It does not take humans very long to start competing against each other to try and be the best at something. A quick trip around the internet easily reveals all manner of wacky arenas within which the participants both take things very seriously indeed and are able to explain at length how and why whatever it requires thorough training and immense skill – despite how mystifying it is to the casual observer. For the uninvolved, skydiving can and does fit into this category of activity. Most people’s experience of skydiving is via the tandem leisure experience, or through consistent misrepresentation in movies and on television – thereby having very little on which to build the idea of any of it as a competitive sport. It is difficult to elaborate on, let us say, the intricacies of vertical formation skydiving to a non-skydiver when their sole reference for people jumping together is that bit from Point Break.
Skydiving is far from alone in the high level of effort and resources required to aim for medals, but the complexities and specificities of our myriad sub-disciplines plus the general absence of real-time spectatorship reinforce the niche and even introspective nature of the beast. The investment needed to compete at the highest level is huge, and the skill-based rabbit hole down which you must go is deep and windy. For example, one can study freefly for a whole decade yet be entirely unable to comprehend the difference between 512 kilometers per hour and 528. The speed community understands though, and the looks on their faces when they talk about separating the two suggest that it approaches some unknowable and indefinable magical power.
It is only when you dive right in that can you work at appreciating the details. Those with skin in the game can aspire towards the minutiae that separates the performances of your Airspeeds from your Hyabusas, and indeed the closer you get the better you know – yet true ken exists only and exclusively for whoever got there first and/or did it better. It is certainly wonderful to be formally recognised as being the best at something, and sure, elite skydiving is also undeniably about being celebrated as cool. Perhaps most important though, is the pursuit of the line between what is possible and what is not. This is the part that truly benefits everyone, as new levels of performance become skills that can be telegraphed to others by teams and athletes with the right kind of mind.
Nobody is making bank entering the skydiving world championships. The level of support available for doing so varies, but ultimately even when competing at the highest level you are likely personally paying for the privilege to do so. This means that only unrelenting passion on your part will keep you from falling by the wayside, but also that many (and maybe most) competitors work in the industry to some degree – and are the ones who return to the world as our ambassadors, our educators, our avatars of collective progress.
Many people find skydiving profound on the way in, perhaps never again feeling as charged by it as in the early days. Yet profundity exists at the battle stage too and can be found all along the way by those that search for and strive towards the nexus of progress and the elusive magic of uncharted territory – the necessary reward for teams and athletes with sufficient drive to grind whatever grist the mill requires to get there, to find the edge of what is understood as possible then travel past it.
To turn up, and throw down.