Tech competes in skydiving competition

Over winter break the Tech Sport Parachute Club made a 30-hour drive to Eloy, Ariz. for the United States Parachute Association (USPA) National Collegiate Parachuting Championships. Skydive Arizona, considered the skydiving capital of the United States, played host for the 87 skydivers from 10 universities, while the USPA provided judges and organization.

Tech’s Sport Parachute Team was founded in 1969, making it one of Tech’s oldest club sports. Since then, the club has graduated some of the most decorated skydivers in the world and claims more than 100 top three finishes in collegiate, national and world competitions in past years alone.

Though military teams almost invariably claim top prizes, civilian skydiving clubs who make a showing gain invaluable experience in competition.

This year, Tech had competitors in two out of seven categories (six-way speed star, four-way, two-way, sport accuracy, classic accuracy and freefly): four-way and sport accuracy. Club President Nikki Russell, Vice President Travis O’Neal, Nathan Briggs and Ryan Bahnsen competed as Tech’s four-way team.

Travis O’Neal claimed third place in Intermediate Sport Accuracy, and Nathan Briggs competed in Novice Sport Accuracy. Between the four members, the team performed over 550 skydives.

Many of these were training jumps made as a team during the weekends, when members regularly drive down to Skydive Atlanta in Thomaston, Ga.

The team left Atlanta Dec. 27. The competition began two days later. It was an exciting time to run practice jumps because as many as five planes were running loads simultaneously for Skydive Arizona’s Boogie—a skydiving “party” that draws skydivers from across the nation both to celebrate and make as many jumps as possible.

Russell, however, could not practice with the team due to health problems. “If it weren’t for the team keeping me going and helping me out I wouldn’t have made it,” Russell said.

The night before competition, each four-way team is given a drawing of “randoms” (formations) and “blocks” (two formations connected by a specific maneuver). The day of competition every team makes six jumps, each of which has a different dive flow (set of points to hit) which must be memorized before the competition.

Eliana Rodriguez and Craig Girard, from the four-way world champion competition group Arizona Airspeed, were there both the night of the draw and the entire day of the competition to help the civilian teams plan their jumps, their exits and how best to turn points.

“It helped level the playing field, for sure…their training was invaluable, we would have gotten half as many points if it weren’t for them,” Russell said.

Each person on a four-way team has a unique role, and the coaches helped everyone to coordinate and switch positions when it was better for the dive flow. Point is a position which requires a really solid flyer because they are often facing away from the group and are responsible for independent work. Inside and outside center are the positions that the team is oriented around. Tail requires a fast flier because they are the last person to attach to the formation once everyone is in place, often having to chase the group.

On the Tech team, Russell flies point, Bahnsen flies inside center, O’Neal flies outside center and Briggs flies tail.

Teams then landed in an area separate from the Boogie, which helped them to focus rather than worry about landing patterns with the 500 other skydivers present. There, a trolley waited to ferry competitors from the landing area back to the loading area. At the end of the day the judges counted up all the points a team hit in all six jumps combined.

Sport accuracy, which Briggs and O’Neal entered, is a competition in which contestants use “sport rigs” (the rectangular parachutes in use for the majority of sport skydiving which, unlike the round “classic” rigs, have inherent forward movement) to land as close as possible to a target on the ground. Briggs competed in Novice Sport Accuracy (for skydivers with under 125 jumps) while O’Neal competed in Intermediate (for skydivers with between 126 and 350 jumps).

This year’s Collegiates was a test run for a new category, the six-way speed star. This is a competition in which six competing members jump separately out of the plane and race against the clock to form a “star” (a circle in which all members are holding hands) as quickly as possible.

The event was a great success, with several impromptu teams forming to compete and Arizona Skydive throwing in a few medals for teams that really excelled.

USPA states that the goal of Collegiates is to “to promote learning, safety, competition, sportsmanship and camaraderie among college skydivers,” and to this end, Larry Hill, the owner of Skydive Arizona, donated three hours of tunnel time for competitors once competition had ended.

“It really exemplified the camaraderie between the competing teams. It was nice to see rivals getting together the next day for fun,” Russell said.

O’Neal and Briggs went in the tunnel with people from Kansas State and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

“Being in there with people who are more experienced than you is invaluable because you’re better able to feel what you personally need to improve on,” Russell said.

For more information on the Tech team visit or email [email protected].

Those interested in getting skydiving certified and competing next year, or just taking their first jump, can attend an informational meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. in CRC Room 243.