It 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.
Skysurfing 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
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.
Competitive 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
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.
Outside 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.
Skysurfing 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.
One 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.
Skysurfing 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.
Those 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
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.
According 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.
Skysurfing 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.
Learning 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!"
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