Did WCIS 2018 give us a glimpse at the future of competition in our sport?

November 07, 2018

The 2018 World Cup of Indoor Skydiving (WCIS) has already come and gone and it was a great spectacle. The turnout was rather impressive with people from all over the world coming together to proudly represent their countries. However, while no one can dispute that the overall attendance was high and that it was an amazing display of raw athleticism, there was an interesting imbalance of participation in certain disciplines and two of these disciplines were removed from the program just one month prior to the competition, with another event not attracting enough teams to declare a World title.

The top three registered disciplines were 4-Way FS, Dynamic 2-Way & Solo Freestyle and all three had close to 20 registered teams, and/or solo competitors. Junior Solo Freestyle was not far behind with 13 registered competitors. However, although medals were awarded in  4-Way VFS, there were only 3 NACs entered, which did not satisfy FAI rules to be declared a world title. In addition, as mentioned above, owing to the low number of entries,  Junior Dynamic 2-Way and Open Dynamic 4-Way, were, unfortunately, removed from the World Cup by the new Fédération Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) controller. This news came as a shock, not only to the few teams that were planning to compete, but also to the indoor skydiving (IS) community in general, particularly as there had been a healthy enough turn out in the 4-Way Dynamic discipline at the recent Sakura Cup competition last Spring. The Sakura Cup was however, a fully funded invitational event and not limited to National boundaries, so this certainly helped to fill the required team numbers.  Similarly, the Wind Games and the World Challenge, which are also not limited to national boundaries, also continue to attract many entries.

So, is the World Cup participation experience relevant at all - is it just a blip or truly something we need to address?  Is it possibly a glimpse into the future of a sport that needs to rethink its participation levels, which is vital if it hopes to be successful in the current Olympic bid, and will new, more approachable, disciplines begin to emerge? 4-Way FS does not seem to waiver, but maybe that is because this form of flying is more accessible and that it is more closely linked to what we also practice in the sky? Since the sky is where most FS teams start, we suggest we will continue to see high numbers of registration for future competitions.  Although Freestyle is also an outdoor discipline, it is arguably more accessible to solo flyers at a lower level inside the tunnel, so once again it will probably continue to attract higher numbers particularly within the junior ranks - the 2017 IBA Global Kids Challenge attracted 96 junior flyers.  The cost and time needed to train for solo is considerably less in comparison to a 2 or 4-Way team in any discipline. Factoring in the time it takes to gather three other people to form a team, schedule practice time, tunnel time and routines, it all adds up to a big undertaking, which could make some shy away from trying to create such a team at all. This reason along with the extreme difficulty of the flying could be why there are less 4 Way VFS and 4 Way Dynamic team than there are in other disciplines such as 2 Way Dynamic which seems to be thriving.  Also look out for more Solo Dynamic as this will certainly explode after its birth at the 2017 Wind Games.

There are already new disciplines being tested in the hope of finding something that will appeal to a larger audience. In November 2018, teams from France will be experimenting at iFLY Paris with a new FS format that consists of 8 rounds, no video for review and has the teams race against a clock for scoring. iFLY is also creating a program around their new Flight Light system that is currently at a handful of locations in the U.S. This is initially aimed at making competition more accessible at a much earlier stage and could possible bridge the gap we have in competition for low experience flyers.  Coming back to the elite level, there are various disciplines now being flown at the US Nationals and The Wind Games that present adaptations of the dynamic speed format and these are being used to create “new” disciplines. Solo speed and belly’n’mix, are a couple of examples of this modification and with each creating an “entry level” discipline that anyone can jump in and practice at any tunnel. All of this helps to develop the sport and shows that the sport is evolving to become more relevant to a greater number of people. Look back on the headline from the 2017 Wind Games that declared Kyra Pho as “The fastest flyer in the word”; it grabbed the most column inches ever in any skydiving discipline, indoor or outdoor, because the public audience outside of tunnel flying simply loved it and could relate to it.

So where will all this input from various sources lead? Will we see our favourite disciplines disappear altogether, or will they evolve into something we barely recognize? Indoor Climbing had to undergo a transformation in its sport to be considered for the 2020 Olympic Games. So will IS need to follow a similar pathway to be considered a “new” sport within the Olympic arena too?  Hopefully, we will succeed and find a discipline that will bridge the gap between the Kaleigh Wittenburgs and Toms Ivans of the world and your average customer just entering the tunnel for their fifth minute of flight. A discipline that will take a fraction of the time to master, explain, and understand well enough to start competing. And one we and our non-flying friends can understand and want to watch on TV! I personally, have found that explaining 4-Way Dynamic to someone unfamiliar with the sport quite complex and difficult without a visual aid.

Our sport is evolving and maybe we have had a sign that something does need to change for the sport to appeal to a wider audience?  After all the key measure of success within an Olympic context is spectatorship. Purists will argue that a larger audience is not needed and that it is about the form and the environment within which we practice Bodyflight. They are of course right in many ways and the same debate is raging within Climbing with many who argue that it is a gimmick, destroying the art of each specialist climbing discipline and worry that Olympic rules risk of 'over regulating' the sport which thrives on freedom and expression. But others such as Paige Classen  have been more pragmatic and stated that “Opinions aside, climbing is growing rapidly and our spot in the Olympics is about to supercharge that growth. Whether we like it or not, it's crucial to the longevity of our sport that all climbers step up and take responsibility for our crags and actions at the crags.”  Within this context we could probably simply replace “Climbing” with “IS”.

This view has its place and is entirely valid, and may it long be so that we continue to fly simply for the love of it, but for this sport to be part of a true worldwide conversation, we need a bigger and more engaged audience that helps to push it past the local news and internal live stream. We need a global conversation that is loud enough to attract spectators, which leads to bigger investors, which leads to more tunnels and increased activity, all of which supports the full-time athletes and enables them to compete for Gold.  It makes becoming a full-time athlete possible and worthwhile, and not a struggle from competition to competition. After all the time, sweat, and hard-work that it has taken the get the sport this far, it would be a shame to see it lose steam owing to a lack of accessibility and relatability.

We are still a very young sport and there is plenty of innovation being planned for IS in the next four to eight years, but we all have a part to play and we can all be pioneers in moving it forward. We need you to actively participate in it, in any way that you can. Volunteer to judge at a competition; register to compete once, or twice a year; organize leagues, and showcase nights; even just learning and talking with your customers and friends more about the sport will be helpful. Choose to be the creator of the tunnel culture in your world, and help others connect and share our collective passion for Bodyflight and let us all come together to develop this incredible sport into something that will excite us and thrive well beyond the Olympics.