For most casual observers, the sport of skydiving is seen less as an athletic endeavor and more as an adventure for thrill-seekers, something you might try on vacation to get the adrenaline pumping, but not much else.
The participants at the 2015 National Skydiving Championships are hoping to change that perception.
“It’s kinda funny,” 34-year-old skydiving champion Mike Bohn told GrindTV. “I see a lot of other sports that I don't find exciting at all that have so many people watching and sharing what happens in them. I just wish access to our sport was more publicly available, and regular people who don't skydive could enjoy the competition sense.”
Bohn, along with his teammate Leland Procell, is the reigning national champion in freeflying, a discipline of skydiving where two-person teams perform artistic routines in a variety of orientations while falling to the ground and being filmed by a videographer.
He thinks that the main reason people don’t give competitive skydiving the respect it deserves is because they have so little exposure to it.
“Many people don't find it super exciting to watch,” said Bohn. “You know, I’ll show a winning routine to my family members and they’ll kind of look at it and say, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But they don’t see all the athleticism that goes into it; they don’t see the thousands of hours of training that goes into performing all these maneuvers while we’re free falling.”
Bohn hopes that the 2015 National Skydiving Championships, which have been underway since Oct. 21 and end on Sunday, will be the kick in the pants that helps people come around to the sport.
Showcasing everything from freestyle skydiving (where individual divers jump out of planes and perform a dance most akin to aerial ballet) to speed diving (where divers jump out of planes headfirst to reach speeds close to 300 mph), the championships are the premiere event for the sport.
Currently held in Eloy, Arizona, the championships let the divers practice their craft amid the backdrop of the Arizona desert. While the end result is undoubtedly scenic, some in the sport wonder whether the event is too remote to help its growth.
“It’s funny, I just came back from the 2015 S.P.O.R.T.S. Convention in Shreveport, Louisiana, and all these cities expressed interest in hosting the championships,” Jim Hayhurst, the United States Parachute Association’s director of competition told GrindTV. “We talked to everywhere from Eugene, Ore. to Daytona Beach, Fla. You know, I kind of felt like the pretty girl at a speed dating event with how many cities wanted to talk to us about hosting.”
Hayhurst thinks that moving into a cityscape will allow the championships to bring in more and more viewers.
“I think in the next few years, we’ll start hosting some of our smaller competitions in host cities,” said Hayhurst. “Hopefully that will help us get into the public eye.”
According to Hayhurst, once it’s in the public conscience, there’s no way the sport’s popularity won’t take off.
“There are about 15 million tandem jumps being made every year around the U.S., and most everyone who has gone skydiving has had a wonderful experience,” said Hayhurt. “Pretty much everyone has either gone skydiving, or knows somebody who has. So once we reach that tipping point, and people start watching, it will grow quickly. It will be like when you watch Olympic figure skating: you might not fully understand what the divers are doing, but you can’t help but be amazed by their athleticism.”
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