by Pat Works
HISTORY and DEVELOPMENT of
As an artistic expression of flying your body, Free Flying has been evolving since 1990.
1991: The earliest documented competitive application was when German born Olav Zipser demonstrated the then radical, 'head down' maneuver at the 1991 World Freestyle Federation (WFF ) World Championships in Vero Beach, Florida. Zipser and Chris Conkright of the USA finished fourth in a competition that didn't know quite what to think of this unorthodox approach to a sport that itself was only two years old.
Over the next several years, Zipser and a few others pioneered this concept of vertical body flight as a personal means of artistic expression, and competitively, as an anti-establishment offshoot of the existing FreeSTYLE discipline. (E.g. Tie-dyed long johns versus neon spandex.)
During this time, Zipser attempted to earn his livelihood from "clowning around" in freefall for the amusement of tandem passengers, much like a street mime or juggler performs for passersby. These aerial performances, lead Zipser to coin the usage of "Freefly Clown" as a proclamation of his superior skill level. Just as the clown in a circus trapeze group must have vastly superior athletic abilities in order to perform a trick so that it appears comical or easy, so to was Zipser in freefall.
1992: Zipser took Mike Vail off the streets of Davis, CA, taught him to skydive, then to fly camera. The pair finished third at the WFF Championships in Arizona.
1993: Zipser and Vail took the Gold at the WFF Championships held in Empuriabrava Spain. Their winning performance showed the beginnings of the more diverse total "free fly" approach. This was particularly noticeable in the use of camera perspective, compared to the static camera of the precise, gymnastic, pointy-toed Freestyle mainstays.
Early 1994: Zipser began grooming a teammate from scratch again with Omar Alhegelan of Saudi Arabia. During the summer, the notion of the three way team was first pioneered and developed by Zipser, Alhegelan with Vail flying camera.
For the annual 1994 WFF Championships at Arizona in the fall, Zipser decided to fly the camera side of a two person Freestyle team with Alhegelan. Pursuing a free fly approach, they finished second, notable because Alhegelan had only began jumping within the year, amassing 1,200 jumps by the time of the competition.
Competitively, the free fly approach began to spread among several Freestyle teams, with Carly Thomas/Mick Kelaher of Australia, Guido Schmitz/Dirk Mai of Germany and Carol Dorner/Troy Hahn of the USA. This event marked the beginning of a what would become an irreconcilable schism of stylistic approaches within the discipline of Freestyle.
Simultaneously, another alternative flying style, "Chute Assis," literally sit-flying in French, was popularized in France and incorporated into the free fly repertoire. Largely through the advent of this additional approach, the advanced core of participants came to recognize that true Freeflying was about flying in ALL body positions, not just head down for the entire dive.
June 1995: The inaugural Extreme Games was held with SkySportif Intl. (SSI) staging Skysurfing as one of nine alternative sporting events. After completion of a successful first Extreme Games and subsequent future Extreme Tour discussions, SSI petitions ESPN to develop the Freeflying discipline as a three person team, so as to contrast and compliment with Skysurfing.
A grass roots Freeflying competition is announced for November in Dallas, TX to test the concept.
September 1995: The free fly "camp" at the (final) WFF Championships in Ampfing Germany was a distinctly separate group. Seven of the twenty two person teams competing in the open division were considered to be free fly or "alternative" in their approach.
Led by Zipser and Alhegelan, who finished third in a controversial decision, the core also included the previous year's adherents, the return of Vail, plus the inclusion of future mainstays Charles Bryan, Fritz Pfnür and Orly King of the USA, Claude Tzifkansky of France and others.
October 1995: The first experimental three way Chute Assis/Free Fly competition is staged in Teuge, Holland by the National Paracentrum. Nine Teams participate under the organization of Meet Director Henny Wiggers.
As a competitive event, Pro Freeflying has been developed & staged exclusively by SSI Pro Tour.
November 1995: SSI stages a three person team Freeflying/Alternative flying competition in Dallas, TX using an experimental set of rules based on the SSI's established Skysurfing concepts. The event attracts a dozen teams with the Netherlands, England, France and New Zealand represented. The event discovered the concept to be sound and with minor modifications to rules, lead to the SSI recommendation to include Freeflying as part of the inaugural "ESPN Extreme Tour" planned for 1996.
May 1996: The very first competitive Freeflying event was staged in May as part of ESPN's "Destination Extreme" in Sebastian, Florida. The five team field featured three "seeds" and two teams selected from four on site tryout teams.
Winners of the first event and undisputed leaders of this "brand new" discipline were Zipser/Alhegelan and Bryan, continuing under the nom de plume of the "Freefly Clowns." Several of the core group from the previous WFF events like Mike Vail were also there with some notable newcomers, particularly the debut of the Fly Boyz (Eli Thompson, Mike Ortiz and Knut Krecker) plus Adrian Nicholas, Brian Germain, and others.
Over the 1996 season of four events, Freeflying as a discipline developed, evolved and expanded exponentially. By season end, a total of ten three person teams took part in the four events with another four teams trying out but not making the limited slots allocated. But most importantly, the inaugural 1996 season of competition provided direction and planted the seed among the general skydiving community. The resulting demand has created dedicated schools.
In the sport's first "off-season" between the final 96 event in California and the start of the 1997 competitions under the X Trials banner, Freeflying continued an exponential development despite this being the traditional 'down time' for jump activities. As a whole, the 1996/97 winter season saw continued team development in both Skysurfing and Freefly, the first time in these sports the winter was not just a time to "recharge."
November 1996: The first ever "Freefly Festival," a ten day camp hosted by Charles Bryan and the 1996 World Champion Clown team at Eloy, AZ. While this event was a noncompetitive format stressing new athletic achievements and artistic expression, it is notable in terms of the advancement of the competitive sport as a whole due to the "large" attendance, and the bringing together of many talented individuals from around the world.
January 1997: SSI announces the SSI Freeflying competition format expanded to include six total teams, four seeded and two coming from the on-site tryouts. The field of teams diversified, deepened and developed parity.
March 1997: The 1997 debut event in Titusville, FL finds the dominant trio of 1996 had split up. Olav Zipser and Charles Bryan added Stefania Martinengo. Omar Alhegelan splintered off to mentor his own team. New power combo on the scene is Nicholas,Germain and newcomer Robert Mahaffey.
April 1997: The second stop of the 1997 tour in Monterey, CA sees the popularity of competitive Freeflying swelling with the debut of many new teams. A seventh Freefly Team arrives too late and has to be turned away from participating in the Tryouts (a field of six vying for only two slots.)
August 1997: The four 1/2 month hiatus between the April event in Monterey and late August European campaign in Ampfing takes its toll in Team realignment, but pays dividends in performance levels. Gone are Germain, Zipser and Nicholas, but Bryan has now teamed with Vail and relative newcomer Rob Weltz, to form one of the new teams to challenge the top ranked Flyboyz. With the growth of Mad Style, the winners podium in Germany sees three west coast US based teams.
October 1997: The final event of the 1997 season in Switzerland sees a continuation of the west coast US domination of the competitive scene, but sees rapid development of several European Teams.