Perched in the clouds, balancing on the wind between the realms of the absurd and the glorious, surely the Skysurfer is also destined for such greatness in the lore of human flight and freefall. Who Remembers The Lost Art of Skysurfing? | Unofficial Networks

Who Remembers The Lost Art of Skysurfing?

Who Remembers The Lost Art of Skysurfing?

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Who Remembers The Lost Art of Skysurfing?

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Russell Caulkins, the first ESPN Skysufing Demo Champion, 1992. (watch the video first)

The monoski, a nostalgic anachronism capable of inspiring  giddy bewilderment on the slopes and from the chair with its rare and ridiculous form. The Monoskier has ironically become an eccentric icon from an extreme and pioneering era of snow sliding.

Perched in the clouds, balancing on the wind between the realms of the absurd and the glorious, surely the Skysurfer is also destined for such greatness in the lore of human flight and freefall! 

sky surfing

(image: zastavki.com)

Back in 1980 a number of California skydivers started playing around with the idea of jumping out of planes with boards. Dubbed “air surfing” these guys would hold onto the rails of styrofoam boogie boards and belly fly.

In 1987, for the film “Hibernator”, French skydiver Joël Cruciani made the first free fall jumps standing on a surf board with snowboard bindings. The following years saw French skydivers Laurent Bouquet and Patrick de Gayardon testing smaller boards and cutaway bindings.

Bouquet performed a real life version of the comic book character “Silver Surfer” for the film “Pushing the Limits 2” in 1989 and by 1990 skysurfing made its television debut when De Gayardon produced a segment titled “Sky Surfer” for French network television sports anthology film “Traveling 2” featuring the first tandem skysurf by De Gayardon and New Zealand skysurfer, Wendy Smith.

Skysurfing finally reached an American audience when De Gayardon, Patrick Passe, and Didier La Fond produced a Reebok skysurf commercial for the “Life is short, Play hard” ad campaign. Ray Palmer became the first Australian skysurfer in 1991 with the production of the famous skysurfing Coca-Cola commercial that saw him standing on a regular surf board.

In 1992 The Fèdération Française de Parachutisme recognised skysurf as a sporting activity and the first competitive skysurfing demonstration was held as part of the third annual WFF Freestyle World Championships in Eloy, Arizona. Around this time, American skysurfer Jerry Loftis formed Surflite, the first dedicated skyboard manufacturing company.

Skysurfing went big in the US in 1995 when it became a featured sport during the ESPN X-games in Newport, RI. Ten teams, each consisting of a cameraman and a skysurfer, competed for a $20,000 purse. Each team would jump together and perform a choreographed routine. Video of the jumps were displayed realtime on a 16 x 20 ft jumbotron for spectators in the landing area. I remember watching this. Skysurfers would tightly tape their arms to prevent blood pooling in the extremities during spins which could lead to blacking out while in freefall.

The video above shows Rob Harris skysurfing in Hawaii. Harris won the 95 X-Games and was the first ever American skysurfer to win a skysurfing world championship. Rob harris died December, 14 that same year while performing a non-skysurfing skydiving stunt for a Mountain Dew commercial filmed in British Columbia.

The sport of skysurfing lost a number of its patriarchs to skydiving accidents in the years between 1995 and 2000. On April 13, 1998, French skydiver Patrick de Gayardon, considered the father of skysurfing, was killed while testing an experimental “wing suit” at his drop zone in Hawaii. The cause of the accident is determined to be a self-induced rigging problem. On May 10, 1998, Vic Pappadato, X-Games champion camera flyer and teammate to skysurfer Troy Hartman, was killed in a canopy collision after filming a formation skydive. And on August 14, 1998, Jerry Loftis, the first American skysurfer and the founder of Surfflite, died performing a skysurf at the World Free Fall Convention in Quincy, Il, after he failed to deploy his reserve on time, following a canopy malfunction.

Skysurfing has gradually begun to disappear from the skydiving world. Before even attempting a skysurf jump, patrons are expected to have over 200 previous jumps and must be proficient in a variety of controlled maneuvers (stable vertical flight, rotation on all axis etc…). Due to its inherent dangers, dificulties, and lack of available instructors, skysurfing is nearly a forgotten discipline. These days experienced skydivers looking to expand their repertoire rarely consider skysurfing now that options like wingsuit flying exist.

But the Russians are still doing it! Check out the control! It’s really pretty damn amazing. 

Promo from Vo3DyX – “Extream 2010”


For more history on the sport check out this timeline.

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