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Pasco Tribune

Canopy pilots compete at Skydive City


Published:   |   Updated: May 9, 2013 at 02:46 PM
ZEPHYRHILLS -

Skydive City, which is home to about 75,000 skydives a year, is host to the 2013 Canopy Piloting National Championships. The event began Wednesday and could conclude today.

Canopy pilots, commonly referred to as swoopers, typically are dropped from a plane at about 5,000 feet.

They deploy a smaller, more durable parachute, which allows for a high rate of speed. Swoopers go into a spin to gain speed, then just above the ground enter a course over an acre-wide retention pond that is waist-deep.

Then they go through a “gate” to participate in one of three categories: distance, accuracy and speed.

Those in the distance competition go through a gate and attempt to land at the farthest point from the gate. Those in the accuracy competition must navigate the course and land as close to a target as possible.

In the speed category, the skydiver breaks two light beams to determine his speed.

Admission is $5 per car today during the national competition.

Winners of the national event will qualify to participate in the world meet, which will take place in Russia at the end of the year.

The championships are organized by the U.S. Parachute Association.

It's a fairly new event in the skydiving world, one David “TK” Hayes, owner of Skydive City, hopes will kick-start a niche market.

“Really it's all about the last 10 seconds of the skydive,” Hayes said. “It's our only real hope at ever having a spectator sport where all the action is close to the ground. These guys are coming out of the dives and flaming out at upwards of 80 to 100 mph.”

Hayes said hosting the nationals is good for the business. “It's a good little feather in our cap,” he said. “We already won the bid for next year.” He also is hoping to get the world championships next year and is in the preliminary stages of applying for the world competition.

Nick Batsch, 31, of St. Louis, Mo., was the overall nationals champion last year and is the world distance record holder.

He set the world distance record, 154.09 meters, this year in Dubai, in the United Aran Emirates, on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf. “I'm the current standing world record holder,” he said. “I've set it and broken it six consecutive times.”

Batsch likes the challenge and the camaraderie of the sport.

“I like the personal challenge, being able to push things to your own level of skill sets, the adrenaline and the fun and the camaraderie amongst competitors,” he said. We're all friends even though we compete against each other. It's really great because in this sport, an amateur could hang out with the best in the world whereas in a lot of sports you would never get that opportunity.”

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