He’s just been out celebrating Hayabusa’s win in Poland by kiting in the south of Spain, and he’s in the process of stuffing his suitcase yet again–this time, to run a 4-way camp in Athens, Greece. The team’s none-more-rigorous winter tunnel training schedule will be upon him when he comes back from that, and then the comp cycle begins again.
That said: Dennis is still smiling. He smiles a lot, as a matter of fact.
Not that he doesn’t have a lot to smile about. Hayabusa didn’t just take the gold in Poland’s 2nd annual FAI world cup–they also took the gold in the Skydiving World Championships, held at Skydive Chicago.
Q: How did it feel to follow up gold with gold in such quick succession?
Dennis: The timing of Poland was a little crazy. The World Championships in Chicago were an enormous amount of work, and when that was done–I mean, all the stress, all the hard work, it all drops from your shoulders, like, oof, the year is done. The big thing is over. And then we had to turn right around and do Poland–to spark up that feeling again; that hunger. And that’s really hard to do.
Q: What was Chicago like for you?
Dennis: Chicago was a great experience. We came in as favorites, but we were on the home soil of Airspeed and everybody was, of course, rooting for them. We have a great relationship with them, and it’s always nice to compete against them.
We were happiest with our first three jumps. The rest–well, we knew they could have been a lot better. We never lack speed, but sometimes we miss some finesse. Maybe it comes with the stress of competition; we’re flying a little bit rougher, or whatever. But when you fly rougher, then mistakes come in: a bit of level, a little glitch here and there. It is kind of like a train that’s rolling on its rails, but sometimes it derails and, when you manage to get it back on, it goes out a little bit on the other side. Perhaps it’s a little bit like that. Maybe it was stress. Maybe because we were ahead as well–with a lot of points–and maybe we slacked a little bit. I don’t know. Anyway, we won! And it was a good experience. We learned a lot–we’re always learning–and we know what to work on now.
Q: How do you respond as a team when you hit a challenge?
Dennis: We listen to our coach, Gary Smith. He’s a super coach. He always puts us back in the right mindset.
Gary always insists that we trust what we can do, and never doubt it–or your teammates. He insists that we go in with full confidence and then see how it goes, never doubting or second guessing, even if it went wrong, because all the training that we did. Like Gary always says: Your best game will come out if you keep on trusting the team and have confidence in what you can do. We turned all the stones during the training season. If something goes a little wrong, you just have to go into the next round forgetting what happened.
You have to treat every jump as round number one. Even if you know you are up by ten points or down by one. If you’re down by a couple of points, you want to push it–but you can’t.
Q: That’s a lot of pressure to work under, though–a world championship.
Dennis: Hayabusa has been, for the most of its existence, always an underdog, which is a nice position to be in, because people don’t don’t expect you to be top favorites. You don’t have that particular pressure. Then we come into Chicago, and everybody says you are going to win. Yeah, we had a good chance of winning, but we still had to do the ten jumps. And Airspeed is still Airspeed.
Q: When you come home to Belgium, how are you received when you come home with all that gold?
Dennis: Everybody was super happy. Everybody knows how hard we work for this. We are hardly ever in Belgium jumping on local drop zones, because we train in Spain and elsewhere, but everybody was super ecstatic and super stoked that we had a second win. We presented the sword at the local drop zone. It was a nice moment.
Q: What do you think most skydivers don’t know about the work that goes into winning that sword?
Dennis: Just how much work it takes to be able to do a performance like that in a world meet. I hear it so many times when I am leaving to train in another country: “Oh, hey, you’re going on holiday again.”
So, yeah–I want people to know that of course we all love what we do but it is hard work. It’s waking up every morning, and jumping with exactly the same people the whole time, doing the same things over and over and over again in the hopes of taking a tenth of a second out of this block, keying this exit maybe 3/10ths of a second faster. I mean: it is a crazy game.It is fun as well, but it is work, and it goes into detail.
Q: And through all that, you still obviously love to skydive. How do you keep it fresh?
Dennis: I have days when I’m doing 4-way, and it is just not my day–when I’m happy this 12th jump is done so I can go home and do some other sports or set my mind to something else. But those days are pretty rare.
Honestly, when I get out and do a fun jump–like a freefly jump, for instance–all the passion and love for the skydiving sport just comes straight back. How much of a laugh it is, even if I’m just doing a fun jump with my own teammates. It’s just fun to do something completely different, and it always makes me remember how much I love the sport.
We need those fun jumps, because sometimes you get so 4-way, 4-way, 4-way, work hard and perform that you have a little trouble seeing the fun. Gary started enforcing it, actually. He said, you guys need a fun jump, and we were like what?! No, we want to win a world meet here. Gary insisted. It was the best thing for us.
Q: What’s next?
Next year, we will have some more fun projects. We’ll be doing a lot more 8-way, for one thing. Because we have been going at it for such a long time–only 4-way–and now we’ve become double world champions. So now we want to take 2017 as a year to not only at least maintain our level, but also enjoy some other aspects of the sport. We still fly on the belly in 8-way, but it’s something different, and it’ll be a fun time. We’re going to keep it fun.
Sure, we are going to set some goals, like: we are going to go in the World Cup for 8-way. We might go to US Nationals, just because it is such a big competition. The US Nationals are the only nationals where they do 10- and 16- way, so why not participate there as well?
We’re also going to freefly a bunch more. This year, I did something like 10 hours of freefly, and maybe 100 jumps. I like to mix it up. I like the dynamic stuff, but I also like VFS a lot. I did one coming back from Poland, in fact. I had just landed from the flight and I stopped at the dropzone on the way home. This guy was, like, let’s do a jump. So we did 2-way VFS. It was cool. I enjoy flying, a lot.
Who knows–next year might even be better than 2016. We’ll see.