Flock and Flow
Article and Photos by Michael Brewer
Halloween is all about chocolate, taking candy from strangers and, apparently, flying really fast parachutes at one another—at least for attendees of the debut Flock and Flow camp, held at Skydive Paraclete XP in Raeford, North Carolina, during Halloween weekend. The event was the first of its kind: a test event to explore the feasibility of dynamic, high-performance parachute flocking in a camp format. Previously, this type of flying was limited to highly trained teams, but Tom Baker, Matt Leonard and Max Manow joined forces to formulate a safe way to make this exclusive discipline accessible.
Dynamic flocking is not traditional CRW (canopy relative work, now known as canopy formation skydiving), nor is it the static high-performance flocking typical of boogie sunset loads. This flying style is about moving pieces, interlacing parachutes, group carving and sometimes making passes at 100 mph closing speeds. Amid all this, safety remained a priority throughout the camp. Participant Cameron Haley remarked on the organizers’ high level of professionalism, saying, “The organizing was just enough to keep us on the edge of our comfort zone, but I don’t think anybody felt unsafe the whole time.”
Over three days of jumping, small groups honed specific skills and then combined for larger-format jumps, including a 10-way interlacing barrel roll. Manow said, “We learned we can use a lot of things that already exist in other disciplines, like the dynamic moves from freeflying and some static stuff from CRW. We tailored the moves to suit our parachutes.” The jumps were intricate, fun and designed to promote the progression of all the participants. The overall improvements throughout the camp were evident. “We only just started,” said Manow, “and things we used to work on without the groups are basics now.”
The weekend’s jumps were unique, but also unique was the overall collaborative spirit of the event. “The vibe was huge,” said participant Richö Butts. Participants and organizers alike stemmed from varying backgrounds and locations and used different gear. “We had a huge amount of support from all around the globe,” said Leonard. “We had a guy come from Canada, two people from Austria, people from Florida, California. It’s pretty cool.” This type of cooperative support is important for an emerging discipline, which must set aside differences of background and sponsorship in order to safely grow. “The event wasn’t run to make money. It was run to bring people together and see where this could go,” said Leonard. “It’s about the people and their flying abilities, not about what they fly.”
Until now, the largest hindrance to the development of dynamic flocking as a discipline has been the inaccessibility and rarity of learning opportunities. “Flocking camps are so difficult to find. There’s just not a lot of opportunity to do this kind of thing,” said Butts. The overwhelming success of the Flock and Flow camp represents a vital step forward for dynamic flocking as becoming sustainable and inclusive, and the Flock and Flow team doesn’t plan to stop now. After the encouraging feedback and success of the first event, the organizers are making plans to host a series of camps in America and throughout Europe. “The possibilities are endless,” said Baker. “I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these camps all over the world.”
About the Author
Michael Brewer, D-33350, earned a BFA in creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, before throwing his life away to become a full-time skydiving filmmaker, tunnel instructor and coach. He currently does laundry in Raeford, North Carolina, when he isn’t traveling around the world making mischief with his friends.