Skysurfing Information

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dotIt takes balance, grace and agility to balance on a surfboard. But try it hurtling towards the ground at 105 miles per hour! The result: skysurfing, which is one of the most extreme sports around.

dotSkysurfing unofficially started in 1980 when skydivers in California experimented with boogie boards, lying flat on the boards as they fell from a jump plane.

Seven years later, a French skydiver stood up on a board while in free fall for the first time, wearing snowboard boots to hold the board to his feet.

The first competition was held in 1990. A year later, a Reebok commercial put the sport in the spotlight.

Competitive skysurfing is in its ninth official year as of 2001. The U.S. Parachute Association hosts several competitions annually, including the national championships. Top skysurfers are selected to represent their country at various world cups, held annually throughout the world.

dotCompetitive skysurfing is a team sport. Each team has two people. One is a skysurfer who stands atop a specially designed board as he or she twists, flips and free falls. The other person is a cameraperson, or cameraflyer, who skydives alongside the surfer to record the surfer's moves on a helmet-mounted camera.

Judges score the team's video based on technical accuracy, performance and video presentation. Most contests include seven rounds of jumps. Two of these jumps are compulsory jumps, where the team must perform manoeuvres set out by the judges. The remaining five jumps are choreographed by the team.

dotOutside of competitions, however, skysurfing is a solo sport. For some, the solitude is peaceful. For others, it's just plain lonely.

"Skysurfing is a lonely sport," says skysurfer Tim Overby. "Other than the cameraman -- if you can afford to have him jump with you all the time -- you're out there alone most of the time." Overby has been involved in skydiving sports for six years.

dotSkysurfing starts the moment the team leaves the airplane -- at about 14,000 feet over the drop zone (DZ). For the first minute, the athletes free fall at speeds of up to 140 miles per hour. Then, the show begins, with the surfers using the boards to propel themselves through the air.

dotOne common misconception about skysurfing is that it's close to wakeboarding or snowboarding. The truth is, it's a whole different sport. Airborne surfers use complex aerodynamics to perform their tricks. Skysurfing is much closer to skydiving than to any kind of surfing or boarding.

dotSkysurfing is quite possibly the most expensive sport around. Almost without exception, you'll need a great sponsor or an incredibly fat inheritance to get involved. Overby says, "Expensive is the word!"

First of all, you will have to pay for training. Then, there is the equipment you will need, including a suit, board, boot, helmet, harness and parachute. The equipment alone adds up to thousands of dollars.

Beyond that, you've got the cost of airplanes, pilots and often cameraflyers for every drop you do. Pro teams average 500 jumps a year, at about $18 US per one-minute jump. That's $9,000 for little more than eight hours of airtime! If you plan to train overseas, be prepared to pay up to $75 per jump.

dotThose who love this sport may be able to find work related to it. There are professional skysurfers, along with judges and other sport officials. Those who like this sport may also find work with companies who manufacture skysurfing equipment.

Skysurfer Michelle Germain says the potential for income in skysurfing is "the same as any other job -- the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. The money is there. You just have to work hard for it."

A total of $190,000 was awarded to top skysurfers and freeflyers in 1997.

dotAccording to Germain, about 25 per cent of skysurfers are women. In some drop zones, men and women are equally represented. "Women are definitely a growing part of the sport," she says.

dotSkysurfing is a very physically demanding sport. To Germain's knowledge, nobody has tried skysurfing with a physical disability. However, she points out that "anything is possible for anyone strong enough to overcome a challenge in their lives." Germain adds that her brother had his leg amputated in 1993 and still skydives with great success.

Getting Started

dotLearning to skysurf begins with learning to skydive. This will require on-the-ground training and a series of jumps. Most skysurfers have hundreds of skydives to their credit.

Once you have your jump, free fall, landing, and emergency moves down, you can begin skysurfing. Overby suggests that beginning skydivers get a minimum of 200 to 300 jumps before adding the board to the equation.

From there, skydivers must pass a competency test. "I evaluate anyone who wants to become a skysurfer," explains Germain. "Some want to compete [and] some want to just try it once. Either way, you must be evaluated....Once you've been given the go-ahead, then it's time for a ride!"


U.S. Parachute Association
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Alexandria , VA   22314


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