Some people jump out of airplanes for the adrenaline rush and others for the feeling of freedom, but for Ken Williamson, of Calgary, it’s a way to spend a relaxing Saturday.
“It’s a nice way to relax,” said Williamson, at the Big Bend Airport near Innisfail on Saturday. Skydive Big Sky hosted the 2010 Alberta Provincial Skydiving Championships over the weekend at the airport, which drew around 80 competitors from around the province and others from around the country, as well as plenty of spectators.
“There is a lot of adrenaline rush. It’s a good way to shake off things in your life that could cause stress. Up there you focus on one important thing and everything else just melts away,” Williamson said.
An electrician by profession, Williamson started skydiving in 1974 on a bit of a dare.
Now at age 57 and having done around 4,700 jumps, he said the hardest part of a weekend of skydiving is getting packed up to go home.
When he started more than 30 years ago he and his buddies used decommissioned military equipment, round parachutes that had little manoeuvrability compared to today’s light square chutes.
He remembers his first jump was a scary experience for him. “You’re scared to death,” Williamson said. “You’re sure you’re going to die, but it all worked out pretty good.”
On Saturday he jumped with a group of six people in a freefall formation. The skydivers plan what they will do on the ground ahead of time and then move into various formations as many times as they can, as they fall at close to 200 kms per hour towards the ground, before pulling their chutes.
Williamson said he enjoys the fun and the camaraderie and how close-knit the group he jumps with has become.
Darren Strocher, dropzone owner of Skydive Big Sky, said among the skydiving disciplines taking place during the weekend were freefall events that have competitors form formations in the air, with four to eight people moving into different positions and doing holds, along with canopy piloting events showing how accurately a skydiver can land and swooping, which shows how far a distance a skydiver can cover suspended just a metre over the ground. Rankings weren’t available before press time.
For Strocher, who has around 1,800 jumps in the real joy is introducing others to the sport.
“Really for me it is about the person who has one jump to 20 jumps and seeing them progress to become skydivers is what it is for me ultimately,” he said. He said whether someone has a few jumps or 30,000 there are still things to learn at every level.
Olga Kuznetsova, 22, did her first jump at age 16 in her homeland of Russia. When her family moved to Canada, where she is now a citizen, she continued to skydive and now has around 1,300 to 1,400 jumps under her belt.
She remembers her first jump also involved one of the round parachutes that weighed around 22 to close to 30 kg (50 to 60 pounds) compared to what she uses today that weighs a quarter of that. She remembers being in the plane and pulling her parachute, but blanked the memory out for the first few moments out of the plane.
“Once I had done a few jumps it was very fascinating,” said Kuznetsova, who now lives in Montreal, but lived in Alberta for around four years previously. “The best part about the sport is that it pretty much has no limits to what you can do. There are so many different disciplines.”
Kuznetsova jumped on Saturday with her boyfriend Bruno Gohier, of Montreal, demonstrating a five-point routine, where they had to free fly, moving into various positions, touching at different times, while being videotaped.
Gohier said he likes the freedom of skydiving. He said in that minute of freefall nothing else counts so it’s easy to free your mind of everything else.
“Basically you have the whole sky to be your playground,” said Gohier, who has done 400 jumps. “It’s really bigger than a sandbox. So you can play with all of that. You can go vertical. You can decide to go sideways. The only limit is what you can imagine really.”