Diary of a Wingsuit Camp

Date: 3rd to 11th November 2012
Place: Bridgewater Drop Zone
36°37’13.59” S 143°57’08.28”E

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s just me having fun in my new Phoenix-Fly Phantom 3 wingsuit. Frame-grab from the video of my jump by Jarno Cordia

Day 1

Two wingsuit jumps today after the cloud cleared.
Altitrack said the first one was an 84 second freefall with a top vertical speed of 60mph. It couldn’t measure the second one, saying I only had a 22 second freefall and deployed at 11,200 feet. Minimum vertical speed was 0mph and maximum was only 50mph.
The coach said that means I had a good jump, but at this stage I wouldn’t know!

Day 2
Starting to get the hang of this thing.
Jump 1 went well until deployment where I got stuck inside my head for a few seconds thinking too much. Opened with two line twists, which brought back memories of my wingsuit chop back in 2008. Sorted it out ok though.
Jump 2 gave me a 110 second freefall with deployment at 5,200 feet.
Coach said it was an excellent jump for my experience level. Looking forward to even more improvement tomorrow.

Day 3
Jump 1 wingsuit flocky thing, 5 of us. I got in!
Jump 2 was a Star Crest load for Ash and Anita. Ash got there but unfortunately Anita didn’t have time.
Jump 3 another Star Crest load for Ash and Kate. Both got there! Congrats to Ash on obtaining her Star Crest! Beer!!!!!

Day 4
Not much ado.
Slept in, late breakfast, laid on the packing mats talking shit with Patrick. Wrote a new blog (yet to be posted). Now being Des for a bunch of alcoholic skydivers.

Day 5
The day dawned gloopy so a leisurely breakfast and a trip into Inglewood to restock the larder was the order of the day.
Spent the afternoon watching the electromagnetic and pyrotechnic display high in the sky until it all went away and a couple of loads went up.
Watching wingsuiters scream across the sky en masse against a cloudy backdrop is a lovely thing indeed…

This is why the birds sing… Frame-grab from the video of my jump by Jarno Cordia

Day 6
Weird, funky, greyish sort of sky but the cloud base is above 14,000 feet and plenty high enough for wingsuit jumps.
Jump 1 and I’m in a flock. Well, not so much in it, as near it. Well, not so much near it as, well, I can see it. Way down there, a long, way away.
I’m last to exit, and in the rush to be with the gang I somehow enter a flat spin that winds up. And up… and up.
Ooh the world’s going round fast!
I use the “Fly Like Brick” Ninja technique to stop the spin – basically adopt the foetal position, go into a ball and cry.
It worked, but by now they’re so far away I’m not even in the same state let alone postcode…

Jump 2. Ah, that’s better. Beautiful exit, lovely turns, but still a long way from the flock.
I tried catching up and got pretty close, but then overtook them all and was still a million feet above them. I then tried a head-down descent, but that made me go all wobbly. I eventually got to their level but was still too far behind, so once again spent an entire wingsuit skydive on my own.
Time’s up, and once good old Mr. Optima tells me it’s time to stop having fun and do some parachuting shit I listen.
No biggie – I like to think of myself as a bit of a trendsetter. I call my solo formation “The Flock of Ages”.
I think I’ve earned it.

Day 7
The gang spent the day jumping over the coast at Torquay but I magnanimously gave my spot to someone who hadn’t jumped there before.
Spent the day doing much-needed domestics in the van and White Tail proofing it. I love the smell of Napalm in the morning!

Day 8
Tutor wingsuit flight with Jarno.
Good exit and initial flight, but my turns are too aggressive and I got the leg wobbles again. I really enjoyed the flight though, and now have a few things to work on. It’s great having someone to point out what needs fixing.

Cruising amongst the clouds. Photo by Jarno Cordia

Day 9
Helped out with AFF today.
Did a Stage 2 with John and student Evan. Didn’t have to do much at all on that one as Evan pretty much nailed it.
Star Crest load next for Jordan and Kate which saw Kate get in ok for her 2nd successful Star Crest jump but saw Jordan struggling below the formation. Looking up whilst trying to slow fall doesn’t work. Debriefed the jump and Jordan now understands what needs to be done next time. We’re all set for Kate to do her final Star Crest jump tomorrow.
Last jump today was a Stage 3 for Evan, again with LJ, but this time not so good. Evan got all distracted by LJ’s magnificent flying out front and forgot about his altimeter so I had to deploy him. I reminded him of an old saying we used when flying gliders – “Runway behind you and altitude above you is of no use”
Next time he’ll nail it I’m sure.
An added bonus was watching William complete his AFF with a Stage 9 hop’n’pop from 4,000 feet. Almost gave me a lump in my throat to see one of my First Jump Course students from a couple of months ago finish his AFF. I was going to add that he’s my first AFF student to go through to completion, but that would mean I’d have to ring the bell, so I won’t.

Day 10
Last day.
No jumps today. Tried to get interest in Kate’s last Star Crest jump but people drifted away gradually and we couldn’t get a quorum.
Went searching for Lex’s gear after her chop and found the main stuck forty feet up a tree in an inaccessible spot. I did find the freebag though.

Not the place to be…

So ends my first wingsuit training camp, and although I didn’t do lots of jumps I did enough to keep me satisfied. Lots of practice needed now.

Many thanks to Bridgewater Drop Zone owner Ralph for putting it all together, and to Patrick and Jarno for their excellent tutelage. Also thanks to the other skydivers who all contributed to an excellent time.

There’s no better place to be than a drop zone in full swing.

Bliss! Frame-grab from the video of my jump by Jarno Cordia

Check out this video Jarno put together of the last jump of the camp.


Wingsuit – A funny looking thing we climb into to make the skydive more dangerous

Phoenix-Fly – The company I chose for my wingsuit needs.

Altitrack – An electronic digital altimeter with an analogue face. The thing we look at to tell us how long we have left in freefall

Freefall – A state of absolute bliss where we pretend to be anvils by falling towards the planet at a great rate of knots. Wiki describes it thus:



v_{0}\, is the initial velocity (m/s)
v(t)\, is the vertical velocity with respect to time (m/s)
y_0\, is the initial altitude (m)
y(t)\, is the altitude with respect to time (m)
t\, is time elapsed (s)
g\, is the acceleration due to gravity (9.81 m/s2 near the surface of the earth)

I describe it as “The best fun you can have – with or without clothes”

Chop – More commonly known as something you use in karate or something you throw onto a barbecue and grill. In our case it refers to the decision you make when your main parachute isn’t behaving, whereby you swear profusely, cutaway from the recalcitrant main and then deploy your reserve parachute.

Flocky thing – this is when a bunch of people wearing wingsuits try to fly in formation, much like a flock of galahs.

Galah – A stupid, noisy parrot

Star Crest – an achievement in skydiving. Once gained it allows the person to skydive with ten or more people. There are three jumps to be performed, and on each one the “Starcrestee” must join the formation fifth or later. There must be a minimum of eight people in the formation, and two of them must already hold a Star Crest. These two people then sign the paperwork.

Des – Contraction of “Designated Driver”. This is the person who decides to abstain from alcohol on a night out in order to be able to drive the rest of the gang back  from the hotel.

Gloopy – A very technical term that I thought adequately described the weather that day. Imagine a gloopy sky as some sort of thick, wet, drab and crappy thing and you’ll get the idea. In short – not jumpable.

Fly Like Brick – A term that conjures up an image of an aerodynamic incompetence, when actually exactly the opposite is true. Two of the guys on this team, Jarno Cordia and Patrick Wake were our coaches for the camp.

Optima – One particular type of a piece of technology skydivers must wear when performing wingsuit and some other types of skydive. It is an audible altimeter which produces ear-splitting sounds at pre-determined heights to warn that the time has come to save one’s life by opening the parachute.

White Tail – A native spider that has been blamed for some horrible injuries to people. It was thought the bite from this spider caused necrosis, however further studies are inconclusive.

I don’t give a shit – I kill them all.

Napalm – in war it’s an evil incendiary material that caused significant human suffering. In my caravan it’s a whole can of Baygon sprayed in the general direction of spider.

AFF – Accelerated Free Fall. The training course for ab initio skydivers, now used pretty much throughout the world. In Australia we have nine stages in the training table.

Hop’n’Pop – A skydive whereby the jumper leaves the aircraft at a lower altitude and deploys the parachute after only a very short free fall. The canopy opens at sub-terminal speed.

Ring the bell – what skydivers do when they achieve a first in anything, such as “first solo” or “first wingsuit flight”.

Skydiving can be a costly sport…


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