The inaugural US Freestyle Nationals were held at Skydive Arizona in Eloy, Arizona, on October 16-20. Official practice and competitor's briefing was on October 16. During the first day of competition on October 17, 8 teams completed 6 rounds of competition under perfect weather conditions. Competition was finished by the end of the second day with two more days for fun jumping.
Under the guidance of chief judge, Brenda Reid, who had put forth tremendous efforts to organize training courses for judges earlier in the year, event judge Chris Kelly, and principle judges Cheryl Chappell, Tamara Koyn, Stefania Martinengo, Walter Murphy, and Mary Traub judged the competition.
Once the first video tapes were brought into the judges room, the judging began.
The first two rounds of competition were compulsory rounds during which the competitors had to execute 5 different required sequences within the 45 second working time. (The compulsory sequences are described in full detail in the rules.) As Dale Stuart appeared to be moving in slow motion with perfect control as she moved into the Cradle sequence. Scott Smith transitioned into his Straddle Headstand with perfectly straight hips and finished his compulsory routine by whipping into a Straddle Headstand spin from his Thomas Flairs. Susie Couch starts her Cradle sequence leaving her legs together by mistake as she gets into the back down position. It's obvious that she was in total control when she suddenly freezes her motion in order to spread her legs and properly show the straddle position before continuing her routine.
The intermediate freestylists had a different set of compulsory sequences to perform and they performed extremely well exhibiting only minor flaws--a very impressive performance considering that they had received the descriptions for the compulsory sequences just 2 weeks before the start of competition! Jacquie Scoones finishes her compulsory routine with a move she calls the "Spinning Jax," a spinning Tee Position on the back with the horizontal knee bent.
Freestylists wore jumpsuits in a complete assortment of bright colors and styles. Jumpsuits with small wings in the configuration similar to a sit suit are becoming standard attire for freestylists--The entire competitive field wore jumpsuits with these wings. The wings trap air when the freestylist is in an upright position helping him/her to balance well.
The freestyle teams unleashed their creativity during the 5 rounds of competition following the first 2 compulsory rounds. Judges scored the technical execution, difficulty, artistic impression, and the camera work during the free round.
Scott Smith positions himself in the door frame with both legs lifted high above the top of the door. He drops off the plane into piked backloops. Scott places his hands on his hips and performs a straddle cartwheel as Brent Finley rolls with him performing a synched camera roll. After a brief pause in a "Bent Tee," bowing his chest and head as low as possible while holding a Tee Position, Scott throws himself into a 2 1/2 twisting Deanna. (A Deanna is a maneuver in which the freestylist dives head-down starting from a Tee Position and performs twists to finish in a Tee Position facing the opposite heading.) Scott immediately finishes a triple twisting backloop into an upright pose. After a tight close-up view on Scott, Brent backs off as Scott accelerates into a sitting pike spin with one hand on his knees. Scott finishes his routine with a "Mighty Mouse," a head-down position with one arm extended toward the earth and one leg bent with the foot on the knee of the opposite leg with the knee pointing outward. During the exit for another free round jump, Scott pops out the door snapping into tucked loops.
Like a number of the other competitors (more in the open divisions), Dale performed 2 different routines. "The first one in the gold and white jumpsuit is called 'Classical' and the second one in the bright colored jumpsuit is called 'Playful,'" explained her camera flyer, Greg Gasson.
Dale starts her "classical" routine by performing a "port de bras," moving her arms gracefully in a circular manner, into the Inverted Criss-Cross Spin--a back down spinning position with one leg raised as close to the torso as possible with the opposite arm crossing that leg pointing to the opposite side. Dale fluently performs her typical graceful maneuvers which she is well known for in her performances in the 1993 and 1994 World Freestyle Competitions. Dale finishes her "Classical Routine" with a Daffy spin with nearly a 180¡ leg spread with both hands on her hips.
In a playful manner, in her second free routine, Dale kicks her legs crossing the ankles and extending them again to the straddle position, all while head-down. During a series of Toe-Cross Cartwheels with the legs crossing and straightening repeatedly, the horizon appears to be sliding behind Dale. She transitions into a "Weather Vane Spin," during which she leans over a straight leg touching her foot with opposite hand and the opposite knee bent while sitting. Performing a move that her camera flyer, Greg Gasson, dubbed as the "Panther Step," Dale takes several standing foot steps keeping her knees together while descending in the frame. The "Tango Loop" comes later during which Dale splits her legs and twists simultaneously. Greg and Dale finish the routine together both in the head-down position.
Right off the airplane, Susie Couch transitions into a move she calls a "Can Can" during which she stands upright and repeatedly tucks both legs in and kicks them back out, one up as high as possible and across the body and the other downward. Susie performs a Stag Headstand and a "Diamond Toe Straddle Stand-up" in which she touches both toes together while holding a Straddle Stand-up pose. Susie concludes her routine with a "Dutchessa," a maneuver that involves gesturing the arms over the head while holding the Straddle Standup.
Several competitors were inventing new moves at the same time. Both Dale and Susie perform Split Pike Back Stops in their routines. The "Split Pike Back Stop" is a maneuver in which the freestylist stops back down (with the legs split and hips piked) from a back looping rotation and reverses into a front looping rotation. Three competitors (Dale, Susie, and Jacquie Scoones) perform a Layback Spin that rotates toward the leg that is raised. (During a Layback Spin, the freestylist is standing with one leg positioned behind the torso, turned out at the hip, and bent at the knee.) This is more difficult than spinning toward the leg that is positioned vertically towards the ground.
Difficulty was one of the four areas scored for the free round. However, the rules provide no guidelines for the evaluation of difficulty. The competitors couldn't anticipate how their routines would be evaluated on difficulty and the judges used previously made available resources (such as those from the now defunct World Freestyle Federation and other publications).
The camera flyers filmed most all of the compulsory rounds from a flat and level position--the camera work wasn't a part of the score for the compulsory round. However, creative camera flying in all 3 dimensions was explored during the free rounds, especially in the open divisions. (See SideBar on 3-D camera flying.)
Brent encircles Scott in a complete 360 degree vertical orbit. Brent, also, performs a barrel roll making Scott appear to perform a 1 1/2 cartwheel rotation when he actually performs a half cartwheel into a headstand. Greg performs a synched roll rotating at the same speed as Dale as she turns a back-down straddle pose with her hands on her hips.
The camera flying in the intermediate division was clean and close for the most part but involved little 3-dimensional action other than concluding freestyle routines by allowing the performer to fall away while spinning.
During the free round, many of the intermediates performed compulsory sequences from the open division. Straddle Stand-ups, Daffy spins, Daffy Switches, tucking into tucked loops after a series of layouts, piked frontloops, cartwheels, straddle frontloops, stand-ups and Stag Stand-ups were also among the maneuvers performed by the intermediates.
Keith, a protege of Robin Berg, kept talking during his Daffys and then quickly snapped into a stag frontloop into another Daffy and then swiveling to face the opposite heading and aggressively moving forward into another stag frontloop. At the competition awards ceremony, it was finally revealed that he was saying "SWEET WILLIE," Bill Beaver's nick-name at Perris Valley Skydiving, during his routines.
Keith had made about 230 jumps--All of them freestyle except for 8 AFF and 10 RW jumps which were required. "He knew what he wanted to do by level 3," explained Bill Beaver. He hired Robin to be his coach, and asked Bill to video and they logged 25 jumps together before the meet.
Dave Briegs of team Crosskeys Freestyle Heat, performed nearly flawless layouts, twists, and crisp maneuvers.
Jacquie flows through layouts with twists, Daffys, Open Stag Stand-ups, stag kick turns, and a layback spin, spinning toward the direction of the raised leg much like Dale did in the open division. "Rumors 'r Flyin' from Skydive Elsinore" (Jacquie and Lynda) finished first in the women's intermediate division and was an all women's freestyle team having completed just 80 training jumps together.
As competition continued, the competitors became more and more involved with how they presented the required slate for each jump. Jacquie kept finding her slates in the most interesting places--in the dryer, the refrigerator, in the peas, in the trash can, etc. The humorous slates brought much entertainment and laughter to the judges room and the judges decided to present some awards for novel slates.
By the 9th round, Dale, who had secured a strong lead in the women's open division, wore large pink furry slippers with her pink jumpsuit while performing her "Playful" routine. With Scott being the only competitor in the men's open division and Dale Stuart leading by more than 149 points, they took a break to perform some freefly during the last round of competition. While it was not nearly as spectacular as the freeflying performed by the Freefly Clowns, Dale and Scott performed some synchronized back flips and sit fly maneuvering. According to Part 50, sections 5.2, 5.5, 5.7, and 6.4; and Part 57, sections 1.1 and 2.1, both Scott's and Dale's teams were awarded a zero for the round.
That Friday night, Skydive Arizona hosted a banquet and awards ceremony. Both the second and third place women teams had each less than 500 jumps between the team members. The crowd chuckled as video of all the slates was played on DZ TV. Awards for interesting slates were presented. Scott and Brent won the "Most Versatile Gear Bag" certificate. It was amazing how Scott kept getting so much gear out of that gear bag--even pulling out his camera flyer, Brent! "Perfect Execution by the Bus Driver" was won by CrossKeys Freestyle Heat in an accident in which the bus drove over the person holding the slate. And while presenting their slate for another jump, CrossKeys Freestyle Heat just couldn't figure out why a third hand was helping hold the slate when only one person was holding the slate. Bono, Greg's dog, won "Best Actress" by delicately and gracefully capturing a fortune cookie off her nose in her month on command.
The first national USPA freestyle competition represents a new beginning for freestyle competition in the US.