What is skydiving swooping? Swooping is a very curious sport to watch. Unlike other skydiving sports and competitions, it all takes place just above the ground. It can look deceptively safe and low risk when done by a professional, but it’s certainly not. Skydive swooping is an extreme sport performed by trained professionals.
Swooping is essentially the art of speeding a parachute towards the ground and swooping back up to gain level flight above the ground. It’s a great spectator sport to watch in person, as it’s all happens at ground level and is usually over lakes or small bodies of water.
Let’s take a deeper look at what swooping is and how far people swoop. We can also look at the dangers and see how it compares to base jumping and regular skydiving.
What is skydive swooping?
Swooping is all about canopy speed, and swoopers usually spend little time in freefall. The pilot aims to build up as much speed and momentum towards the ground while under the parachute before closing in on the ground. To gain speed, swoops use steep turns via a front riser or toggle. Each turn means losing momentary control, so turns must happen at the correct height, with enough time to complete before reaching the ground. Gathering as much speed as possible, a swooper then creates a final turn close to ground level. When done correctly, this move causes the canopy to fly level with the ground for a period (this is the swoop). Competitive swoopers compete over how far they travel level to the ground or landing closest to a specific point.
The art of swooping is all about gaining speed and pulling the final turn (sometimes known as a ‘corner’) at the perfect altitude and angle. If done too early or too late, it will result in a shorter swoop and can be extremely dangerous. Executing a turn or corner at the right moment leaves less work and adjustment the pilot needs, helping the parachute maintain its speed and create greater swooping distance.
Swooping can be done over lakes or bodies of water, and the pilots will swoop fast towards the lake, dragging their feet in the water and then lifting to hold the level swoop as they pass the start line, usually on land. Similarly, swooping sometimes takes place in cornfields, with pilots dragging their feet through the crops.
Is skydive swooping dangerous?
Swooping is a dangerous sport, especially when attempted by untrained professionals. Broken bones, such as ankles, legs, and pelvis breaks, are common injuries. Occasionally there are fatalities. Most swoopers will first achieve their D license before beginning specific swoop training. Swooping is not a sport an intermediate skydiver can attempt without the appropriate training and experience.
Even with highly trained professionals, severe injuries and deaths occur. In October 2018, an experienced swooper named Aiden Chaffe had a fatal accident while performing a seemingly routine swoop. The U.K. skydiver had completed over 1,300 solo skydives and was a competent swooper. He was a perfectionist swooper who limited risks, but on this occasion, a tiny error or judgment in his final swoop resulted in an immense tragedy. Tony Butler, chief executive of the British Parachute Association (BPA), commented on the incident. He said:
“Mr. Chaffe was a very sensible skydiver who was performing the most dangerous form of the sport. Performing high-performance landings, if you make an error of judgment even by a second or two, it can result in a catastrophic landing. There are skydivers with thousands of jumps that have won world championships in this kind of thing, and they’ve been killed or injured because it’s a split-second judgment in that last portion of time.”
Is swooping more dangerous than base jumping?
There’s much debate as to which sport is more dangerous, base jumping or swooping. Both have very different dangers and require different risk assessments. The risks of each can depend significantly on the involved individual’s decisions, actions, and reactions. One thing safe to say is that both are considerably more dangerous than skydiving or skydiving sports such as formation skydiving.
Unlike base jumping, where the danger starts the moment you jump, swooping involves a long period of safe freefall and canopy flying, and the threat comes in those final turns to achieve the swoop. In swooping, you already have the canopy fully open as you reach the moment of danger. With a mistimed swoop, there are also ways to pull out or rescue it. However, swoopers push the limit at its most competitive and try to ride the line between perfecting and tragedy to push the boundaries.
In both swooping and base jumping, the risks always depend on the context and circumstances. Both swooping and base jumping have ways of limiting risk and avoiding hazardous situations. But at the same time, both are extreme sports with an unavoidable element of danger and attract thrillseekers who look to push the limits.
How far can skydivers swoop?
A skydiving swoop can be anything from a few feet or meters up to 100+ feet. Like most sports, the swooping records are constantly getting pushed further and further as new techniques and more efficient equipment develop. Swooping records measure the distance the pilot travels once the final turn is complete, and they hover just above the ground, past the start line.
The current record for the longest swoop is 730 feet (or 222 meters), which Kiwi Nick Batsch achieved in 2018. It was using a new swooping canopy design known as the JPX Perta 69 by Icarus. A previous record of 418 feet (125 meters) was held by U.S. swooper Shannon Pitcher.