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Skysurfing Seminar by Surf Flite
World Freefall Convention at Quincy August 11, 1999
Speakers: Kerry Vail, Michelle Germain, Keith Snyder, and Sammy Popov
Seminar Notes by Tamara Koyn


The following material does not necessarily represent my opinions and represents my best effort to capture the material actually presented in the seminar. I do not guarantee that it is error free.

Kerry completed his AFF skydiving training program at Quincy 1999 and, by next year, he plans to be an active sky surfer!

About Sky Boards

The Wing Board

Kerry Vail designed his wing board 7 years ago. He contacted Jerry Loftis regarding his wing board design 3 years ago. Kerry works at Boeing and has experience working with composites and he understands how airplanes fly. Jerry flew the winged board 3 times. Keith Snyder flew it 25 times. Bob Greiner has used it as well.

Kerry bought Surf Flite when he learned that the company was going to shut down.

Surf Flite still produces the same boards and 75 have been sold since February 1999. Surf Flite uses a honey comb structure. This makes the board strong while keeping the board light in weight. Standard boards have a soft rubber edge. An aluminum honey comb core is standard for all boards, including the beginner, intermediate, and advanced boards (except the VailAir winged board which uses Nomex honeycomb which is 35% lighter than aluminum honeycomb.). There are different skin types for the top and bottom of the board. Fiber glass is used on all standard boards. It is heavier than the graphite and kevlar skins used on the competition boards. But it is less expensive so it is used to cut down on the cost of manufacturing a standard "trainer" board. The top skin is a thin skin.

Some graphics are hand painted. Hand painting takes 25 hours even for simple designs and is thus expensive. Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop artwork can also be put onto the board. Ink has weight. Some sky surfers will complain about even 6 OZs of additional weight! The graphics are put on the board with a dye sublimation technology to avoid adding weight to the board. Virtually any picture or graphic that you can put on a computer can be duplicated on a board.

Kerry is introducing quick step-in bindings on the boards. These bindings allow the skysurfer to step on the board and lock in in seconds keeping everyone on the plane happy. Bob Greiner has been test jumping the bindings. Because bindings can pull out of the board, Surf Flite will not sell a board without bindings for the customer to mount his or her own.

Surf Flite's (CAPT) competition board has a spooned tip. The honey comb structure does not extend all the way to the end of the board. The end itself is a dense tapered foam with ABS plastic inside the tip.

A knife edge cuts through the air enabling a skysurfer to spin faster and maneuver faster. However, it is easier for the board to control you. A square blunt edge is more forgiving.

Boards will continue to evolve. For example, Surf Flite is experimenting with boards that have windows with airfoils inside and some new style winged boards which Surf Flite has the exclusive patent rights to.

Equipment for Safe Skysurfing

You must respect skysurfing or it will not respect you.

Use a BOC. Be sure that the BOC pouch is tight. It costs around $15 to change a leg strap throw-out to a BOC. The leg strap moves. A BOC stays put. A pullout is good as well. Have a bungi cord between the leg straps to keep them from coming up to the knees.

Since Jerry Loftis' death, Michelle has added several items to her equipment for safety. These include a Time-Out, helmet, and a Cypres. Actually, she uses two Time-Outs. The board is likely to whack your head if one binding breaks or releases accidentally. The distinctive warning sound of the Time-Out helped Michelle to come around enough to pull after being knocked unconscious. Michelle is accustomed to using a wrist mount altimeter. While sun glasses look cool, goggles are safer.

Start out with a sit suit or a large sweat shirt and stretch pants. Use pants. Do not have any exposed cables. Flapping jeans can cause cables to get pulled. DLT Designs, Da' Kine Rags, and Flite Suit all make skysurfing suits. Otherwise you can construct your suit from Wal-Mart attire.

It is not advisable to use an RSL because the board may be involved with the malfunction. In this case, you cutaway the main, the board, and then deploy the reserve.

Be sure the toe loops fit the tops of the feet. Use tennis shoes. Michelle has a pair of shoes which she has used uniquely for skysurfing since 1994!

Quadruple check your equipment prior to exit. Because a novice skysurfer at Quincy forgot to hook up the RSL for the sky board's pilot chute, he had a premature recovery pilot chute deployment. The sky surfer made a good decision to cutaway the board. Sammy doesn't really like the idea of the recovery pilot chute since it is something extra that the jumper must remember to hook up correctly.

The cutaway handle for the sky board is located at the waist so that it is accessible to either hand.

If you get severe line twists, cutaway the sky board first so you avoid have line twists on your reserve as well.

Kerry plans to develop a "homing" device to help recover lost boards.

Starting in Skysurfing

People must met certain minimum requirements rather than a minimum jump number. Skydivers with 500 to 1,000 jumps may not be ready for sky surfing.

Before doing your first jump on a beginner board, you should be able to stand in freefall with good heading control. You need to be able to spin on the back and control it. Head-down flying is also good because you might end up in that orientation with the board over your head. You need to learn 3-D flying and fly vertical and get adjusted to seeing the horizon.

Michelle Germain takes candidates interested in skysurfing on a sit fly dive and asks them to perform a 360 degree pirouette in each direction while in a sit position, a standup, and layout loops. She wants to see them get out of control and be able to regain control. Often sky surfers learn new maneuvers without using the board first.

Sammy Popov teaches skysurfing in the wind tunnel. There, you have a 12 foot working space. At the Los Vegas wind tunnel, the student uses a special harness that allows motion on all 3 axis. The Pigeon Forge wind tunnel does not have a harness. $50 for 3 minutes of tunnel time.

It's necessary to dedicate a number of jumps to sky surfing in order to learn it. You need about 25 jumps with the beginner board, although some can get by with as little as 5. Deploy by 5,500 feet with a beginner board. At Quincy, Surf Flite allows beginners to demo beginner boards with proper instruction. Students must pay for the beginner board if they lose it.

Gearing up correctly and deploying correctly are the most important criteria--most beginners can stand up just fine on the board. Choose an experienced camera flyer to film you on the board.

Skysurfing begins on an intermediate board. The intermediate board has a lot more surface area. It is a whole new world with the feet in the forward position. The intermediate board has a narrower base of support from side to side and thus requires more skill to balance.

Doing leg lifts helps for strengthening the leg muscles.

Centrifugal force pushes blood in the brain and arm vessels. It can be painful and deploying can be difficult. You should cutaway the board if your fingers tingle and feel hot from the force of spinning. Learn your hard deck. The centrifugal force can be stronger than you.

The most difficult move to perform is to hang head-down with no rotation. With the left foot forward, the tendency is to spin towards the left.

Typically, women are more graceful skysurfers and men are more powerful.

Skysurfing is still growing.

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© Copyright 1999. Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved.