views from the air that the competitors got to enjoy, bringing a unique aspect to the crowd’s eyes. The second round pushed the competition and had everyone on the edge of their seats. Nick, Curt and Claudio all had scores up over the 70-point mark again, with Claudio taking the highest score for the round. Curt barely slid off the edge of the raft, which surely would have seen him take the top spot if had just managed to stay on. That kept Nick in first place overall after his Boomerang Blindman just 1.5 points ahead of Curt after his Wingover Lazyboy. David Ludvik came in on his second round with a Blindman Ghostrider and put himself in the top spot, edging Nick out by only .09 points! Max Manow was one of the few left to score that could change up the podium positions. As Curt nervously watched on in 3rd place, Max came in with a Cowboy Blindman on the course and put himself into 4th overall. Ulisse threw down an impressive Boomerang Miracleman on the last round as the final competitor to run the course.
When all was said and done, David Ludvik took home the title as the first ever World Champion in Freestyle Swooping followed by Nick Batsch in 2nd, Curt Bartholomew in 3rd, Max Manow in 4th, Claudio Cagnasso in 5th, and Christian Webber in 6th. The mayor of Copenhagen delivered the medals to the top three on the podium as the crowd watched on. After the event, most people stayed and continued to party and have an amazing time. Athletes got to meet some of the spectators and sign some autographs and t-shirts and mingle with the VIPs, while the organizers continued to scramble around and get everything taken care of.
Later that night the organization threw an after-party for everyone involved. The event was a huge success and went off almost flawlessly, with so many moving pieces falling into place and so many people working together for one common goal. The event never would have happened without so many volunteers and all of the hard work and dedication from the core staff. From all of the competitors we would like to thank everyone involved for putting on such an amazing event. It is truly the beginning of a new era in skydiving and one we hope to see grow and put our sport into the living rooms of people all over the world.
Curt is a professional canopy coach, CP competitor and cameraflyer, with over 8,000 jumps in his 11 years in the sport. He is a 5-time world champion and has so many national championship titles we can’t count them! He is an ambassador for the sport, always giving his time at events to talk to public and aspiring pilots. Curt competes with his wife Jeannie, in team Alter Ego, and they have an enviable life traveling the globe teaching people to fly. He would love to see swooping become a truly commercialized, competitive sport.