This article was written in mid-June, and the issue of Parachutist in which it appeared went to press on July 2. The piece was meant to celebrate the spirit of national competition and to encourage those who hadn’t ever competed to give it a try … both at the 2020 event (then scheduled to be held at Skydive City Zephyrhills in November) and in the future. It was never our intention to encourage people to attend an event that would jeopardize their safety. Unfortunately, we just simply didn’t foresee that the state of the pandemic would worsen as it has, and at the time the article was written—with Nationals more than four months in the future—we were naively optimistic that conditions would improve.
Since then, USPA has been assessing the landscape of the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed rapidly and daily, with the well-being of our members at the forefront. To help us make informed decisions, we also sent a survey to our 2018 and 2019 competitors to solicit their opinions. We are truly striving to do the right thing. For more up-to-date information than the print version of Parachutist can provide on Nationals and other USPA events, visit USPA’s Facebook page, the USPA News tab at uspa.org or uspa.org/nationals.
Like the rest of the world, USPA is navigating the everchanging landscape of the coronavirus pandemic and adapting its response seemingly daily. This makes reporting on the upcoming Nationals in Parachutist—which goes to press one month before it arrives in mailboxes—challenging. For the most up-to-date information about Nationals and how USPA can assist competitors who are intending to attend, visit uspa.org/nationals.
Nationals 2019: Two of the world’s best 4-way formation skydiving teams—Arizona Airspeed and SDC Rhythm XP—face off in tiebreaker round that will determine the national championship. Hundreds of attendees gather around the big screen to watch the judging, and gasps, screams and cheers erupt when Rhythm is declared the winner by one, single, solitary point. Airspeed warmly congratulates their rivals and douses them with bubbly on the podium. A huge party commences. That’s just one of the many instances of excitement and drama at last year’s Nationals; there were many others, both big and small.
The camaraderie, the spirit of competition and the drama keep jumpers returning to Nationals year after year, but it’s also more than that. The reasons people attend Nationals are as varied as the disciplines showcased at the event. World champion formation skydiver and USPA Competition Committee Chair Kirk Verner said, “For me, competing in skydiving boils down to my own personal growth; you learn so much about yourself, not only at competitions but through the training season. Being on a team is about having a connected performance when the pressure is on. The fulfillment that gives me is unparalleled. Skydiving is the source.”
Why should you attend Nationals? “To beat a team with matching jumpsuits,” said longtime FS competitor Rich Grimm jokingly (or at least semi-jokingly). He then added that Nationals allows participants to “watch and learn from the best, no matter what team or level you are on.”
The USPA National Parachuting Championships (accuracy landing, canopy formation and canopy piloting) are October 30-November 8, and the USPA National Skydiving Championships (artistic events, formation skydiving, speed and wingsuit flying) are November 7-21. Both events are at Skydive City Zephyrhills in Florida. Whatever discipline you enjoy, there are countless reasons to attend. Here are the top five:
#1 You get to hang with the best in the sport
One thing about our sport is how closely knit the community is and how accessible its stars are. You probably will never golf with Tiger Woods, but you can be on a plane with multi-time world champion in your chosen discipline at Nationals!
“Everyone who’s anyone in the sport is there,” remarked 4-way formation skydiving competitor Kevin Kierce, who added that it’s also “the history, the spirit of competition, the excitement, the camaraderie and the sportsmanship” that draws him to Nationals.
Kenneth Beach, who competed in 4-way vertical formation skydiving-advanced with his team Tempest in 2019, said, “There are not many other sports in the world where a participant who is new can go and compete alongside the best and learn from them. In most cases (and respecting their space during competition), all you have to do is ask a question, and they will help you. I remember asking JRuss [Jason Russell of 2019 VFS National Champion SDC Core] for some advice on one exit, and he spent almost an hour teaching our team three different exits, and he let us film it.”
"The inner pride of being the first Costa Rican woman to ever compete in any skydiving competition in the world."—Magaly Sandoval. Photo by Michael Tomaselli.
#2 You get the chance to test yourself and achieve personal goals
“There is something about human nature that pushes us to perfect skills as best as we can,” Beach said. Many competitors cited this as the reason they attend. “You can find yourself in competition becoming a gear that moves the team forward,” said CF competitor Michael Tomaselli, “and the push forward can make you achieve a personal best that no one can ever take away from you.”
Curt Bartholomew, the 2019 USPA National Champion of Canopy Piloting said “Competition unlocks a level that would otherwise be untouchable. It pushes your mind into a state of focus you can’t achieve in training, and you find your parachute achieving things that you thought weren’t possible.”
Even if you’re not a hardcore competitor, the experience is valuable. Andrew Stack said, “I am a one-and-done Nationals competitor in CF. For me, to compete for a medal was my primary reason for attending. The bonus was to get to hang out with, get advice from and share a plane and packing mat with some of the best CF competitors in the world (and also get a bonus glimpse at the other disciplines such as accuracy and see living legends like Cheryl Stearns do her thing).”
"Nationals are necessary as an investment into young talent who will in a few years be representing the country internationally."—Alexey Galda. Photo by Curt Vogelsang.
#3 Your skills will improve
Did you know that you can compete in 2-way advanced canopy formation, advanced and intermediate formation skydiving, and advanced mixed formation skydiving at Nationals with only 100 jumps and a B license? And all the other events require only a C license (and 500 or 1,000 high-performance landings, respectively, for advanced and open canopy piloting). That’s because Nationals is more than a competition; it’s a learning experience. VFS competitor Mark Kirschenbaum recommends that jumpers attend Nationals because, “It’s a focus for your training; a surefire way to get better, quick.”
CF competitor Cat Isgrigg echoed this sentiment, saying, “I love serious competition, training all year with a goal in mind and trying to execute. I like the focus, challenge and having something to work and train for. Another CF competitor, Scott Lazarus, agreed with Isgrigg, saying, “I go for the chance to learn from the best. To be a part of the top. Get judged! See where I can do better!”
Even a world champion freeflyer like Will Penny attends competitions to learn, as well as to win. And he’s at the top of his game.
"The feeling of pressure and the extreme focus from adrenaline to fly at your peak is extremely addicting."—Kenneth Beach. Photo by David Cherry.
#4 The pure rush of it all!
The thrill of attending Nationals is tough to explain. Perhaps it’s the excitement of witnessing history in the making, champions being crowned, the best in the world performing at their best. And being a part of it all. FS competitor Ed Lightle said that jumpers should experience Nationals “to experience how exhilarating and almost otherworldly it is on your first jump run to keep your excitement in check while knowing you are competing on a national stage. You learn in a heartbeat what it takes to perform under pressure.”
"Ahhh...the party after. Why do you even have to explain that to a skydiver?."—Alex Gardner. Photo by Gary Fletcher.
#5 See all your friends and make new ones! Enjoy the camaraderie that skydivers are famous for. And did we mention the parties?
Once you’ve attended Nationals a few times, you’ll realize that you’ve made friends from all over and each year is like a reunion. Formation skydiver Zach Breaux said that he likes “reconnecting with friends, but more so being around a like-minded group of people who value putting in work for results. I enjoy a zoo dive here or there but really try to have a focus to learn something on every jump. When I’m at Nationals, I feel like that’s the norm. We all put in work to get there, perform, then have a beer together.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Accuracy competitor Ted Bernhardi recalled that “seeing friends from all over” was a highlight of attending Mid-Eastern Parachute Association Meets in the 1970s. “When I was president of MEPA, competition was fierce. But anyone would help anyone to win and try to beat them. After, we all went out to dinner and enjoyed the day. Just a bunch of friends and buddies. ‘See you tomorrow for the next rounds.’ Memories forever!”
No matter your reason for attending Nationals, you’re sure to have a great time. So, start making those November plans! More information on event dates and registration is available at skydivecity.com and uspa.org/nationals. If you’re interested in a team discipline but haven’t had a chance to put a team together, you can even form a pickup team by making a post at the Skydiving Nationals or Parachuting Nationals events pages on USPA’s Facebook page. Who knows what new friends you’ll make?