The Wide Open Wingsuit Series (WOWS) is the first ever 4-cross competition that is “open”, meaning that any qualified wingsuit pilot may register. During the 2016 WOWS competition season, three Regional Qualifiers were held around the USA and the first WOWS Championships just wrapped up at Skydive Perris. Thirty-two wingsuit pilots battled through a series of elimination brackets in two events: speed and distance.
WOWS speed and distance events are head-to-head with four pilots racing to an actual finish line. In a speed heat this is typically marked as a road or runway, while an end altitude known as the floor marks the finish line for distance. Regional events use a “rabbit” format where an impartial wingsuit pilot flies base to start the race for the 4-person heat. On the rabbit’s key, the four racers accelerate toward the finish line and the first to cross wins the heat. Speed heats can be decided by one-tenth of a second or less, and a distance heat by just one meter. To judge and score the competitor, a FlySight GPS receiver is used. The first two pilots from each heat advance to the next round.
For the Championship event, the rabbit is removed from the race design and four pilots from each heat line up on the Skyvan tailgate, facing the line of flight. Once the plane arrives at a pre-determined GPS coordinate, the official tells the competitors to get ready and initiates the light tree start. This light counts down in a drag racing format and the pilots watch ever so cautiously for the sequence to begin. Red to yellow to green and the race is on. Following the short-lived green “go” light, a full tree of red appears. If a pilot's foot/hand is still touching the aircraft, a huge advantage to the competitor, the pilot is disqualified.
Needless to say, it is an exciting and instantaneous 4-way exit, making the first few seconds of every heat very dynamic and adding a critical variable to the start. Even the most elite wingsuit pilots can lose their heat with a false start, making it anyone’s heat to win… or lose. [Click here for the 360º experience on your mobile device or VR headseet]
The first WOWS Championships saw pilots who had competed at one or all of the WOWS 2016 Regional Qualifiers, and some professional pilots who were admitted based on past competition experience. The seeding for round one was based on the following weighted criteria (in this order):
The level of talent was extremely competitive this year with Red Bull Aces podium finishers Will Kitto and Matt Gerdes, FAI World Champion Chris Geiler, USPA National Champion Alexey Galda, 2015 USPA National Champion Travis Mickle, and decorated veteran of the wingsuit community, Tony Uragallo.
After three days of racing, the dust settled and pilots climbed onto speed and distance podiums. Matt Gerdes shared spots on both with a first place win in distance and a third place finish in speed. Keith Forsyth, made a mark for himself at the top of the speed podium. In second place, and a first time competitor in a WOWS event, was Evan Severson. Congratulations to the three speed pilots on the podium whom all hail from Kapowsin Air Sports in WA, home of the Farrington dynasty. We think Andy Farrington, two-time winner of Red Bull Aces, might be rubbing off on these guys. Distance winners Chris Geiler and Will Kitto made some remarkable finishes after a few hard-fought heats, some of which were decided by only a meter on a two mile course.
All WOWS events have giveaways including a highly sought out cash purse. In this championship event, the winning pilots split a $3,000 prize purse, supported by WOWS title sponsor Squirrel and aided by the entry fees. Swag bag goodies included custom WOWS KeySmart key organizers and Comply Foam earphone tips and earplugs. Throughout the weekend, drawing winners received FlySight GPS receivers, Echobox Audio titanium premium earphones and Ragged Mounts wingsuit-friendly cutaway smoke mounts. With that said, the WOWS organization relies highly on sponsors and even operates at a loss to offer prizes to the competitors.
Skydive Perris came through in a big way by providing us with our own Skyvan, and allowing each 4-pilot heat to have their own pass, a crucial factor for scoring and safety. All of us from the WOWS organization are thrilled to have such incredible support from this world class DZ– special thanks to Dan BC for the hospitality. Curt Vogelsang Photography was on-hand shooting images of the starts and outside video of the races. Meanwhile, Andy Clements worked seamlessly on the ground scoring GPS data gathered during the race in tandem with the lovely Natalie Stella, who kept the brackets updated and things moving smoothly throughout the weekend. Negative 4 Productions was also on-site shooting video and capturing the excitement of competitors - video will be released soon. Michael Cooper of FlySight created the software (and the hardware) we use to score the event and his work on this has been invaluable.