Birth Of Freefly

June 2000


Birth of Freefly

A few years ago, if a skydiver turned up at the plane in a baggy suit he'd have been laughed at. But now almost everyone has tried it and they know those baggy suits equal major 3D fun in the sky.

Virtually every load is now stuffed with freeflyers. The dream of possibly the most famous freeflying wizard, Olav Zipser, is coming true.

Olav Zipser believed there was more to skydiving than set moves on your belly. He believed there was a world of potential out there. He didn't just mean head-down flying either... "Freeflying is the art of manoeuvring in the sky in every possible way ... It is about different speeds, rotations, directions and being in control".

1986 - The Beginning
Olav started experimenting soon after his AFF course in 1986. He loved his level 6, the tracking dive, and was soon tracking towards clouds, chasing rainbows and flying his shadow through the canyons of vertical cloud walls. "Twelve years ago the only freefly there was, was in my head. I tried to develop a complete concept of human manoeuvring in the sky. Some few people were maybe experimenting with tracking, sit-flying and freestyle, but no-one at that time I think had a complete concept of human flight" said Olav.

Photo by Wendy Smith

He made about 1,000 jumps experimenting with fast flying, diagonal flying and multiple rotations. He also started flying around big formation dives (perhaps laying the foundation for Adrian Nicholas's body flying). "One of my favourite flights I remember is one jump with a 40-way star organised by Jerry Bird, the RW father. I went out first filming from below the formation of the star, waited three seconds once it was closed then started spiralling on my back up in the middle of the star, turned around on level filming 40 smiling faces, did a couple of layouts in the middle of the star then flew back underneath and away."

1991 - World Freestyle Championships
Freeflying was first introduced to the public eye with the first official World Freestyle Championships in 1991 at Vero Beach, Florida. At this first freestyle championships there were only 'compulsory' moves - rather like the FS competitions with their pool of randoms and blocks - and it was realised this skydiving dimension needed something more. It was here that German born Olav demonstrated the then radical head-down position, somewhat startling other competitors who had spent months practising traditional daffy and T-switch type manoeuvres.

Some were more surprised than others. After all, Olav had been touring America and Europe for months, joining freestyle training camps and sharing his knowledge. Some skydivers got used to seeing him hanging from the bottom of the aircraft door and disappearing in a spinning whirl with his cameraflyer. He was one of the first to wear a hard helmet and watching his aerial antics it was obvious why!

Photo by Steve Utter

At the next Freestyle Championships there were 'free' rounds too. It meant skydivers could do exactly what they liked up there - fly head up, head-down, head sideways, sit-fly, turn, track, spin, rotate - anything as long as it looked fun.

1993 - Olav World Champion
It was only seven years ago at the 1993 Freestyle World Championship that Olav and Mike Vail became the world champions with their team Freefly Clowns. By then Olav was already showing where he believed his flying would go, introducing amazing camerawork and effects with rotations, weed-eaters and orbits so slick it was difficult to tell which way was up (or down!). This was truly interactive flying and Mike was judged cameraflyer of the year at the event. Olav felt he had tried most of the freeflying possibilities except 2-way head-down flying. Freeflying was becoming an interesting offshoot of freeflying, with a 3-way team event quickly developing.

1995 - 1st School of Modern Skyflying
Between 1994 and 1995, Olav and his freefly clowns Mike Vail, Omar Alhegelan and Charles Bryan introduced vertical relative work into the freeflying skycircus and the freefly approach spread among freestyle teams. By 1995 Olav had developed the 1st School of Modern Skyflying. The idea was to teach freeflying with proper safety instruction and video documentation. A similar programme was developed to teach future freefly instructors.

Sit-flying or Chute Assis was another 'in thing' as innovators realised freeflying was flying in all body positions. That year also saw the launch of Chronicle 1, possibly the first ever freeflying tape and an inspiration for a new generation of skydivers.

1996 - Freefly Tour
Pete McKeeman introduced freeflying to the world in general through the ESPN TV network in 1996. This led to a freeflying tour - along the lines of the world surfing tours - which in turn inspired hundreds of existing skydivers to give freeflying and freestyle a go. Britain's Adrian Nicholas was among them, collecting a bronze medal at the Empuriabrava leg of the tour with team-mates Wendy Smith and Marco Manna. The Fly Boyz (Eli Thompson, Mike Ortiz and Knut Krecker) arrived on the competitive scene too, clearly a team out to have some serious fun. By this time the Clowns were putting together 8 and 10-ways and, by the end of 1996, the Freefly Clown Chronicle 2 video was released.

1997 - Freefly Explosion
"In 1997, freefly exploded ... At the second Freefly Festival we had close to 200 freeflyers from lots of different countries. Apart from our group, which experimented with Flock dives, we flew different 10 and 15-ways and a first record of 23 way... Now freeflying is everywhere. Before there was only a bunch of good freeflyers, you could almost count them on your fingers. Now there's hundreds, tomorrow thousands." said Olav. Flock dives aim to have the freeflyers moving like a flock of birds or school of fish, all changing direction and speed at the same time.

Types of Freefly
While freeflying is now seen as a separate area to freestyle - which has kept its strict precisely controlled moves - it still incorporates sit-flyers. But most people calling themselves freeflyers are mainly flying head-down. The divisions are likely to continue - already we have prop and aid freefly (using a skysurf board or chair or space ball or wing suit or any thing else we can safely fly with as a prop). Then there's; diagonal flying - taking a star for instance and making it fly diagonally in different directions; technical flying like Vertical RW; freefly skydancing,which is entertainment flying like a freefly circus; artistic flying; vertical speed racing and extreme flying.
"Plus all the new directions which we'll discover in the close future. Freefly is Fly Free wherever your creative spirit brings you without forgetting safety" Olav said.

Photo by Wendy Smith
Space Games
His current baby is the Space Games, which incorporates one-on-one races, the 3-way Freefly Open and fun with space balls. Rather like freestyle a few years ago, the rules are compiled by the competitors and open to interpretation - for instance Olav was busted by his own rule at the Freefly Indy 500 when he slightly touched the other racer while turning a corner. "I think in a way it's good that I lost, this way the other racers at the next Space Games will feel like there is a chance to beat me. But watch out, as it is not gonna be easy!"

Freefly UK
We have yet to see the likes of the Space Games, Indy Challenges, Flipper Points, or the Atmosphere Dolphin Challenge (I think you need to be there to understand what that's about) in Britain. But freefly has taken off and left freestyle far behind - despite the best efforts of main British freestyle team Anne Beckitt and Goody to encourage others to join them.

Every drop zone now has a growing gaggle of freeflyers, most wearing cameras and all getting out there with a need to feel the speed. Freeflyers could be the skateboarding fraternity of the skydiving world. Seen as slightly anti-establishment, they are pushing the envelope; not attempting to be cool, be skygods or part of the in-crowd. They are just 'being', having fun, and playing in the sky.

How many times do belly flyers return grumbling from a skydive, moaning about their own or a jumpmates' performance. Have you ever heard freeflyers griping about a jump? I thought not, possibly because they are flying free and if it is safe it can't be wrong.

Article adapted from an original interview by Stefania Martinengo, a team-mate of Olav Zipser and Charles Bryan since 1996. 

Written by Jo Malone

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Flyboyz by Brian Rogers