It was cold in the early morning of Friday, November 1, at Skydive Spaceland–Houston in Rosharon, Texas. Sixty skydivers from seven countries gathered to dirt dive bundled in many layers. The air was filled with anticipation, excitement and anxiety. The goal was to set a state sequential formation skydiving record.
On the climb to jump altitude for the first attempt, the Gulf of Mexico came into view dappled by the shadows of puffy low clouds looking like the coat of a Dalmatian. The morning sun reflected off the snaking estuaries leading out to the Gulf, giving them a golden sheen.
Time was short and the team was strong. After a day lost to weather, it was time to get serious and set a new record. Event captains Larry Henderson, Scott Latinis and Guy Wright decided that jump one would be a full record attempt. While it did not complete, it was a good start. And on jump two, the team would have set a two-point record but for one incorrect grip.
The organizers pre-declared the last jump of the day to the official judges as a two-point record attempt. But to keep the team sharp and ready to move forward, they planned three formations. Bang! On the fourth record attempt of the event, the team built a three-point 60-way and set a state record. However, because of the declaration, only the two-point record made it into the books. While the third point was an impressive accomplishment, it was not an official record.
On day three, the team shifted its emphasis to setting a full-break record. Each member of the team would have to fly no-contact during the transition from the first to the second point (unlike during a regular sequential record, in which only a portion of the jumpers break grips). In addition, no jumper could retake a grip that was part of the first formation for the second formation. The more challenging transition took time to get dialed in.
On day four, the sun shined brightly on the Texas countryside surrounding the drop zone. The chill of a few days back had faded. This was the final day for the team to try to bag a second state record.
Midway through the day, there was a special treat. A new jumper visiting from China noticed that Latinis was wearing a jumpsuit bearing multiple patches embroidered with Chinese characters and inquired about it. When Latinis explained to Feynman Qin that it was a jumpsuit from the team that built a Chinese character formation in early 2018 at Skydive DeLand in Florida, Feynman nearly exploded with excitement. The video of the formation build had been broadcast as part of the Chinese New Year celebration. “I saw that video!” exclaimed Feynman. “It was viewed by 1.4 billion people. That’s what inspired me to try skydiving!” He had just earned his A license the day before and was now up to 28 jumps.
As is so common when pursuing big-way records, success was both near and elusive. Seeming success at building two formations punctuated by a full break came and went after the judges scrutinized the videos of the jumps.
On the final jump of the event, 57 determined jumpers exited three Twin Otters flown in a perfect formation just below 18,000 feet. Point one completed. The team transitioned to point two. Gradually, the formation came together and completed—two 57-way formations with an apparent full break between them. The team was cautiously hopeful but mindful that the judges’ thorough review dashed seeming success earlier in the event. And this was the case again. One grip. During the transition, one grip was taken before the previous grip was dropped. One mistimed grip change resulted in the effort coming up just short of a record. But there was still a well-deserved sense of accomplishment for the team.
The team had achieved the primary goal of the event—a Texas sequential FS record—early on. In addition, all the team members could put a successful three-point 60-way on the same jump in their logbooks. And finally, 57 jumpers came up just shy of accomplishing a full-break two-point skydive. The glow of the morning sun at the beginning of the event was replaced by the glow on the faces of the team members as they basked in their accomplishments.
Jim McCormick | D-12379
Estes Park, Colorado