On April 28th some of the best canopy pilots in the world kicked off the 4th year of the Pro Swooping Tour in Lake Wales, FL. Seasoned veterans of the PST such as Ian Bobo, Luke Aikens, and Kaz Sheekey were also joined by some of the newest pro pilots straight from the CPC championships like Ian Drennan, Brian McNenney, and Stuart Schoenfeld.
Officially practice wouldn’t start till Thursday the 27th, however, as teams such as Fasttrax, Xaos, and PD, started to filter in slowly, ready to wipe off the rust of winter and begin yet another season of competition, it was apparent that the thousands of jumps, hours of time spent in the harness, and years of experience, had already prepared them for the competition. The weather the days before the competition would eventually end up portraying what the weather would be for the entire event; 85 degrees, sun, and WIND. To be precise, for four straight days, competitors were flying in 12-18 mph crosswinds with gusts to 22+, making it some of the most challenging conditions many of the competitors have had to fly in a long time.
Friday, April 28th, was the official start day of the 2006 PST season. At 8:30am, 24 competitors arrived at the packing tent next to the pond ready for the morning briefing and to start gearing up for the first load of six rounds for that day. Unlike last year, judges and announcers weren’t watching competitors strapping on 55, 45, or even 35 pounds of extra weight. This year most competitors were wearing between 10-20 pounds of weight, if any weight at all. This first PST competition not only kicked off a new swooping season but also kicked off the new rules for 2006 and beyond. Due to the new weight restrictions implemented over the winter competitors, were now allowed to wear a certain percentage of extra weight compared to their actual body weight and exit weight. And instead of seeing larger highly loaded canopies between 96 and 111 square feet, most competitors were flying canopies between 79 and 96 square feet.
The first event of the day was two rounds of individual speed. Competitors dove their canopies toward the ground, many of which doing multiple rotations of 450 degrees or higher, then running through a 220 foot, 45 degree, carving speed course in about 15 mph crosswinds. Some competitors had vertical extensions, most had to kite their parachutes out of the course, and all found it very demanding. Most of the competitors speed runs ranged from 4.1 to 6.1 seconds; however it was Jeff Provenzano of team Xaos who held the fastest time of 3.53 seconds, or 42mph, in round one. In round two it was PD pilot Ian Bobo taking the fastest time of the round and of the competition with 3.17 seconds, or 47 mph, through the entire course.
For the distance rounds competitors that were once allowed to load up with excess weight and fly a bigger wing now had to make a choice of whether to fly a smaller wing at a higher wingloading or go with a little bit bigger wing but at a lighter wingloading. In the first round of distance it was Australian Kaz Sheekey of team Fasttrax who showed the boys how to go big by throwing down a huge 381 foot swoop into very tricky conditions. As Sheekey came out of her 450 degree turn on her Velocity 79 it was apparent that as long as she made the entry gates it was going to be a big run for her. Lifting her feet just inches from the water, she sling shot herself down the distance course. Judges that were strung out down the course started sprinting further and further trying to catch up. As Sheekey set down at about 380 feet from the initial entry gates, competitors and spectators cheered and clapped to show support. In the second round of distance it was the current distance record holder, Jay "turbo" Moledski, which had the massive and longest swoop of the competition at 419 feet under his Velocity.
At approximately 5pm, after a three hour wind hold, the next event was team speed. Another change for the 2006 season was the ability to have not only two pros paired together for this event, but also the option of a pro and an amateur to be paired together. The Pro/Am team event made its debut last year at the CPC championships in Longmont, CO which yielded great success. For this event there were two categories: Pro and Pro/Am, each category giving the top team $200 to take home. For the Pro/Am category there were four people making up the two teams; Ian Drennan and Paul Rossouw from the Georgia area, and Stuart Schoenfeld and Dave Billings from the Oregon and Colorado areas. Three of these four pilots were at the CPC championships just 7 months prior. For these two teams, what proved to be most difficult was not only trying to navigate a course in challenging conditions but also flying in tight formation with another jumper who they had never flown with before. After two rounds of team speed it was Ian Drennan on his Velocity 90 and Paul Rossouw on his JVX 96 from Georgia taking home the $200 and top spot.
For the pro team speed event teams dealt with the same challenging conditions but had much better performances. Luke Aikens and Jeff Provenzano of team Xaos showed the fastest single team speed round of the day with a 4.10 second time through the course. But it was Jay Moledski and Jonathan Tagle of the PD Factory team taking the top slot and $200.
Saturday April 29th proved to be won by the weather. Between 8:30am and 5:30pm winds averaging 25mph were recorded on the wind meter, grounding the competition for the day and utilizing the scheduled weather day. While the music from competitors IPOD’s entertained the spectators and competitors, it was the kiting ability of Jake Kilfoyle and crew in the back of a pick-up that proved to be most entertaining this day. That night, competitors enjoyed a tasty meal from the local chef consisting of bratwursts, steaks, chicken, beans, and beer. Talk of swooping, upcoming events, past events, and what’s to come were buzzing around the tables.
On Sunday April 30th the forecast was still calling for high winds. The original start time for the last two events of accuracy and freestyle were bumped up from 8:30am to 7:30am, hoping that the earlier time would allow for the last four rounds to be completed. However, even with the earlier start time some competitors were caught off guard as the ground winds appeared to be between 5-10 mph, but the winds above 1000’ were cruising right along at 15-20+ mph. Competitors that were able to take these ever changing conditions and adjust their set-ups finished well in these two rounds. Accuracy was another event which had rule changes that could greatly affect the outcome of the event. Unlike the years before where competitors were able to make a controlled crash by sliding in, plopping down, or even intentionally stalling their parachutes to stay in a positive zone, this year all wanted to stay standing. Ten points would be taken off a competitors score if anything other than their feet touched the ground. This new rule not only promoted competitors to fly on a safer side and save their bodies from the carnage they usually put themselves through, but also made the event that much more difficult. The zones themselves also changed. Zone five, the highest scoring zone, was now only two meters deep. Jonathan Tagle and Shannon Piltcher of PD tied after the two rounds of accuracy with 91 points in each round. Not only did they win the accuracy portion of this competition but both Tagle and Piltcher took home a little extra cash made off a side bet that was prompted by Luke Aikens of team Xaos. Aikens was able to get almost 20 of the 24 competitors to put $5 each into a separate prize pot with the winner of the accuracy event taking home all the cash.
By 9:30am the two rounds of accuracy were complete and the winds had yet again picked up to the 17+ mph competitors had become accustomed to. For one last time competitors and judges were put on a weather hold hoping for the winds to calm, but by noon the freestyle rounds and the competition had been called. The awards ceremony was held at 1pm in one of the last remaining hangers at the Lake Wales facilities. In the top spot, yet again, was PD Factory pilot Jonathan Tagle who showed great consistency and piloting throughout the whole competition. Jonathan Tagle won $2,400 and the bragging rights for the first victory of the 2006 season. In a close second and third was Jay Moledski, also of the PD Factory team winning $1,100, and Jeff Provenzano of team Xaos winning $600.