Featured image Photocredit : Gustavo Cabana
I have been fortunate enough to have been a participant on the recent Head Up European Record 2017, to say it was an incredible experience would be an understatement.
My first record attempt was the UK head up record in 2015. I spent 2 days warming up and training the base successfully….when crunch time came I was cut (rightly so) as I wasn’t doing my job. In 2016 an attempt at breaking the UK head down record – amidst poor weather we had 7 attempts and we weren’t able to make it. My performance was poor – overfloating, heavy docks, slow etc.
There was a common theme – my “head game” was failing me. Each time I was overthinking the jump. All I needed to do was my job, which I had done before countless times but for some reason I was unable to do it under pressure. I had no idea why.
It was something that concerned me going into the Euro Head Up Try outs in April 2017. My feedback came through – I perform well but need to work on my mental game. There were numerous participants but the Fly Warriors, with their experience, had identified my weakness. Shit.
I chose to go to the try outs in May 2017, at their suggestion, to work on this. My performance improved but I was still unsure that I would get a slot on the record attempts. I really wanted to take part in the record and in the run up to the record I thought about the experience so far, how much I had learned and gained. I realised it didn’t matter if I was on the record or not – I had gained so much already and that was enough.
I had the opportunity to take part in the warm up days on the 20th June. I was put near the back of the twin otter. A diving slot. Shit. I hadn’t done this in over a year – I had flown a floating slot plenty of times but rarely diving. I won’t beat around the bush. I was awful for the first 2 or 3 jumps. But, I started getting it. It was great to have Pete at the back of the plane with me on the ride to altitude to help me relax. We raced to the base each time and even managed a cheeky 2 way out of the door on the last warm up jump which was probably the second most memorable jumping moment of the last year. I was fortunate enough to have got to grips with a long dive, little did I know how handy those few jumps would be……
On the evening of the 20th they announced the participants in the record – numbered from 1-45. As they went through the list I smiled each time a friend’s name was called up. Nimmo got closer to the end and I realised my name hadn’t come up. I was ok with it. Then, the words came “…and last, but not least….slot 45…..Karim” A big grin appeared on my face.
When the record attempts came on the 21st I was sleep deprived and hot. The spanish skies had graced us with glorious blue. I knew I had a job to do and it was simply my job to do it. I had been trusted by the organisers to fly my position and I was determined not to let them down.Easy, right? On the first jump as I left the plane I looked for the base. They were specs of dust between me and the ground. I had a long way to go. Time to put the afterburners on. On the subsequent jumps there were numerous changes, I didn’t have a chance to dock until jump 10. I fucked up on one jump – I didn’t break hard enough and ended up 5m below the base. At the debrief it was pointed out-
“Sorry…” it was the only response I could muster
“I don’t care if you’re sorry!”
“I mean, it won’t happen again”
“Thats what I want to hear”
It didn’t happen again. The person I was meant to be taking a grip on was changed 3 times. But each time, I was there waiting in slot and ready to do my job. Unable to find someone with a strong enough left handed grip to sting the pod, the call came –
“Have you been told about the changes? You’re going to be docking onto the pod now.”
“No problem. I can do it.”
“Fucking right, I know you can.”
I felt so relaxed and calm about it, complete certainty that I could perform my job successfully. I remembered what I had learned on all the warm ups – taking the grip is confirmation you can fly your slot and I knew I could fly my slot, I had done it 14 times already. I went to speak to Anthony who had put his all into this record, but was struggling. He had a bit of a rollercoaster of a ride – cut, then reintroduced in a harder slot. I said to him “Don’t put it all on the line, I know this means so much to you but if you keep thinking about how much you put into this you are only going to fail. You won’t be able to do your job. Put it all aside and just focus on doing your job.” The words were those that I had said to myself and I think were for me as much as him.
Then, the record happened. My foot caught the bench, I fell onto the door and flipped uncontrolled for a second or two, no idea where the base was. I screamed “FUCKKKKKKK!” I thought it was all over. With such a long dive I needed an efficient exit and this was anything but………and then I caught sight of the base,went into the hardest, fastest dive I had ever done and shouted “PETER HUTCHINSON!!!!!!!!” I’m not sure why, maybe because he had beaten me on every dive on the warm up days. The boy was fast and I needed some of his speed right now! I managed to slam the breaks on in time to get on level at an appropriate speed and give me plenty of time to do my job……
The atmosphere was one of quiet excitement in the hangar and then the debrief came. We had successfully built a 43 way head up formation in the skies of Empuriabrava. There were so many hugs and hi 5s they blurred into one. It was an amazing experience to share with a great team of people. There was no aggro, no bitching, no cliques. We were a team, and because of that we achieved what we set out to do.
We did it. It wasn’t so much about the actual record- that was the cherry on the cake. The journey and what I will take away from it are the foundations of what this incredible experience are based upon. To get over the mental block I had- to stop worrying, to breathe, to just go with the flow and do my job. These are things that not only will strengthen my skydiving but also help in life as these basic principles are universally applicable. I have always said that skydiving has made me a better, more capable person and I hope I have been able to describe above just one way in which the sport can expose, impact and help deal with weaknesses we come across in our everyday lives.
Many thanks to the Fly Warriors, the organisers, team captains, all participants and all the coaches who have taught me the skills to be able to take part in this event.