When Robin Jandle jumps out of airplanes, she does it at low altitude, skipping the free fall and opening her chute right away — a maneuver skydivers call a “hop-and-pop.”
When she comes screaming down to Earth, she pulls up just 5 feet above the ground and zooms over a body of water skydivers call a “swoop pond.”
And when she breaks a pair of records — one for distance, one for speed — she hears another word skydivers use all the time:
“She’s probably going 95 miles per hour,” said George Hargis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Parachute Association, which is holding its national championship in Raeford this month. “They all look, basically, like they’re about to crash.”
Jandle and her record-setting turns at canopy piloting rank among the highlights of the month-long test of chute skills going on in rural Hoke County, but the annual championship has drawn more than 600 competitors.
Host city for national championship
The contest rotates between cities who bid to play host, and this year it landed at Paraclete in Raeford — just outside Fort Liberty, where the 82nd Airborne is based and people are well-accustomed to people falling out of the sky.
But though half of Raeford’s 600 competitors count as professionals, the other half are just as avid.
Hargis said the typical path starts with a bucket-list jump, but few are satisfied with one trip to the bucket.
“Most people here live for skydiving,” she said. “It’s not like we only like it.”
For the nationals, skydivers come from all over the country to compete in a variety of specialties: landing most accurately, performing acrobatic tricks in a wingsuit, reaching the highest-possible speed and jumping in free-fall formations with teams up to 16.
Records — set at state, national and continental levels — get broken every year.
Judges get help from jump videos
Some parts of the competition can’t really be viewed from the ground, so a videographer jumps along and films footage for the judges. Others, like Jandle’s canopy piloting specialty, happen in full view of fans.
“I did my first tandem jump in 2010,” she said, referring to the entry-level skydiving most people experience. “That was in May of 2010. By November of 2010, I was applying to get a license.”
Total jumps since then: 9,100.
“It feels more than that,” said Jandle. “My body feels like it’s more than that.”
Among this month’s more dramatic moments:
Husband and wife duo Niklas Daniel and Brianne Thompson from Arizona both notched records in speed skydiving, reaching 513 and 481 kilometers per hour — translated to 318 mph and 298 mph.
As coaches with a school in Arizona, and more than 14,000 jumps apiece, they’ve been accomplished skydivers for many years before dabbling in the speed discipline. They are, Hargis said, the fastest couple in the world.
“One of the cool things,” said Thompson, “is how absolutely objective it is. It’s all GPS. There’s not any judging. It’s as simple as you can get: You jump out, and you try to go as fast as you can toward the Earth.”
The U.S. Parachute National Championships continue in Raeford through Saturday.