Flock Yeah!

Kraig Evans organised an attempt to smash the UK wingsuit record at Hibaldstow in September.

As a young wingsuiter who has been slowly progressing in the discipline, hearing about Kraig Evans’ plans to organise UK  wingsuit record attempts certainly caught my eye. I had my first taste of WS big-way formations when I went to the ‘Flocking to the Beech’ event held at Skydive99 (Dunkeswell) run by Kraig in 2018 with Rob Gray and the excitable, super-energetic legend that is Chris Berte. But what was on the cards at the UK wingsuit record attempts would be far, far bigger than that. Multi-plane big-way WS jumps were advertised as a follow-up to our jumps at Dunkeswell last year, so I immediately registered my interest. The first goal was to break the UK record; the second was to break that new record using two aircraft. Of course, whether I’d be good enough to make the cut for any of this was another matter…

Preparing to break a record

A few months and a handful of warm-up flocking events later and the record attempt weekend had come. I felt comfortable being able to dive to slot and push in close when in position, something I honed on smaller-scale warm-up flocks throughout the year at DZs across the country. Various coaches hosted events at DZs such as Hinton, Langar, Dunkeswell and Sibson. Still, I  couldn’t help but feel I was in for something very demanding; and something I didn’t have an extensive amount of experience in compared to others. It was going to be tough with longer dives down to slot, more complex break offs and much more planning and preparation that I had to soak up. Tiny mistakes could ruin our efforts in breaking the record so it meant that, no matter what, I was going to have to fly to the best of my ability and be consistent in my slot to avoid being dropped from the group.
Easier said than done, I thought to myself…

Day One

We began on the Friday with two separate groups of 16 aiming to break the existing record. After a lengthy series of dirtdives in our diamond formation, we got kitted up for our first attempt as a group. Whilst most of us had jumped together at some point during various warm-up events across the UK, there were a few nerves because this was the first real big-way we’d all done as a combined group at a DZ most of us hadn’t visited this year. We got close on our first jump, but it still wasn’t enough to get inside the elusive “grid”; or the boxes laid upon the camera’s image that we had to be within to meet the requirements of the record. Another jump followed, and we weren’t there, but we got even closer. It felt elusive, but it seemed like there was some method to the madness!

After the third attempt, my group’s last of the day, we came down for Kraig to tell us that we had smashed the previous UK record and we were all in the grid! I was so happy to hear it and almost couldn’t believe what we had achieved. I felt on top of the world! While he initially kept it rather quiet until we were all in the briefing room (just to wind us up a little), it was a relief to hear that the business end of the record was all sorted in one day!

Day Two

With the UK record broken, we all felt invincible and ready for what was to come on Saturday – multi-plane WS flocking, with the intent of setting an even more formidable record. It felt like the cherry on the cake after our first day of getting a record – multiplane WS jumps seem to be a rarity in the UK after all! Getting to watch a Dornier full of wingsuiters tail your Supervan was really cool. I was very excited, but swallowing just a little fear and keeping focused on how many more people there were! I was placed in a slot on the right corner of the diamond as we upped our numbers to 25. It’s fair to say that I’d never even led a group the size of a small-way flock as a break-off leader, which really put the scale of our formations to size. With plenty of dirt-diving my concerns were put to rest by Kraig, Chris and the other organisers who made it clear what was required of the role. The multi-plane jumps were head and shoulders my favourite part of the weekend. Seeing that many wingsuiters leave the second plane and fall into place on the other side of the formation felt surreal! Nonetheless I had to remain mentally focused on my slot and on keeping the right distance from the next wingsuiter in front of me, putting me within my imaginary “box” of the grid overlay.

Within touching distance

Sadly, despite giving it our all, we weren’t as successful as the day before. We tried four jumps as a 25-way, followed by two more as a 22-way having restructured to try and break the record – which we didn’t get in the end. Whilst we were all safe and always practically in our slots, we just couldn’t meet the strenuous demands of the grid overlay and missed out by barely half a metre at times. Most of us didn’t feel disappointed in the slightest however, getting to do such a large flock was enough of a privilege, and the visuals that came out of it will stay with us for a long time.

Whilst it’s a shame we didn’t beat the Friday record, I still felt so proud to be able to be involved in such an event. It gave me a good idea of what’s involved in serious big-way attempts, and the mental discipline that’s required. It is really intimidating flying down into slot with lots of other wingsuiters around you to get burbled by! I’m really thankful for Kraig, Chris and the other WS coaches involved in running this and inviting me along (I promise I’m not under any threat to write that!) They genuinely did a really great job and kept it really safe, as well as being considerate of all of us in briefing, dirt dives and planning.

Community

It’s clear that UK Wingsuiting is certainly growing from the efforts led by coaches such as Kraig, with more events appearing  cross UK DZs that cater for a wider range of abilities and suit sizes than ever before. Year on year more ambitious events are planned across the UK and it feels like it’s becoming much more prominent as a discipline, with the skill level rising across the board and flocks growing larger and larger. There’s an awesome sense of community; wingsuiters at the various dropzones I’ve been to always seem to stick together and support each other. There’s a great sense of community being involved in the discipline we’re in, even when meeting wingsuiters from DZs I’ve never been to before, this was especially true at the record. I can’t recommend it enough if it’s something you’ve always wanted to try – now is definitely the time to get involved because it’s on the up!

WHAT’S NEXT?

Building upon our successes and our oh-so-nearly successful (but safe) multi-plane WS jumps, there’s definitely a hunger among UK wingsuiters to go back and shatter the 16-way record we set. Warm-up events and the next record attempts are already being discussed. I can’t wait to see what’s on the cards, and hopefully get stuck in!

Photos: Johnathan Charles (in-air) & Martin Martinez (Ground)

By Konrad Wysocki

Skydive the Mag December 2020 First published in the December 2019 issue of Skydive the Mag.

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