By Joe Ridler
WOWS is the first ever 4-cross competition series that is “open”, meaning that any qualified wingsuit pilot may register. During the 2016 WOWS competition season, three Regional Events were held around the USA, and the first Wide Open Wingsuit Series (WOWS) Championship Event just wrapped up in Skydive Perris. Thirty two wingsuit pilots battled through a series of elimination brackets in two events: Speed and Distance.
WOWS speed and distance events are head-to-head, with four-pilots heat racing together to an actual finish line. Regional events use a “rabbit” format, where an impartial wingsuit pilot flies base to start the race for the 4-person heat. On the rabbit’s key, the four racers accelerate toward the finish line (usually a road or runway on the ground) and the first to cross wins the heat. Every heat is scored by a FlySight GPS receiver, and oftentimes speed heats are decided by 1/10 of a second or less, and a distance heat by just one meter. The first two pilots from each heat advance.
For the Championship event, the rabbit is removed from the race design and four pilots from each heat line up on the Skyvan tailgate, facing the line of flight. Once the plane arrives at a pre-determined GPS coordinate, the start-master initiates the drag-racing light-tree. This light counts down in a drag racing format red, yellow, green, and to red again which lets you know you are too slow off the plane. If a pilot’s foot/body is still touching the aircraft, it is ruled a false start and they are disqualified from the heat!
- Red — Get Ready (2 seconds)
- Yellow — 3, (1 second)
- Yellow — 2, (1 second)
- Yellow — 1, (1 second)
- Green — GO! (1 second)
- Red — False Start (disqualification for that heat)
Needless to say, it’s an exciting and instantaneous 4-way exit, making the first few seconds of every heat very dynamic and a critical variable to the start. Even the most elite wingsuit pilots can lose their spot with a false start, making it anyone’s heat to win… or lose.
The first WOWS Championships saw pilots who had competed at one or all of the WOWS 2016 Regional Qualifiers, and some professional pilots who were admitted based on past competition experience. The seeding for round one was based on the following weighted criteria (in this order):
- Previous WOWS Regional Qualifier best finish
- FAI Wingsuit Performance World Championships results
- Red Bull ACES results
- Wingsuit Performance National Championship results (i.e. US, UK, Australia)
- WOWS Regional Qualifier competitor that did not advance to a semifinal or final round
The level of talent was extremely competitive this year with Red Bull ACES podium finishers (Will Kitto, Matt Gerdes), FAI World Champion (Chris Geiler), USPA National Champion (Alexey Galda), 2015 USPA National Champion (Travis Mickle), and Tony Uragallo, who is a decorated veteran of other wingsuit competition formats.
After three days of racing, the dust settled and pilots climbed onto two separate podiums: one for speed, and one for distance. Matt Gerdes took first in distance and third and speed, making it onto both podiums. Keith Forsyth, a young pilot from Kapowsin, took first in speed, with Evan Severson in second. One interesting detail about the speed podium is that all three pilots hail from Kapowsin Air Sports in WA, home of the Farrington dynasty. We think Andy Farrington, two-time winner of Red Bull Aces, might be rubbing off on these guys. Chris Geiler and Will Kitto shared the podium with Matt for distance, after a few hard-fought distance heats, some of which were decided by only a few feet on a two mile course.
In this championship event, the winning pilots split a $3,000 prize purse, supported by Squirrel (title sponsor of the series) and aided by the entry fees, but WOWS operates at a loss and relies on sponsors for
funding in order to be able to give prize money to the pilots. All events, including regionals, have cash purses, swag bags filled with goodies (custom WOWS KeySmart key organizers, Comply Foam earphone tips and premium ear plugs), and multiple raffle prizes like FlySight GPS receivers, Echobox Audio titanium premium earphones and wingsuit-friendly cutaway smoke mounts from Ragged Mounts, giving the competitors a chance to improve their skillset and take home prizes.
Skydive Perris came through in a big way, providing the competitors with our own Skyvan, and allowing each 4-pilot heat to have their own pass, crucial for scoring and safety. All of us from the WOWS organization are thrilled to have such incredible support from this world class DZ– special thanks to Dan BC for the hospitality. Curt Vogelsang was on-hand shooting images of the starts and outside video of the races, while Andy Clements worked seamlessly on the ground scoring GPS data gathered during the race in tandem with the lovely Natalie Stella who kept the brackets updated and things moving smoothly throughout the weekend. Negative 4 Productions was also on-hand shooting video and capturing the excitement of competitors – video will be released soon. Michael Cooper of FlySight created the software (and the hardware) we use to score the event, his work on this has been invaluable.
More and more regional events are being planned all over the world, and the 2017 season championships are going to be big. Watch this space! wingsuitrace.org