Sam Haste indulges his love of Canopy Formation in the sunny skies over Florida
The Saturday ended with an ‘exciting’ experienced 6-way CF jump, culminating in a ‘no sh!t, there I was’ moment. No, it wasn’t a wrap or a cutaway, and no one was injured. It did start to go a little viral on the internet but if you want to hear more about it, get me a beer at the bar…
Tuesday brought some less than ideal weather. It was also a case of another day, another story. After the start of the week, we were hoping for a slightly less eventful rest of the event. Our hopes weren’t to match reality, but what is a write up of an international CF event without a wrap or two, or four.
The group I was in attempted a 16-way diamond. Attempted being the key word. The initial build was great. The right hand side built smoothly and I docked 11th. The left hand side had a slightly slower but also smooth looking build. As the 13th person joined on the left wing (the left hand point of the diamond), the formation started to flex. Things quickly got exciting. Overall on this jump, there were four wraps resulting in two cutaways. This helps to demonstrate how a lot of the time CF can look bad, but often there is a way to resolve issues that doesn’t involve cutting away.
Some of the important things you learn in CF are that: communication is key; a wrap means that there is still one good, fully inflated canopy above your heads; and most importantly, in the words of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, “Don’t Panic”. There was absolutely fantastic communication from Chris as I was pulling nylon off my face. Chris gave me constant altitude calls “We’re at 5,500ft, we’ve got time” and advice from below on lines wrapped around my gear that I couldn’t see. I couldn’t get the lines down my body so I started pushing lines and canopy above my head to get my body clear. Then, as we weren’t panicking, we had a small chat about the best course of action:
Me: “I think it makes sense if I leave first.”
Chris: “Yes. I think that makes sense. Are you leaving then?”
Me: “Yeah, leaving now, cya later!”
I left the mess behind me and did my longest freefall of the trip, a whole 7 seconds! Once the tension was released, my canopy completely cleared Chris’s, his canopy fully inflated and he landed under his own. We both landed next to a KFC car park and got a lift back from a local whose husband used to be a skydiver. She said he’d be made up to hear the story, so we made someone’s day!
In total there were 4 wraps on that jump, and two cutaways-the most eventful single jump of the event. Unfortunately, both canopies sailed off into the Atlantic never to be seen again. Every year at Spring Fling the community comes together and sets up a lost gear fund and this year was no exception. Everyone came together and a couple of weeks later the two of us who lost canopies got sent funds towards buying a new Lightning. The CF community is always superb. Now the only question is, how rainbow can I design it to be?
Wednesday was not just a big-way day, there was also a 4-way sequential competition being run for those who wanted to learn from the best in other areas of CF too. The teams got a few jumps in and we judged the jumps communally in the bar that evening. Points were awarded based on the infallible accelerometer, with bonus points for commitment to the docks and added spiciness. Big-way jumpers only got one jump this day, but oh myyyy it was a great one! Another day, another story and this one is an entirely positive one! I got given a rig to use for the rest of the week (thank you Dawn!) and we went up to do a 9-way diamond. This jump was Max Holmes’s first go at piloting (being at the top of) a 9-way. Not only did Max smash it, not only did we have amazing views and beautiful scenery, but it was also my 1,000th skydive! Spence was there as my personal camera person to capture it in all its beauty, and the photos of it are stunning. Thank you everyone on the jump and Spencer for the amazing camera work. Next time, we’ll get you in the formation!
On Thursday a storm was due so most jumpers took a trip to Kennedy Space Centre. Another day brought another story. While there, we got tornado warnings on our phones saying to take shelter! The Americans didn’t seem to panic, so we just acted like them and got on with our day. A big storm came through for an hour, but thankfully that was it. As we were leaving the Space Centre in the rain, Spence had to have a visit to the first aid room involving some Steri-Strips, after a rather spectacular wipe out. He’s absolutely fine, but the video is worth a watch! This yet again goes to show that not-skydiving is one of the most dangerous things skydivers do! On the way home, we found a bar to mingle with the Sebastian locals. I think we did well at blending in especially at Karaoke where I impressed them all with a beautiful rendition of “That don’t impress me much” by Shania Twain.
Friday was a fun day. We started early and made the most of the post-storm weather. After building bigger all week and rotating people into the formations that were being attempted and built, a plan was devised for us to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine – a 37-way with yellow and blue streamers. To get 37 jumpers in the air at one time, this required formation loads. CF multiplane visuals are amazing! The planes are still flying side by side but unlike freefall multiplanes, everyone leaves one at a time. In the trail plane, you get to watch 22 of your friends jump out one by one and deploy, before your plane starts exiting.
Just to add some extra pressure to the jump, this would also be my first 37-way attempt and I was to be the person to dock 36th, right at the bottom, to finish off the diamond, before one more person docked on me to make it 37. I had one shot to hit my slot before we passed through our no more docking altitude. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. I got to my slot, but the grips weren’t both successfully taken and I was dropped. Thankfully, number 37 managed to fly in and complete the diamond so there are still some great pictures of a diamond flying the Ukrainian colours captured by Bruno Brokken, Spencer Bailey and Chico Tomaselli. This jump taught me a lot, and acted as a good reminder that if you succeed and complete everything you attempt, then maybe you’re not pushing yourself hard enough!
Our final day of jumping was Saturday. After building bigger all week, achieving most of the 36-way builds, we decided to go bigger. This time a 49-way diamond, which required a 3-plane formation load! From the trail plane, we watched 40 jumpers (20 from each Otter) exit, deploy and head to the formation. By the time we got out, the formation was almost a 9-way already. Exiting 45th puts a lot of distance between you and the formation. Turning to try and see it, I followed the line of canopies in the sky until I had a clear view of the growing formation. After a slower than anticipated build up to 16, the formation grew to 25 and then a 36-way diamond was completed, but we had reached our no more docks altitude. We didn’t get another 49-way attempt that day due to weather but with the skills we’ve all worked on this trip, I’m sure it’s within reach soon!
Did you think CF couldn’t get any more fun? Well, hold my beer fine, as the last jump of the trip for a few of us was a night jump! We had glow sticks, head torches and LED suits galore boarding the plane. The climb to altitude in the dark is always a different feeling, the added excitement, deploying and searching for the person you’re docking on in the dark is an exhilarating experience. Being in the middle of a canopy stack lit up like a Christmas tree is an image I won’t forget any time soon!
Saturday ended with a huge celebration of the week. Charlie Wakeham and I did a highly commended version of Tenacious D’s Tribute at the Karaoke and many new pairs of jorts (a CF staple piece of partywear) were created!
A huge thank you to everyone involved in organising the event and to all who attended and made it such a great way to kick off the season for us! We are bringing back more skills and ideas to the UK, and we can’t wait to share them with all of you.
If you’re interested in trying CF, have a look at the coaching events being run this year, join the ‘Canopy Formation Coaching’ page on Facebook (bit.ly/UK-CF), speak to someone at your dropzone who does CF, contact British Skydiving or get in contact with me/buy me a beer the next time you see me at the bar. We look forward to sharing the joy of CF with you!
Before anyone else says it: yes, this is my first article in the Mag, so I’ll get the beers in. To claim it, find me at a dropzone and say, “Hey Sam. Great article, talk to me about CF over a beer from your beer fine.”
All photos from the wonderful Spencer Bailey.
First Published in the June 2022 edition of Skydive the Mag