Freestyle Nationals Notes

by Chris Rimple
Freestylist, Team Nitro
1999 USA National Champion and 1999 World Silver Medalist
Written during the USA National Skydiving Championships
Perris Valley, California, October 2000

Another year, another Freestyle Nationals, and I'd rather be at home. Do I sound unexcited? As the defending champion, jumping with a new teammate, I should be full of energy and anticipation. So how can I feel ho-hum about an event this important, when it hasn't even started yet? There are many reasons, but the primary one is frustration with the USPA.

Freestyle has been a "second-class citizen" in the eyes of the USPA for years, and that attitude doesn't appear to be changing. While the DZ's that host the Nationals do what they can to make Freestyle competitors welcome, the USPA ignores our needs. I don't believe it's a pattern of intentional neglect, but just a simple disrespect for those of us who aren't competing in Formation Skydiving.

Years ago, the USPA allowed Freestyle to be split from the Formation Nationals, leaving Freestyle with far less media attention and making it difficult for skydivers to compete in both events if desired. That continued until last year, when Sebastian Skydiving hosted both. I think everyone would agree that a combined Nationals is better for skydiving, but the USPA continues to dilute the potential gain by scheduling all Formation Skydiving events prior to Freestyle, Skysurfing, and Freeflying.

Try to imagine a Nationals where Freestyle, Skysurfing, and Freeflying were held first. For most of a week, all eyes would be focused on those events. Media attention always starts strong at the Nationals, but in that environment it would never falter, continuing straight through to Formation Skydiving. Formation Skydiving teams would be making training jumps while Freestylists, Skysurfers, and Freeflyers were battling for positions on the podium, exposing more skydivers to these events. Add Canopy Formation, Style, and Accuracy in the middle and what do you have? A recipe for success and a showcase for greater media attention.

The 2000 Nationals started with fanfare, including an outdoor competitor briefing during which the national anthem was sung, flags were flown, and the mood was festive. This year saw the return of Canopy Formation to the same location, and that briefing also included flags and the national anthem. By the time the competitor briefing was held for Freestyle and Skysurfing, the flags were down, the singer was gone, and the meeting was held in the DZ bar, where yelling was required just to be heard. Was this intended to encourage more people to compete in these events?

The meeting itself was surprisingly disorganized. The Freestyle Nationals have been held every year since 1996, and I would assume that the competitor briefing should be almost automatic. But it was only through questions from competitors that we learned where the video dubbing station was located, the procedures for slate usage, and so on. The meet director had completely neglected these topics and others during the briefing. Can you imagine how this made the teams feel that were attending their first Nationals?

The USPA Competition Committee and Board of Directors made far worse mistakes. The 2000 IPC rules for Freestyle were not adopted earlier this year, when they should have been approved during the annual USPA Board meeting. Teams attending the Nationals are competing with the 1999 rules, which use a different scoring system and different compulsories. The Nationals rules do NOT match the rules that will be used at the 2000 World Cup in November or at the 2001 World Meet next year.  Because OmniSkore's Pegasus scoring system for Freestyle, Skysurf, and Freeflying has already been updated to the IPC rules, the Nationals are having to be hand-scored by the judges.  Meet Director John DeSantis has said many times that "these Nationals are for selecting the teams that will represent the USA at the World Meet". If that's true, why are we competing under the wrong rules?

But that's not all. The USPA Board approved the Nationals bid by Perris Valley Skydiving, which included the use of a Skyvan for Freestyle. In all prior Nationals and IPC events, Freestyle competition has been performed from a side-exit aircraft, as will the World Cup in November. When competitors complained about this change earlier in the year, the DZ was open to using Otters, and the Meet Director said that a decision would be made at the competitor briefing. But the decision was made before the briefing without any opportunity for the competitors to discuss it. Exactly who is the competition intended to serve?

Freestyle has always suffered from a shortage of competitors, and it's problems like these that could kill it forever. Between the IPC's short-sighted rule changes and the USPA's lack of support for competition, I'm not surprised that teams never last more than a couple years.