by Pat Works
1972: The RW Council:
History of the RW Underground Newsletter - Introducing RW to USPA
Photo by Andy Keech, Skies Call
January 1972. Relative Work had been growing in popularity for some time as ever-increasing numbers of jumpers discovered that freefall together in the same air space was great fun. Largely ignored by the sport parachuting establishment, it had covered the United States and large parts of the world with freefalling friends.
Although relative work had evolved into a competitive sport - there had been 10-man star meets in California and in Zephyrhills, Fla. - it was unrecognized, unorganized and unheard of in national or international competition.
At a party we heard that the U.S.P.A. Board of Directors would soon meet in nearby Milwaukee. After polling key relative workers across the country by telephone, we and Dick Giarrusso and his wife Betty put together a plan. We would propose that U.S.P.A. recognize large-star relative work as a competitive event by adding it to the events at the 1972 National Parachuting Championships. (Four-man RW had been a rather unpopular team event at the Nationals for a couple of years.)
John Sherman was to plead our case at the B.O.D., many of whom knew very little about this popular form of skydiving called relative work. John was a known style and accuracy competitor as well as a hard-core relative worker. Importantly, he's a smooth talker. He made the proposal to the competition committee on Thursday.
On Saturday and Sunday many of our friends showed up to support us. We lobbied in the hallways, in the bar and in rooms. We did everything we could think of to generate enthusiasm for the idea. After some discussion of logistics and team eligibility, the motion to include speed stars, using the existing California Star Rules, in the 1972 Nationals was passed. The speed with which the Board passed the proposal was unprecedented. Never before had they reacted so quickly to a proposal of such magnitude coming from the membership.
Four a.m. and we had won! Sleep was blocked by the nagging thought: All the "big people in parachuting" had suddenly gained a new-found interest in relative work when the motion passed. Many had already dropped unsubtle hints that they would like to be the first Chief of RW in the U.S.A. A few began to campaign for the slot.
No! Freefall should always be governed by participants; not by some ground hog leader! How could we insure that freefall, and in particular this suddenly popular new form of competition, would remain the property of skydivers?
The RW Council: The answer seemed to be communication. Form an invisible Union of Freefallers who could provide their own leadership. Give the brotherhood a name. Have meetings. The idea was that if we banded together and all talked at once we would at least sound big. Big enough for changes in our sport to be presented to jumpers rather than to a small elitist group for approval.
Hastily a list of the names of 30 key relative workers and team captains from all over the United States was drawn up. This was the mailing list for the first issue of a newsletter which eventually became RWunderground.
The list of 30 key star people was divided among the three of us (Giarrusso, Sherman, Works) and we contacted everyone by telephone to explain that RW would continue to be run by RW people if team captains would be responsible for maintaining communications with the national organization on behalf of members of their teams.
There was some fear among the people we contacted that U.S.P.A.'s involvement in relative work was not good, and indeed, they wondered if what we had done was really such a good thing. Yet, everyone was looking forward to the first "real" national competition under the auspices of the national organization.
Other elements of the "underground communication" battle plan included making sure that team captains fully understood the implications of U.S.P.A.'s action, and the responsibility of relative workers to respond in good faith by not showing up for the meet in illegal equipment or sporting cannabis patches (which was sure to incense the image-conscious heads of state, particularly since U.S.P.A. was hosting the World Championships at Tahlequah that year.)
Copies of the newsletter were also sent to U.S.P.A. and to members of the Competition Committee.
Our basic message in those first issues of RWunderground was: "you are a member of the loose-knit brotherhood of freefall relative workers known as The RW Council ... an informal league of star people who do their thing (not just mine or yours) for RW. Anyone who wants a say in RW should start (or get on) a team. There are no dues but you must remain active in RW. By virtue of being an RW Council member you are also an advisor on relative work to the U.S.P.A. Competition Committee. You should voice your opinion on RW matters. This newsletter will print anything you have to say concerning the betterment of RW."
And in our fourth issue (Fall 1972) we printed The Purpose of the RW Council:
"The Relative Work Council is a loosely knit group of active relative workers who are banding together to see that better things happen for RW more quickly. Some 42 relative workers at the Nationals, representing both 4-man and 10-man RW, agreed there was a need. The RW Council will act to supplement rather than supplant USPA. The Competition Committee recognizes the Council as an advisor to the Committee. All RW Council members must be active in RW and should be a member of a 4-man or a 10-man team. In addition, Council members must be SCR.
"This newsletter serves as the communications media for the Council and interested parties. Duties of all RW Council members are: 1) to voice their opinions concerning the improvement of RW competition to USPA, fellow jumpers and this newsletter, 2) actively promote RW, and 3) make lots of RW jumps. There will be no "Mr. Big" or nonjumping paperpushers. All RW people will have an equal say in controlling their sport. There are no numbers or merit badges except for the SCR and SCS.
"Good RW promotes itself. Large-star RW is where it is today now. It was noncreated. RW just happened and grew. Being noncreated, RW is transcendent over acceptance or rejection. Unfettered, it does not ossify into ritual mechanistics and so continues to grow. Since it is represented and led by participants rather than a groundhog "leader," it grows. If directed by a brotherhood of freefallers this growth can strengthen us through unity in numbers. Look how many of us there are today. We are all just beginning. Let's begin together. Do some RW on the ground so we can do lots of RW in the air. Sincere, active RW'ers should be encouraged to improve and maintain the good vibes of RW. Send us news; make lots of RW jumps."
RW Council meetings were held at the Nationals, at the Z-Hills meets, and at other major meets. Soon we had paying subscribers to help cover the cost of printing and mailing the newsletter which was published "irregularly." We even had subscribers in other countries.
"We're blown away at the number of us," we told our readers in the sixth issue, March 1973. "The good vibe, positive response to RWunderground has been overwhelming. We get a fantastic amount of input from our readers - articles, ideas, comments - we hardly have room to print it all. Actually, the 'WE' ain't. It's YOU and US. We simply communicate by having the resulting mess printed. It's work but we get lots of help and have fun doing it. Everyone who gets this newsletter helps in spirit and the printing is just a manifestation of that. We're trying to record what is going down in RW."
Every issue was hand-to-mouth for printing and postage costs. We did have advertising to help pay the bills, including some of the most unorthodox advertisements seen in any parachuting publication. Our art department was right out of Zap Comix - the newsletter's look was definitely "radical funk." Our friends were drafted to help assemble, staple, fold, stamp, address and sort for mailing every issue.
The rewards were terrific -it was great fun to get the mail every day to see what fantastic story or letter it brought from a jumper in another state or county.
We reported on team activities, competition rumors, large-star and speed-star records, meet results, equipment evolutions, competition rule changes and controversies of all sorts. We were right there in the middle of every heated discussion - "speed vs. sequential" for the future direction of RW competition, "soft vs. hard" for head-gear, TSO requirements for gear, even politics ... promoting a relative work slate for the 1974 U.S.P.A. elections.
We also initiated the Certificates of Merit to recognize the contributions of individuals to promotion of our sport, and the Combined RW Awards for national competition to encourage participation in more than one form of competitive relative work. The Combined Award has since been taken on by U.S.P.A. as an annual presentation at the National Championships.
The last issue of RWunderground was published in June 1976. As we explained to our readers in that issue, our 15th, we felt that we'd " paid our dues" and had accomplished what we had set out to do. "We started RWu to spread relative work ideas and news at a time when no other parachuting magazine was printing much RW material," we said. "In 1972 `serious' jumpers considered relative work to be only `fun-jumping.' When 10-man speed stars were accepted as an event at the National Parachuting Championships, we felt there was a need to bring relative workers across the country together, to let everybody know what was happening.
"Today, RW is still fun-jumping ... but it has captured the imagination of the world. We're proud to have been a part of this early growth. We get such a tremendous amount of fun out of jumping, we felt that the work we put into RWu for the last four years was just a token return for the fun the sport has given us."
Pat and Jan Works. 1978.