Chris Sears: So organising ones first event: HeliFun19

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Story and photo Heli Camp by Chris Sears

Monday 17th June 2019

belly exit
photo by Shane Wood

I remember walking to the packing shed #7 at Skydive Balaton to pick up my rigs and hearing the Mi8 take off, that moment has to be one of the most serene moments I have had for a fair while and at the time I chuckled to myself and thought “oh sh*t, it is actually happening’.

Rewind 310 days

I had just finished participating in week 1 of ToraTora Heli Camp 2018. This was the first organised event I had been to and I was totally blown away. The organisation, the open attitude to learning, the manner in which problems were dealt with and of course the flying (both in freefall and under canopy). It was nuts. Thanks Jasper and all the ToraTora team.

I half-jokingly said to Réka (my girlfriend) “I think I am going to organise an event here” and then thought nothing more of it, went back to my home DZ, Sibson in the UK. I’d recently passed the AFFI course and started trying to learn more about what doing AFF is really like.

Hungary was still burning inside

tandem in sunset
photo by Shane Wood

At the end of November something got me thinking about it again. I initially had a chat with Vic and Bec Bradley about organising an event in Hungary. They offered the initial support/encouragement I needed to take the leap of faith to get out there and go for it! The initial discussions with them were “Let’s see if we can fill one Heli (26 people)”. Looking back now, I think I already knew I wanted more than that.

Things then went a bit crazy! Trying to juggle a job with taking on role as AFF Coordinator at Sibson and get HeliFun19 off the ground was fairly manic to say the least, but also pretty exciting. The event started to grow legs and attract some interest. Maybe this would happen, although I did not quite believe it.

Around Christmas 2018

It looked like we really could have an event. It kept on growing. By the point of the BPA AGM I was starting to think we would actually get people turning up in Hungary and HeliFun19 might actually be a thing. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Jens from Cypres, Dedric from PD, Zoe from Alti2; Nick from Jedi Airwear allowed me to tag along on his stand to see if we could rustle up any more interest. All these guys took a gamble on me and said they might help out with the event. Huge thanks to each of you, all your support added to the encouragement and kept me pushing to make it a better event.


canopy landing
photo by Shane Wood

I was still not quite sure what I was doing, why I was doing, it or anything really; but I kept trying to do little bits to make the event what I imagined it being. It was a roller-coaster. The original load organisers, the Twins and Nick, needed to be added to, as the number of participants kept on growing. Over the next few months, I managed to get Billy Payne & Ged Parker to agree to come along. They asked me what I wanted them to do? The only reply I had to give them was “Just be Billy and be Ged, be yourselves.” Although next year one thing I will tell Ged I want him to do is to bring his bag containing his pants, altis, and a few other clothes.

Participants kept on coming, and I was lucky to have Tim Porter reach out and see if he could lend a hand. On a few occasions when we spoke, he must have thought “Who is this guy, trying to organise an event”. Whenever Tim asked what I would like him to do I didn’t really have an answer. Whenever he asked me what my plan was I said “I’m not too sure really.” Sorry Tim, not very helpful.

I think I remember saying to him “The most important things for me is I want everyone to be safe, to have fun and to learn”. But maybe I imagined saying that to him.

More participants, what was happening? Time to try and get more help, Ryan Arkle was the last but by no means least (even if he is the smallest) load organiser to come on board.

So at this point, about 5 weeks out, I think we have an awesome growing, group of participants, with a complete mix of abilities and disciplines. I think we have a team of load organisers. I think we have a Heli. I think everyone’s accommodation & food is sorted. Packers are sorted.. hang on, packers? I have not spoken to them in a while, I better have a quick chat. That almost turned into a quick heart attack, when they said they were not sure if any of them could come along. Breathe, keep breathing. . . Miran “Your guys from Born2Fly were awesome and thanks for sorting both the packers and the hire rigs out.”

It really did look like this was going to happen. What was I doing? I had only been to one event: I did not have a clue what I was doing. Can I pull out of organising this now? Can all of the participants please all message me and say they are not able to come anymore? I felt I needed more experience of everything, being at events, being part of organising an event would have helped for sure: my own flying, everything and quickly.

Algarve Interlude

helicopter tale gat
photo by Chris SEars

The Fly4Life guys Luis and Claudio had been at the ToraTora event the previous year and I saw they had an event in the Algarve at the end of May. About two weeks out from their event I asked if they had any spaces, of course not. I kind of knew that would be the case but asked anyway. Two days later I got a message saying someone was not able to come and there was a space if I would like it. Time to stop everything else, make up some feeble excuses with work, book a flight, and head to Portugal.

What a week, but I’m not sure it had the desired effect though. I thought I may feel more confident about organising an event by the end of the week, not so. I remember saying to Réka one evening towards the end of the week “I think I need to go back to kindergarten rather than organise an event in 4 weeks time.” The flying was at a level I had never experienced, the coaching was fantastic, the way all the organisers managed the participants and the DZ … I was in trouble.

Back home and still no messages from all the participants saying sorry they could not make it to Hungary, just messages about hairdryers, and if people needed insurance.

Still no real plan, still no idea, and people were about to turn up.

It’s time

And they did, everyone showed up, everyone was smiling and super excited to get this event underway. It’s better to ask the guys and girls who were on the event what it was like as my version is most probably somewhat different to most; at least I hope it was! But in short it was probably one of the hardest weeks mentally and physically I had had for a while.

But….it was truly one of the best weeks of my life so far.

Looking back and having had some time to think, I had a pretty simple plan, to try and create an event with three main aims.
1. For everyone to be as safe as possible
2. For everyone to learn something
3. For everyone to have fun

canopies thrown up in the air
photo by Shane Wood

To have our first event with 75 people from all over the world show up, do over 2000 jumps, one guy getting his BPA A Licence, two of the wives/girlfriends doing tandems, guys and girls going from FS1 qualifying jumps to 12 ways FS in a week, guys trying to do a 4 way track not being able to get out stable on their belly to doing a 16 way track by the end of the week, the list goes on and on. . . it was mind boggling.

I am still having to pinch myself while writing this to believe it happened.


So again, big thanks to:
All the participants and Darren
All the load organisers
All the staff at Kiliti Skydive Balaton, pilots, chefs, cleaners, everyone
Friends who kept me pointing in some sort of a direction
Zoe at Alti2Europe
Nick at JediAirwear
Dedric at Performance Design
Jens at CypresAAD
And of course Réka for trying to keep me sane (and force feeding me chocolate crepes on day 4 after I missed lunch)

Would I do it again? For sure!
Do I have a plan, or know what I would like people to do at #HeliFun20? Of course not!

Some lessons learnt

Having had some time to reflect on the build-up, the event itself and aftermath of organising our first event I think there have been a few key lessons.

  • Remain flexible with positive mind set.
  • Whatever plan you have when you are working with a reasonably large group of people, of different ages, of different skydiving experiences (of different life experiences and backgrounds), from 12 different countries it is going to be challenging to get everyone ‘on the same page’. Try to be a clear as you can. Expect to have to say the same thing in a different way to get the same outcome when dealing with different people. This was certainly the case in the build-up to the event.
  • There will be ‘problems’, just fix them as best you can.

Build a team

photo by Andreas Michli

Ask people who you think will work well together to help with the load organising. I was lucky to have been around and known most of the organisers for the majority of my skydiving life. Some of them for all of it. Bec Bradley was my secondary instructor on my level 1 & Vic Bradley was my secondary instructor on my level 2. Most of the other organisers are based from Sibson or jump there on reasonably regular basis, so I felt like I knew them fairly well. However, I had never organised an event with any of them so I am sure they will have learnt bits about me, and I certainly learnt about them. Hopefully they are all coming back for next year.

Learn, don’t be afraid of making mistakes and going outside your comfort zone

There were areas that we did not get right, there were bits that we felt we nailed. I hope we will all try to build on the bits that we nailed and work out why the bits that did not go so well went that way, and then do our best to improve for #HeliFun20. For me personally one of the biggest lessons was make sure that I have enough time prior to the event to tie up some loose ends. Try to manage the bits that are controllable and not worry too much about the bits that aren’t, as there will always be surprises and the unexpected.


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