Skydivers ‘flock’ to first Wingsuit Weekend

On Saturday, June 15, 12,500 feet above Moab, a flock of wingsuiters flew into the blue sky, dodging the scattered puffy white clouds. They gathered to attend Skydive Moab’s Wingsuit Weekend, the first of a slate of events planned to cater to local and nearby fun-jumpers.

“It was definitely a pretty rad time, where 10 or 12 wingsuiters got together and did some flocking jumps and had a good time,” Joe Lohmuller, a participant and employee of Skydive Moab, said. Flocking jumps are defined as occasions in which several wingsuiters make a formation in freefall and fly together, like a flock of birds.

“Everyone that came out here had an awesome time,” said Skydive Moab manager Jeremy Divan. “This was our first one and the weather was kind of iffy, so some people got scared by the weather. Unfortunately for them, it was pretty awesome out here. We had some nice puffy clouds to fly around, making it a very visual skydive for people on parachutes and wingsuits. There were some big clouds to fly around and dodge.”

Wingsuiting is defined as a sport in which an individual flies through the air wearing a wingsuit, which is a specially designed suit with fabric both between the legs and under the arms. The intention is to provide increased friction in free fall, which allows the wingsuiter to fly farther and longer before deploying their parachute. “These people throw on little wingsuits and turn their bodies into basically little fighter jets,” explained Divan. “You need to know how to fly your body, and how to fly a parachute, and there are certain things you can do before you get a wingsuit on to make it less of a drastic transition.”

It takes an incredible amount of skill to pilot one’s own body while wearing a wingsuit, so it is recommended that participants have completed more than 200 skydives before attempting the feat. Due to the advanced skills required for wingsuiting, this event attracted some of the area’s most accomplished air sports participants. “We had Steph Davis out, who’s more known for rock climbing, and Ian Mitchard, he’s a little-known rockstar in the wingsuit world,” Divan said. Longtime residents of Moab, Davis and Mitchard have become well-established experts in their respective sports. “We also have a really talented staff this year,” Divan added. “Tim Sartori, he’s one of our instructors out here; Kyle Stubbs, too. They’re really talented guys. We just have a lot of talent and good energy out here.”

Sartori has been skydiving for seven years, and wingsuiting for five, and has more than 1,200 wingsuit jumps to date. “I think it’s a good start,” he said of the event. “This drop zone is coming together more and more, and hopefully we do more events like that and start spreading the word for Skydive Moab.” As the drop zone hosts more events like the Wingsuit Weekend, it hopes to cultivate a club-type feel, where local jumpers can hang out and jump, rather than simply being a place for tandem skydiving.

“It’s really cool to feel the support of the drop zone and people like Ian and Steph and Timmy taking the time to try and plan out these jumps and get people in the flock as opposed to just trying to jump on a load at the end of the day,” Lohmuller said. “That’s who it caters to: the people that are here every day jumping, as opposed to just the people who are here on vacation and want to do a quick tandem.”

The event featured a cutting-edge practice in the world of skydiving known as XRW, or cross-relative work. “XRW is definitely the newest craze,” explained Divan. “We have an experienced wingsuit pilot and an experienced canopy pilot, and they jump out of an airplane. They then fly together and try to link up. They’ll do hand docks and sometimes they’ll get on top of them and surf them like a surfboard. It’s really cool to be in the air under your parachute with a wingsuit flying right next to you.”

Skydive Moab plans to give more skydivers unique opportunities such as this one and has several additional events planned throughout the summer and fall, including an event for the organization, Sisters in Skydiving. “We’ll get all the girls out there, have some girl power going on,” Divan explained. “We’re hoping to build the Utah state record for Women’s Way goal. Right now there is no record, so if we get two people together, boom we have the record. But we’re hoping to build more than that.”

In the meantime, Skydive Moab continues to run their local’s promotion for discounted tandem skydives. “If you’re local and you haven’t jumped out here yet, come out and jump,” Sartori said.

ByBy Jacque Garcia

The Times-Independent