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African South African Skydiving Nationals Championships 2008 - Canopy Piloting
By Julie Teague

Venue: Pretoria Skydiving Club
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Training date: 14 June 2008
Competition dates: 15 to 17 June 2008
Contact: Peter Lawson

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There is no doubt that Canopy Piloting is fast becoming one of the most competitive disciplines in South Africa. Not only did this year’s Canopy Piloting Nationals boast the largest number of competitors to date, but it also served as the selection competition for the 2008 South African Canopy Piloting Team. The top performers out of the 19 entrants were chosen to represent our country at the forthcoming World Championships, to be held at our very own Pretoria Skydiving Club (Wonderboom). With the only FAI rated swoop course in the country, PSC’s dominance in this discipline was evident in the fact that 5 of the 8 new team members hail from this ‘swoop factory’.

Training for this internationally supported event began on the 7th of June, with Ian Bobo of the Performance Design Factory Team arriving at PSC to take 11 students through their paces. Jumpers ranged from novices to experts – but all benefited immensely from Ian’s analytical approach to this advanced discipline. He has given us a new language in which to scrutinise each landing. His lasting impression is one of a new importance on the set up and approach of one’s final turn, rather than focusing on the swoop. His advice: 80% of the success of your landing is based on a good set up. Ian is also a world class Formation Skydiving champion, and spent a whole day training a four way team on the Saturday.

On the crisp morning of the 14th of June, the competitors gathered in 2 separate loads to begin the first event in the competition: Zone Accuracy. This event has got to be the one that separates ‘the men from the mice’. Not only do you need to enter below the 5ft gates to begin scoring, but then to pick up a maximum of 60 points over the water, you need to drag your foot through the pond through 4 consecutive markers. Just after this valuable score zone, comes the Zero Score zone: if you touch down here, regardless of the points you may have accumulated over the water, you score nothing for the round! This is followed by scoring zones of different values and sizes. Perfect execution would be to flare over the zero scoring zone and then land, standing up, in the high scoring zone - without stepping over into the next zone. Such a tall order that none of the competitors managed that elusive perfect score, with Chris Teague coming the closest in Round 1, scoring a 90 out of 100. The difficulty in this event is underscored by the fact that only 8 jumpers managed to post any sort of score in the first round at all. Overall, this event was won by Australian jumper Michael Vaughan. Michael has over 7000 skydives, and has represented his country at a number of Formation Skydiving, Canopy Formation and Canopy Piloting events. At last year’s Australian World Cup CP competition, Michael placed 8th, which certainly gave our competitors a brilliant benchmark against which to test themselves for the Championships to come.

In second place was Chris Teague, followed closely by Rob Kruger. There was a bit of contention around how the placings were to be made, considering the inclusion of overseas competitors (Ian Bobo also took part in the accuracy event, placing 5th overall). It was decided to take the international competitors’ scores out of the mathematical calculations in order to find the South African winners for each event. This makes a significant difference to the scores and placings. The reason for this is that the winner of each round is awarded 100% for that round, and everybody else’s score is then worked out as a percentage of the winning figure. However, this made very little difference to the accuracy event, in which Chris Teague placed first, followed by Rob Kruger and Selwyn Johnson.

The Distance event brought on a new South African record, with Chris Teague chalking up an impressive 150.92m! This would also be a new World Record (by 20cm), but Chris is unfortunately not registered as an FAI competitor – an incredible result nevertheless. With a light downwind breeze behind them, this spectacular event was a real crowd pleaser, and at 4,100ft above sea level, the conditions were prime for massive swoops. Other notable rounds included Selwyn Johnson’s 130.92m first round. The overall championship was, unsurprisingly, won by Chris Teague, with Selwyn’s performance on a Velocity 103 securing him second place and Rob Kruger in third. These results were unchanged by the international competitors, as Ian did not complete the rounds, and Mike Vaughan’s 4th place did not affect the leader board. With the winter light fading fast, competitors were told to return to the drop zone for an early morning start the following day. The tension of competition was almost palpable in the air, and visible on the face of the competitors who kept running back to manifest to check and re-check scores.

Sunday morning enjoyed a much larger group of spectators – word of mouth perhaps, or was it the usual Sunday tandem trade? We all watched in excitement as Michael Vaughan topped every single round, amassing the maximum points for any event of 300 (100% per round). His incredible performance is truly poetic, executing a huge 990 degree turn on each approach. You’re tempted to imagine that you can see his facial features on his last 360! Michael Vaughan had a notable 2.58 seconds time on the last round. The clear national leader the night before was Chris Teague – but his hopes of a certain 1st place finish were dashed as he failed to hit the gates on the first round of this challenging event. But he bounced back with two consistent rounds of 2.66 seconds each.

Competition over – and who would walk away with the top prize? Most importantly, who were the top 8 finishers who had secured their place on the South African National Team, to represent us in November? This honour now proudly belongs to Christopher Teague, Bertus De Beer, Selwyn Johnson, Rob Kruger, Brendon van Niekerk, Dian Kemp, Pierre Marais Badenhorst and Driaan Louw. Worth noting that this was Marais’ first attempt at an Open competition, and so a really brilliant result for Wonderboom’s favourite jump hog.

And the end results of the total competition were:

Open Competition
1st:  Mike Vaughan
2nd: Christopher Teague
3rd:  Rob Kruger

South African Nationals Competition
1st:  Christopher Teague
2nd: Rob Kruger
3rd:  Selwyn Johnson

For a bit of fun, on Monday before the official prize giving, our talented competitors once again wowed the crowds with a Freestyle round. Whilst not yet included in the FAI regulated competition, this entertaining event relies on the competitors’ skill and creativity in their swoop : performing trick moves on landing. If Lazy Boys, Switchblades, Blind Man and Wing Overs aren't a part of your vocabulary yet, then they soon will be. Peter Lawson had the honours of judging the event, and placed Brendon van Niekerk in the number one slot! Brendon executed a truly magnificent swoop of the entire 120m pond. Second place went to Bertus de Beer - who impresses visitors and skydivers each weekend with his mastery of this particular event. Of course, when water is involved, that’s a whole other story.

Mention must be made of Sean Schook, who was the only competitor in our Intermediate event. Hopefully a new breed will begin to join in on these events next year. Also, Kevin Vester from Cape Town has got to be recalled as the most regular visitor to the bottom of the pond :)

A near perfect event: no injuries or even near misses, near perfect weather, record breaking performances and international support! A MASSIVE thank you must be sent out to Peter Lawson and Mike Teague, who have put their money (and effort!) where their mouths are.

This highly visual discipline in our sport is going to be key in securing future sponsorship and televised support for the skydiving community in our country. With that in mind, we hope that the Canopy Piloting World Championships in November will enjoy a much higher spectatorship from the skydivers out there – this is a real chance to show the country (and the world) how we get behind our competitors. We have a world class team to display after all!