Insane ‘Swooping’ Skydiving Makes Your Tandem Jump Look Lame
Your first reaction when watching Jeannie Bartholomew tumble out of an airplane will be, “Her jump has gone terribly awry.” That’s because when she skydives, her first move is to deploy her parachute, then spin 450 degrees head over heels.
Not only is it intentional, it’s essential. Bartholomew is a top competitor in the niche sport of canopy piloting, a discipline that makes the tandem jump you did last summer look supremely lame. (Time to reconsider your Tinder profile pic, bro.)
The goal of canopy jumping, also known as swooping, is to descend as quickly as possible, then fly as fast, or as far, as possible just inches above the ground. Top competitors like Bartholomew and her husband Curt jump from an altitude of just 5,500 feet and deploy a 64-square-foot parachute. That sounds downright crazy when you realize most skydivers jump from 13,000 feet and wear a chute almost four times larger. Spinning top over bottom is the best way to retard the deceleration of the parachute. Top swoopers can clock speeds of 80 to 100 mph as they skim the ground.
The objective, depending on the event, is to go as fast as possible (think downhill skiing), as far as possible (long jump), or to land in a specific spot (Skee-Ball). In each case, canopy piloting is a highly technical sport that demands precise control, damn quick reaction times, and a bucketful of guts. Even a small mistake means “we’re gonna be hurt, or worse,” Jeannie Bartholomew says. She and her husband have broken feet, toes, hands, fingers, and ribs; damaged ACLs and MCLs; and endured no end of bumps and bruises.
Small price to pay for a mix of elegance and adrenaline that’s hard to beat. “There’s nothing compared to diving your parachute at the ground, going 100 miles per hour,” Jeannie says, “and putting your canopy down exactly where you want.”