Bombs Away: A Guide to Skydiving


Skysurfing is a sport for the new millennium. This advanced form of skydiving combines the speed of auto racing, the precision of gymnastics, and the rush of bungee jumping. Much of what skysurfers do is not completely new. Freestyle skydivers can perform many of the same maneuvers—spins, somersaults, and pirouettes. However, the addition of a flyable board adds a new measure of speed and daring to the freefall experience. Expert skysurfers in lateral flight can cover greater distances, at higher speeds, than can normal freefall jumpers using their bodies alone. And visually, skysurfing is a jaw-dropper.

Skysurfing began in the early 1980s when "air surfers" experimented with foam boogieboards during freefall. A breakthrough came in 1987 when French parachutists first skydived in a standing position using foot attachments on conventional, rigid surfboards. Since then skyboards have continued to evolve, becoming lighter and smaller. The hot setup currently is similar to a small snowboard with soft bindings and cutaways used to release the board on landing. The latest sky boards are strong, high-tech platforms built of honeycomb composites and carbon fiber. While small parachutes are often used to recover sky boards, some new designs are light enough to float gently to earth after release.

Skysurfing hit the big time in 1990, when pioneering French skysurfers, including future world champion Patrick de Gayardon, performed their amazing aerial tricks on Asian and European TV. In the next five years the sport has grown rapidly. 1993 marked the first official Skysurfing World Championships, and in 1994, de Gayardon and others skysurfed during the opening ceremonies of the Lillihammer Winter Olympics. Today there are both men's and women's world championships. ESPN's Extreme Games popularized skysurfing even more, leading to new professional standards: competitors are now judged on maneuvers performed in real time and filmed live by a "partner" cameraman. As routines become increasingly complex, performing (or filming) the sport in competition demands extraordinary skill. Even today there are just a handful of skysurfers who can master the most difficult maneuvers. With a growing worldwide audience for the sport, however, we can expect new talents to emerge who will push the sport even further. Skysurfing is yet one more demonstration that the quest for adventure is endless, and there is no limit to the things people will do in search of a new thrill.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 8 Oct 2001 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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