Mixed Formation Skydiving Is Ready To Take Over The World
Andy Malchiodi--neck deep in his multi-hyphenate (medalist/coach/musician/filmmaker) life--didn’t set out to co-invent a skydiving discipline. He just wanted to enjoy competition. Luckily for us, he did it anyway. He’s quick to refuse to take credit for being the first person to combine flat and vertical orientations into one discipline, but there’s no denying that he’s the one who has done the most to make it official.
The building blocks were there, but Mixed Formation Skydiving (“MFS”) in its current iteration wasn’t even on the radar when Andy’s freefly team, SoCal Converge, was stacking up medals on the competition circuit. From 2008 to 2012, Converge won four U.S. National Championships, took back-to-back gold and silver at the World Championships and racked up two world records.
“In my years of [freefly] competition with SoCal Converge,” Andy begins, “Even though we were working within an artistic discipline, we really thrived on--and enjoyed training--the compulsory rounds. In those years, the freefly compulsories were essentially 2-way MFS; teams flew two flat points out of a 10-point pool over two rounds.”
As well as being fun to fly, Andy and his team saw several very compelling elements in these compulsory rounds.
“We noticed a lot of cool stuff,” Andy explains. “You can train this without a videographer in the beginning--you can just de-brief from your GoPros until you recruit one. You can take it home to a small drop zone with a small plane. People are attracted to the idea of fusing all four primary orientations into one discipline. For those people, it’s a discipline with it’s own identity. And for those who only wish to focus on the vertical, it’s a stepping stone to 4-way VFS.”
“The beauty of it is the modularity,” he explains. “Even newer skydivers, who aren’t freeflying yet, can do the flat points and grow into it.” To be clear: The advanced class does not do any of the belly or back points, and some of what are considered the more difficult vertical points are omitted from the advanced dive pool as well.
Clearly, the latter makes MFS a very compelling inclusion into a newer skydiver’s arsenal. With the inclusion of the flat points, 2-way MFS is a discipline unto itself, where the training progression from advanced to open nicely follows a well-rounded skill-building arc. “You might choose to do advanced MFS,” Andy says, “When you’re at a skill set where you can’t quite take on the VFS open dive pool, but you’re interested in doing VFS.”
“It was initially my hope,” Andy continues, “That advanced do two purely flat rounds and four vertical. The open class would then ‘mix’ them. The current rules are designed, by suggestion of the USPA, to appeal to those who want to use MFS as a method of progression into VFS.”
In 2011, as Andy and Converge were getting excited about the possibilities of their nascent discipline, the freefly compulsory rounds changed. The rules moved away from speed compulsory rounds and into artistic compulsories, where teams receive four moves to style a routine around.
“It is pretty different than it used to be,” Andy sighs, “And we weren’t very happy to see that change. We had our reasons for believing it was good the way it was. So I took it upon myself to take that really good stuff and make it its own discipline.”
Andy had a lot of work in front of him to create an official space for MFS. He took the moves that existed in the pre-2011 artistic freefly compulsory dive pool, brought in several of the points that existed in the wind tunnel competition dive pool (which, at the time, wasn’t as widespread as it is now) and started to work out the details.
The biggest challenge Andy faced surprised him. MFS is, after all, at heart a formation skydiving discipline--and, in formation skydiving, you cannot have one point that begins or ends with the same grip of another point. “You would think,” Andy muses, “That with multiple orientations--head up, head down, belly and back--that would open up infinite options, and you wouldn’t have a problem creating points that didn’t start or stop with the same grip as another point. It was more challenging than I would have guessed.”
The tunnel competition dive pool, developed in great part by Arizona-based skydiving legend Jason Peters, included several points that--unsurprisingly, considering its non-FS provenance--did not abide by that FS-specific rule. “At the beginning, if you watched a very fast 2-way tunnel draw,” Andy explains, “It looked like a game of patty-cake, because you would finish one point and then begin the next point with the same grip. Pulling off that grip and going right back to it looked kinda funny.”
Challenging as it was, Andy stayed the course to, as far as possible, mirror MFS’s rules and regulations to match existing formation skydiving disciplines. He brought a few other top-shelf skydivers to help him work out the engineering puzzle--among them, Ari Perelman and Rook Nelson. The think-tank communicated with the USPA (specifically, James Hayhurst, Director of Competition, and Randy Connell, Competition Coordinator) to get multiple sets of eyes on the points, rules and regulations. With all those collaborators on board, 2-way MFS enjoyed an intuitive and logical evolution as it came into its own.
With staunch USPA support, MFS made its public debut in 2013. The first test event, at the U.S. Nationals, was “very well attended;” Andy remembers, “Everyone was very enthusiastic about it.” The first official event was MFS’s inclusion in the 2014 U.S. Nationals. From there, the discipline has consistently ramped up with every passing season.
“It’s easy to see why. It creates very challenging and intriguing engineering dilemmas,” Andy grins, “And there are a couple ways you can slice the onion there.” The training videos say it all.
Official international recognition is the next logical step, and MFS’s next big push is the one that will send it over the ocean into Europe and Australia. Slotting into place at the IPC level would allow MFS to be included in events like the World Cup and the World Meet, and that’s exactly what its inventors intend for it. So far, the U.S. is the only country with 2-way MFS on the docket--which is stupefying, considering the discipline’s flexibility, portability and low infrastructural requirements.
“They’re waiting to see how it goes in the U.S.,” Andy says, “And they’re slow to move, but the more competition skydivers who push for MFS at their Nationals level, the closer we’ll get.”
Interested? Check out the 2-Way MFS dive pool from the USPA website. To learn the MFS ropes, reach out to Andy himself, Jason Peters or Nik Daniel with Axis Flight School.